Last weekend, Eric Silver, founder & CEO of WebKite, and I ventured up to New York City to take part in Strategy Hack – a single day event that pairs startups with marketers of all shapes and sizes. Events like this are a great way to learn about startup marketing. Strategy Hack hosted marketers that specialize in growth, copywriting, advertising, hacking and more! Specialists everywhere.
The event is geared towards helping startups better define their marketing. Great for sussing out who your audience is or how to test a hypothesis. At Strategy Hack the goal is to leave with action items and, generally, better understand your market opportunities.
Combine The Synergy With The Viral
Eric and I arrived at the event early, grabbed some coffee, set up our work zone, and waited for our team to arrive. Would we be paired up with the social media expert who spends hours building an audience around memes? Or a buzzword spewing caricature that has a bluetooth headset permanently bolted to their ear?
It was our lucky day. We were paired up with three of the most pragmatic, talented, and intelligent marketers on the East Coast.
Perhaps I’m being a bit hyperbolic, but they were the exact type of team we were hoping to get.
Meet Our Marketing Gang
This is the team that helped us get the most out of the day. I think they’re all pretty swell:
Jort Possel is the Global Social Media Director at Accenture. Jort has a solid background and a ton of insight from his years in the field. He brought structure to our day of thinking.
Pete Shelley is a talented copywriter who believes in putting education first – a mentality I absolutely agree with. He works for an outfit based on Long Island and, for some reason, is a huge Penguins Hockey fan, so we liked him right off the bat.
Jeremy Intal is a product manager at Pearson North America who has a gift for getting into the head of an audience and fine-tuning messaging. Also, this dude is super quick with research.
With our team assembled, we were off to strategy hack our way out of a paper bag and dive into the world of startup marketing. With the help of our team, we learned a lot about messaging and marketing.
Lessons Learned from Strategy Hack
1 – Tackle One Problem at a Time
In preparation for this event, I wrote down a number of problems I wanted to solve. I was excited, over caffeinated, and eager to leverage the collective marketing minds. I was hoping to solve challenges along the lines of refining our audience, improving our message, and planning out tactics all in a single day.
I was quickly reminded that just as Rome wasn’t built in a day, most startups don’t develop their entire strategy in a day, either.
Our team got to work with laser focus. What do we really want to solve? What will open the most doors? Before we could make progress, we needed to define the path we would go down that day. And once we made our choice, there was no going back.
Our team came to the conclusion that while marketing tactics are key to building an audience, those tactics will falter without a solid, concrete message. So we chose to work on our message. But before we knew what we were saying, we had to know what language we’d be speaking…
2 – Parseltongue? Are You Speaking Parseltongue At Me?
Language and audience go hand in hand. They’re a horse and carriage kind of relationship. If you don’t have an audience, you’ll find that your message will wander around with no purpose. Sometimes (in this metaphor) it’ll stop to eat some oats. Your carriage gives your message purpose.
WebKite is a tool that anyone can use. In its new form, it is simple, refined, elegant, and will transform the way every one publishes content. But starting everywhere gets you nowhere.
Before we defined our language, we needed to define our key audience, which we did, but then our answer begged questions like “Why do we think this is our audience?” and “Are we forcing an audience because this audience sounds cool to us?”
Romanticizing a demographic is easy, but not always right. By digging deeper into what value our product actually produced (making it easy to publish and update content) made us realize that it’s not the end user that’s key. It’s the ones that build websites for our end users. They’re the ones that implement the technology, educate their clients, execute the plans.
We looked at what our product does, who would use it, and how it could make someone’s life better. While the end user would be the small business owner or site owner, the one who implements the technology and suggests solutions is who we want to know about our product. Initially anyways.
With an identified audience, we moved on to begin the messaging challenge and find out what benefits and value we should be communicating to our community..
3 – Color By Number
Above, you see a nice sketch done by Jort. Jort brought a lot of structure to our team and guided us to find the stable foundation necessary to build our messaging house (more on that later).
Together, we outlined our current state and our vision – where we wanted to be at the end of the day. Keeping perspective on those two elements allowed us to stay the course.
The outline provided the structure and the foundation to ask “Why are we doing this?” It focused ideas around an ending, and made an environment where it was okay to ask “why would we do that?” If the answer wasn’t “To get us to point B” well, we’d move on.
My favorite piece of structure to come out of this event was the creation of a “messaging house” a structure that contains all of your messaging. As a company, it’s important to know how to talk about your product, what the value of your product is, and why it’s relevant in a social context. You can see a draft of our messaging house below.
The roof of your house is your message. The pillars, rooms, and content of your house enrich your message. They answer basic questions such as “What is it?” “What context do you need to understand this?” “What is so unique?”
The basement of your house contains your social proof, which is convenient to have handy when a journalist comes knocking on your door for more information. Just show them to the basement!
Now, I have this poster pinned on the wall behind me to keep things in perspective. If anyone is ever unsure about our messaging they can just consult the messaging house.
Our Strategy Hack experience was fun, challenging, and fruitful. I couldn’t have asked for a better outcome. We didn’t win the competition, but we did leave with a better understanding of who we are in relation to our audience, which is a meaningful takeaway that will continue to pay dividends.
Startup-marketing-focused events are extremely beneficial to the industry and I hope to see more of these events in the future. Sitting down with strangers and talking through marketing plans provides you with guidance, insight, and a better understanding of your own product. Outside perspective can provide the perfect tweak to your vision that makes the entire thing click.