5 reasons messaging fails at scale
Scale is one of life’s “good problems.”
Like when a billionaire has the enviable issue of picking between traveling via Gulfstream or megayacht to their private island oasis, scale is a pain point only a privileged few ever have to reckon with.
For those lucky few, it’s the ability to take what worked well when you were small and make it work just as well when you’ve hit it big that distinguishes the tech companies that last.
With rapid growth comes all kinds of scaling challenges—and not just those related to software and infrastructure. The tech certainly comes first, but companies also need to find ways to scale their teams, office space, and company culture. A team of 5 might not need a mission statement or defined values—a team of 500 is a different story.
One other scaling challenge that’s often overlooked? Messaging.
Every company needs messaging, after all. The words you choose to let customers know who you are, what you sell, and why you’re better than all the rest.
Sounds simple enough with a few founders and a single product, right? But what about when your scrappy start-up achieves full-fledged unicorn status?
Most companies only realize they have a messaging problem long past the point they should have done something about it. Looking around, they quickly recognize that their now-larger company struggles to organize a vast array of product messages, pitch decks, customer journey maps, sales plays, and social media strategies.
Messaging debt, just like tech debt, can hamper an organization’s growth in lots of ways. Extending your sales cycles. Increasing your churn and burn rates. Signaling to investors you’re not serious about scaling.
When things are moving at startup speeds, how can you get your marketing house in order without breaking everything that got you where you are today?
Here are five easy-to-spot symptoms that your messaging won’t scale, and a few tips for what to do about it.
Symptom #1: A singular focus on speeds and feeds
You’ve built a great product, no doubt about it. It’s crafted with the cleanest code. It’s got the smartest, most user-friendly UI this side of Mailchimp. It’s jam-packed with all the features and functions your beta testers said they needed.
When you sit down to write your sales sheet or create content for your landing page, you’ve got to find room for all of it, right?
Not so fast.
In reality your customers aren’t buying your product as much as they’re buying your product’s ability to solve a problem for them. To alleviate their pain points so they can do whatever it is they do better, faster, and more confidently.
Communicating this promise, therefore, depends less on your ability to tick every box of a buyer’s feature wish list and more on your ability to relate to the world they experience every day. Your goal is to highlight, in human terms, how you help make their world a little better.
To be clear, technical details have their place. Keep them tucked away in a bulleted list on your landing page, or detailed in a long-form white paper you send to prospects who need a final nudge to close the deal.
Besides, the tech space moves so quickly that even if you’re the fastest or most full-featured, odds are you won’t be for long. You’ll see more success in the long run if you build a messaging strategy around solving problems, and not around speeds and feeds.
Symptom #2: There’s too much to read
This one’s pretty simple. In tech marketing, as in life, less is almost always more. Today’s consumers are more distractible and more mobile than ever. Which makes being economical with your messaging more important than ever.
Think about it. Every message you put out into the market not only fights for attention with your direct competitors, but also with Slack, emails, YouTube links, memes, conference calls, team meetings, family obligations.
One quick tip to keep things brief? Use fewer commas.
If you find yourself listing out benefit after benefit, with sentences and paragraphs running on and on—cut them down. Make declarative statements. Give readers one thing to think about at a time. That’s plenty. You don’t have to say everything with every message.
Symptom #3: Lack of organization
As companies grow, solo products often become comprehensive platforms. Whether through the development of new features or via acquisition, many marketers quickly find they have a lot more to say than they used to.
As the org chart spreads and your brand architecture expands, keeping your messaging house in order is a top priority. Soon every business unit is clamoring for the same hero placement on the homepage.
Take a page out of Marie Kondo’s book and keep things tidy. Understand that messages should exist at a range of tiers: From big, evocative brand messages to persona-targeted sales plays that win new business, every message has its place. Applying a little bit of rigor to your platform messaging strategy can go a long way.
Another area where organization plays a crucial role at scale: your brand’s personality.
As a company grows, one-person marketing operations often give way to entire teams of content creators, each with their own way of communicating. Keeping your unique style in check gets a lot more complicated with so many cooks in the kitchen.
Carve out a section of your brand guidelines where you codify your voice characteristics. Figure out who your hypothetical celebrity spokesperson would be so you can channel their voice anytime you sit down to write on behalf of the brand. Give your entire team writing and editing checklists they can refer to as they pull their own pieces together.
Shameless plug: New Kind offers brand voice projects for tech companies like yours. We also do one-day workshops for teams.
Symptom #4: Speaking only one language
Translation is one key piece of messaging strategy that’s often overlooked.
It’s a great big world out there. Full of possibilities. And possible customers. The move from one stage of growth to the next means you’re reaching more customers than ever. Odds are these customers won’t always be close to home.
Assuming you’re on firm legal footing to do business in other territories (check with a lawyer on this one), having versions of your content translated into other languages can open doors to opportunities that might otherwise stay shut.
Translation aside, it’s also smart to give cultural consideration to the content you create. Expressions and idioms common to your native culture might confuse or alienate readers from other necks of the woods.
If your all-in-one platform delivers the “whole kit and caboodle” or your DBaaS scales “in a New York minute,” the messages you think are charming and relatable might just be confusing to prospects who don’t possess a mastery of your native tongue. Keep it simple. Keep it inclusive.
Symptom: #5: Ignoring the needs of internal teams
B2B SaaS marketers, especially once they’ve achieved enterprise scale, can hardly resist the appeal of making a big splash with their scaled-up messaging budget. Flashy campaigns, eye-catching headlines, every piece of swag under the sun. (Anyone see how Staples rolled out their new brand earlier this year? Talk about enthusiasm.)
Don’t get me wrong, as a writer I love when messaging gets marquee treatment.
But beyond the bright lights of the home page, messaging really makes its mark with the sales team—the people who depend on it to close deals and grow the business.
Sales sheets. Pitch decks. Demo scripts. Trade show collateral. Your big beautiful brand story comes to life across a range of tactical touch points.
Crucial to a scalable sales strategy? Abso-friggin’-lutely.
As you work to build out your messaging platform, build in an extra cycle or two to involve a few representatives from your sales team. Listen to their input to better understand how the messages you develop can help make their jobs easier.
While these symptoms are very common across the tech landscape, the good news is they’re also very treatable.
Needing to scale your messaging strategy means you must be doing something—and in all likelihood, lots of things—right. So don’t take anything here as a cause for concern. With a little planning, practice, and a few of the tips above, any organization can take their message to new heights.
Need a little guidance to get there? New Kind is happy to help. Brand strategy for tech companies is what we do—all we do—every day. For established enterprises and venture-backed startups alike, we guide SaaS and open source companies to position themselves, communicate value, and shape culture. If that sounds like something we can help you with, don’t hesitate to get in touch.