Messaging 101: Its All About Me

Working a great deal of the time with startups and tech giants alike as we do at Wordsmithie, it’s exciting to be in on the ground floor of new ideas. Creating buzz around a new product or service and crafting the words and phrases that will connect it to people is one of the most fun and gratifying things we do.

The genius of “I was there when” stories

The app, SaaS, or gadget in our care began with a kernel of an idea — a need, opportunity, or discovery, brought to life by brilliant minds and tenacious personalities that pour a lifetime-worth of dedication, sweat, and worry into their vision. Ask these entrepreneurs at Techcrunch or over a copa at The Wine Room why their creation is great, and many times you’ll get a picture of the ingenuity, the art, the technology that went into its making. As a geek groupie, I love to hear and feel part of these “I was there when” stories.

Let’s say you’re just such an entrepreneur, or responsible for the marketing or PR of a new gizmo.  Of course, someone visiting your website, reading your press release, or glancing at your one-sheet needs to have the basic questions answered in seconds — “What is it?” and “What does it do?,” and if price is part of the value proposition, “How much does it cost?”

On the HBO series Silicon Valley, we know that Pied Piper compresses data a bazillion times faster than the competition (leaving Hooli Nucleus in the dust). Part of the reason the show is painfully funny is how eerily real it is (causing me butterflies personally at times), as we watch the team go through the startup gauntlet of funding pitches, trade press, and keeping an eye on the competition. The team’s focus at this nascent juncture is, appropriately, on the technology that makes the product ingenious.

But as Pied Piper moves to market (admittedly, I have some episodes to catch up on), the show – and its fictional entrepreneurs — will soon need to answer a very basic question to draw customers in, get them to scroll down Pied Piper’s sure-to-be chicly designed homepage, and make that fateful next click:

“What’s in it for me?”

PiedPiper claims to offer a revolutionary compression technology. But how will that technology change my life? How canits message resonate with me, a potential customer, on a personal and visceral level? Does that first message that hits me tell me how the product or service will:

– Make or save me money?

– Improve my quality of life?

– Improve my reputation or standing?

Madison Avenue has known this for years. Minty fresh breath, see-your-reflection shiny floors, and don’t-you-wish-you-were-me stylish cars make us feel hipper, sexier, and think that people will like (or envy) us more. We can feel smarter when we learn Brand X is a better value than the one we’ve always used. Often these messages prey on our insecurities (my dull smile attests to my 8-cup-per-day coffee habit) or convince us we have a problem we never knew about (Why, yes! I do feel painfully nervous and shy at parties!)

However, when it comes to a startup’s new app, SaaS, or digital thingamajig, the story, like the product itself, has to make the leap from the software developer’s brain (most likely the person who came up with the genius code and helped start the company) to a personal narrative that connects that big idea to my everyday life.

Coming up with a compelling story

One of the first challenges can be convincing the creator to step back from his up-close relationship with the product so that marketing folks can translate the insider vision to the outside world of users. Finding the budget, resources, or even the time to craft high-impact brand messaging can be tough when budgets are lean everyone’s wearing too many hats as it is.  This is where a content agency like Wordsmithie can help companies take a deep breath and connect the from dots of “What is it?” to “Why should I care?” How will you connect your product with people? I took a look at the websites of some of the most highly ranked companies (based on funding) on’s The Top 100 Cloud-based Enterprise Software Startups Of 2015 to see how their primary messages stacked up to the “what’s in it for me?” test. All are based in the San Francisco Bay Area. The disparate results surprised me. Without naming names…

– One company leaves me with no idea what it is that they do (or maybe they’re so famous and I’ve been living under a rock).

– One company says they have a “simpler way to work.” Oh, that word, “work” — the opposite of “play” and usually anathema to “fun.” This is followed by an overgeneralized promise that just about any cloud-based service can make.

– Another tells you vaguely that they “transform the way organizations use their data” and help “critical” organizations “solve problems.”

– One company had a catchy tagline (more about taglines in a future installment, I promise) and backed this up with a promise that it will “completely transform your business…” yet will do so “for less than the cost of disk.” (Does anyone by disks anymore?)

– The best, albeit most wordy entry, was clear. “See how your company can save money.” They help “thousands of companies operate more efficiently and save millions of dollars each year.” Sign me up!

Clearly, great ideas have taken these companies to mind-boggling heights. They are well-funded and their products are disruptive, meet a need, or move the needle in their industries. I’d wager, though, that those who can craft messages that make their potential customers hang on every word of their tagline or welcome blurb will find it easier to grow awareness and win customers.

It’s easy to get caught up in specs and lose the sizzle. So, it’s worth it to take a moment to stand in your customer’s shoes and answer the question, “What’s in it for me?” My dad would say this is “enlightened self interest” — in other words, creating a win-win.

Choose your words wisely. Make them connect, and treat them as your brand ambassadors. Word of mouth is still the most powerful path to buzz and a better bottom line. So until your new product is famous enough for Starbucks chatter or a flurry of hashtags, the message you put out there — the story that feels personal to customers –is your gateway to becoming the next-best thing. Because in the end, we’re just people talking to people.

ABOUT Michael Gaylord

Prior to moving to Madrid in 2011, Michael served as Vice President, Digital for MTV Networks’ cable brands Nick at Nite and TV Land. He began his career in the digital shops of downtown Manhattan, and has extensive experience in creative direction, user experience, convergent programming, integrated marketing and web analytics.