how to create unique messaging by identifying your value

How to Create Unique Messaging by Identifying Your Value

How to Create Unique Messaging by Identifying Your Value 650 650 Kim Donlan

Recently, I had an opportunity to help my mentor with her latest startup and create a unique message that would connect with the right audience. Over 20 years ago, I met Lois Lindauer, one of Boston’s most successful women CEOs, when I joined The Commonwealth Institute. Lois had sold Diet Workshop and was just starting her second business, Lois L. Lindauer Searches. In a sea of conservative-chic trailblazers, Lois had this creative flair. I, the digital, email, web-conferencing maven, immediately connected with Lois, whose mantra was “Why don’t you come in and we can talk face to face?”

Look to the founders for clues to create unique messaging

Back then, I was razor-focused on raising money and closing early customers for my marketing software firm, Perfect Pitch. When I say razor-focused, I mean head-down, nothing else matters, if I can just do this, please God, I won’t ask for anything else kind of focus. The bursting of the tech bubble put an end to that particular dream. In many ways, it should have put an end to the relationship I had with Lois Lindauer. It didn’t.

Now and again, I would email Lois with questions on how to pivot my own businesses or the VC-backed tech firms I was leading. Out of deep respect, I didn’t ask often. Each time, she would insist we meet. Her advice was always insightful, thoughtful and wise. And right.

Lois and I are both relentless entrepreneurs. From her, I learned to give people time and advice whenever they asked. When I got a call in November, Lois was now the razor-focused woman looking to capitalize on her small business selling postcards on Etsy. A small project had morphed into a potential business. It was time to create unique messaging that would connect with the right audience.

A simple framework to create unique messaging

It happens to many founders and executive teams. Creating a unique message that connects is hard. It’s there, but each time you try to articulate it, you ramble on and on. An explanation of WHAT you are offering can be trapped inside the reason WHY you are offering your products and services. The struggle with the messaging problem is a conflict between the WHAT and the WHY. If you can’t connect the WHAT and the WHY, it becomes difficult to create messaging that matters to your audience.

For founders with an idea chasing funding and customers and VC-backed teams disrupting a market, defining the messaging framework is key. You often need a framework to uncover the link between WHAT and WHY. As I wrote about in my article “I Just Need a Landing Page” and Other Mistakes You Are Making with Your Early-Stage Branding, there are discovery questions that can help get you thinking about this connection. To further that thinking, here are the two principles I keep in mind when creating unique messaging that connects:

  1. Messaging is the ability to communicate your unique value.
  2. Your unique value is always a core principle of you, as a person, or your team, as a collective.

Here is an example of the two principles at work in the case of Lois Lindauer and Keep Me Posted Postcards.

Creating unique messaging is the ability to communicate your unique value.

There has been a resurgence of direct mail and postcards in particular. People are reading postcards in greater numbers, with a 3.9% year-over-year increase (USPS Household Diary Study). Postcards have a 5.7% response rate (DMA) and, when combined with other methods, increase branding efforts. And 57% of customers feel more valued when they receive a postcard. (The Private Life of Mail Study). For example, when we conducted our consumer insight and SEO research, we found that people struggle with how to follow up after meetings, networking functions, and other events.

Clearly, Lois’s unique value is that her business allows customers to grow their networks and businesses using postcards and sign up for tips on what to actually write on the postcards. This is a unique value. This could be core to creating unqiue messaging that connects. But is it enough?

Your unique value is always a core principle of you or your team

Your target market is critical and oh-so-hard to nail. Everyone can benefit, but which market is the easiest to enter? For personal postcards that help a business grow, it made sense to think about salespeople, consultants, freelancers, business development folks and small-business owners. We then looked at  Lois’ philosophy and history of supporting women. This led to insightful consumer research that reveals that:

  • Women have a tendency to harbor moral concerns about “exploiting” social ties. It causes them to under-benefit from networking activities (Science Daily Press Release)
  • And “women build less effective professional networks than men as they underestimate self-worth.” (Science Daily Press Release)

So we have a unique value (personalized postcards that can help networks and businesses grow). And a target market (women consultants, small-business owners, freelancers, and sales/business developers).

When we really look at the products (postcards) and the service (the tips for what to say to stand out, grow your business and add to your marketing toolkit), there is a clear WHAT. But we still need the emotional connection. Many marketers and entrepreneurs skim over this step. It’s understandable. It involves getting to the root of WHY you? Why choose Keep Me Posted Postcards over MailChimp or Moo? How do you think about creating messaging that is the right emotional balance.

