Warning for Startup Marketing: Put The Lipstick Down

Lipstick on a pig – a phrase used for decades to describe “making superficial or cosmetic changes to a product in a futile effort to disguise its fundamental failings”, according to Wikipedia. This applies to a scary amount of marketing out there.

Marketing ultimately supports our decision making around whether or not we buy something, but today, particularly in B2B, buyers are becoming more attuned to surface-level marketing over real substance or meaning.

After many years working in marketing, I’ve now become overly sensitive to the vast amount of empty marketing messages sprayed across every channel one interacts with. The campaigns themselves might be beautiful to look at, but the actual message lacks depth, value, or interest.

Therefore, the saying is true: ‘you can’t put lipstick on a pig’. And this is especially important for startup leaders to keep front of mind when marketing their business.

The Message Is What Matters Most

I’ll put my hands up and say that I have definitely made mistakes in the past where I became more interested in my flashy campaign idea than what the message of value is for my customer. I’ve hosted huge scale events, worked with talented designers on beautiful brand creatives, and I’ve built shiny animated ads.

My point is that the channel will not matter if the message doesn’t connect with your customer. In my own experience, the campaigns that drove results were those that creatively executed a carefully crafted message that meaningfully resonated with my customers.

The message of your campaigns must be helpful, engaging, and memorable in order for them to stand out. Start with obsessing over the message before you even begin thinking about the channel.

I hear founders often say things like “We’re investing heavily in events” or “We’re running a webinar series.”

So what?

None of that matters if your message is boring.

How To Master Messaging

When you’re deep in the weeds, like most Startup founders, you can become blind to the message you’re putting out there because you’ve read it and said it a million times. So how do you get the message right?

The answer isn’t particularly complicated. You basically have to put the work in to understand your customers, what they care about most and how your product/ service relates to that.

Once you fully understand that, it’s time to layer in creativity.

If you’re trying to capture existing demand over competing products, then creativity and effective copywriting play an important role here in capturing attention.

For example, I just searched for ‘sales forecasting tool’ and was offered a bunch of solutions, and most of them were saying the exact same thing around ‘sales teams analytics for quarterly forecasting’. The tool Clari also came up and the intro line read ‘Call your number based on real-time data and predictive insights’.

That one small difference in their messaging made them stand out for two reasons: they highlighted a really important responsibility for salespeople (calling their number) and they addressed them directly by using the word ‘your’.

The emotion behind your marketing message can have a great impact on not only how your target customer feels about you, but also the success of conversions with customers clicking through to book a meeting with you.

After working on knowing your customer inside out and then designing creative messaging, it’s then critical to test it. Always take the time to ask for feedback on your core messaging from the people who it’s intended for. Their insights are gold when it comes to building a message that stands out from your competitors.

Evolve With Your Customers

Lastly, it’s important to note that the message you use today might not work in the future.

Many Founders build positioning and marketing messaging early on in their startup, but the product and market evolve, as does your customer.

Stay on the pulse of change and continuously pay attention to how your customer understands your product and describes its value. This is where early adopters and customer champions are important in keeping you honest. Using their insights and feedback will help you to keep building on your messaging, ensuring your marketing hits home with your customers and supports the growth of your business.