While it can be easy for startups to let communications fall by the wayside, especially during turbulent times, Greentown Labs partner Captains of Industry says now is when it’s most crucial for you to have “the right message for the right audience at the right time.” And what’s more, they have an actionable plan you can follow to develop that message.
In a presentation to the Greentown community this May, Captains of Industry put forward a communications toolkit based around three principles. The creative content marketing firm, which is based in Boston, focuses on renewable energy as one of its core sectors.
Here’s a roadmap for zeroing in on your audience, understanding your place in the market, and effectively communicating your core values:
Principle #1: Know your audience
Hone in on who the specific audience is for your company, and then learn everything you can about them. Think of it this way: who do you need to say “yes” in order for you to be successful? A message that’s broadened to multiple audiences can lose its impact, so don’t cast too wide a net—as Ted Page, co-founder and creative director of Captains of Industry, explained, “If you’re talking to everyone, you’re not talking to anyone.”
How to do it:
Put together a set of questions that will help you understand your audience: their pain points, what they care about, what they think of your competitors, how COVID-19 is affecting them, and more. Then ask those questions to six to 10 people who are part of your audience—or more!
Principle #2: Understand today’s market ecosystem
Identify what cultural, economic, and other factors are shaping the current market and impacting how your audience experiences your brand.
How to do it:
Look into how your competitors are positioning themselves in the market by investigating how they’re telling their story through their websites, social media channels, and other communications platforms. You can also turn to the news and social media to study trends that may affect your market. Once you’ve gathered all this information, conduct a SWOT analysis—a chart of your company’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats—to pinpoint yourself in the market relative to your competitors.
Principle #3: Create a “brain velcro” message
Communicate the one core idea that you want to communicate to your audience about your brand. This should be an idea that, based on all of your research, will make your specific audience say “yes.” The right message will stick in the heads of your audience like “brain velcro,” Page explained, referencing a concept coined by Chip and Dan Heath, authors of “Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die.”
How to do it:
Articulate your core idea, then write a paragraph expanding on that idea. From there, winnow it down, removing as many words as you can. Clarity and brevity are important: “If you can make your idea as compact as possible, you have a better chance of it sticking,” Page said. These few words that communicate the essence of your brand will become your tagline—a short, catchy, impactful phrase that will stick with your specific audience.
These three principles in action:
Captains of Industry worked with UPC Wind, a Massachusetts wind energy startup trying to build projects in rural areas, during the Great Recession. UPC Wind’s tagline—“Feel the Wind. Think Clean.”—wasn’t resonating with the leaders of communities whose top priorities were economic growth and new jobs rather than clean energy. UPC Wind became First Wind and swapped its tagline for “Clean energy. Made here.” This new brand emphasized local innovation, leadership, and growth. Following its change in messaging, First Wind was able to get projects off the ground and later sold for $2.4 billion, according to Page.
This case study underscores the three principles Captains of Industry articulated—understanding the audience who you need to say “yes” (local mayors), making sense of the current market ecosystem and factors at play (the Great Recession, for one), and creating an impactful message that’s tailored to your audience (“Clean Energy. Made here.”). First Wind’s success after its rebrand demonstrates the power of effective messaging, even—and especially—during challenging times.
This session on communications is part of Greentown Labs’ commitment to support startups as they navigate the impacts of COVID-19. To learn more about these efforts, follow us on Twitter or check out our blog.