Finding the emotional connection

For Lois, the emotional connection is the value of lifelong, personal relationships that are the direct result of meaningful, thoughtful interactions. A handwritten note, a personal message, or a face-to-face meeting can have a lasting impact. The personal postcards are a tangible reminder that in this digital world, human connection is extremely important. Human connection is what built Lois’ deep network and success. Her new business is a way of sharing her know-how with others.

Entrepreneurs struggle to create unique messaging when they can’t see their businesses as a direct extension of who they are. Customers and prospects respond positively to those who are clear about what they care about. And they really respond when they know you care about them.

I just need a landing page and other mistakes you are making with your early stage branding

Startup Branding: The Best Discovery Questions and Digital Framework

Startup Branding: The Best Discovery Questions and Digital Framework 650 650 Kim Donlan

Brand strategy for startups is complex. As you launch your new ideas, seek financing and find initial customers, branding is often pushed to the side. It is costly, time-consuming, and simply not a priority. While full branding and messaging do take time, a failure to understand the pitfalls of startup branding can stop your company from ever really taking off.

Some think, “We’ll figure out the branding later—all I need is a landing page.” Another is, “We’re in stealth mode, so I can’t publicly share what we really do.” Or, “We can just use a template for now.” The problem with this thinking is it prevents you from addressing the fundamental questions that define your brand. As a result, it keeps you from communicating why your early adopters should trust you.

Where startups go wrong with brand strategy

A digital presence—even a seemingly simple landing page—need to address the foundational business questions early customers have. Branding and messaging require you to answer the tough discovery questions that prospective customers have about you and your idea. It is painstaking work to articulate your idea. But it does lead to a better customer experience that builds trust and a sales funnel from the beginning.

Best brand startup discovery questions

  • What is the impetus of your idea?
  • Who are you?
  • Can you succinctly describe your products or services?
  • What kind of organization or business model are you?
  • Where you are in the marketplace, and where you would like to go?
  • How do you currently market your products and services?
  • What is your competitive advantage?
  • Are there any trends or changes that are affecting your industry?
  • Are there any potential barriers to success for your product or service?
  • Where do you want to be in three years?
  • If you could communicate one single message about your company, what would it be?

These startup brand strategy discovery questions are vital to your digital presence and, in fact, the identity of your brand. Most noteworthy, your answers shape the content and structure of your preliminary digital engagement plan. It does not matter whether you have a single landing page, a small site, a predominantly social approach, or just a sign-up form—it must reflect the answers to the discovery questions to some degree.

Think customer experience even with a templated site

Yes, it is true that your brand will change as you go to market. Certainly, there is fluidity as you refine your messaging and learn more about how the market will be impacted by your idea. Having a branding and messaging starting point will prevent you from taking the shortcut offered by templated landing pages. Because templated landing pages give you a cookie-cutter digital presence that makes you look just like everyone else, they rob you of your uniqueness.

Because templates are quick and easy, they allow you to save money on designers and developers. Add a hero image (check), list the features and benefits (got it), incorporate clever team bios (yup) and a contact form (done). But these templates are being used by every other early-stage company and can trap you in an online experience does not distinguish you. More importantly, templates deployed without the branding and messaging can lead you down a path that fails to address the customer’s perspective.

Brand startup digital framework

The Startup Brand Discovery Questions help you examine your idea more closely—what is your idea, how does it fit in the market and where are you going with it? (To get the full list of discovery questions, please email me at The answers to these questions are from your perspective. As you move towards the Startup Digital Branding Framework, you need to think about how your answers can be framed from the customer’s perspective.

Imagine you have a small site, just something built to support your efforts to close initial pilots and secure funding. First of all, branding and messaging are embedded in the typical sections. The template will have you fill in features, benefits, and product information. Furthermore, all the information will be from your perspective and not help you present your business with a customer-centric message. Finally, the templates make it hard to address what the customer is really thinking. Take a look at the framework below that presents shows how the map the messaging to the site.

Align the CX with what customers seek

Startup branding digital framework that diagrams how to build a site in a way that makes you customer-centric from the beginning.
To see how this framework changes the site content, checkout out our case study on Nataly Kogan, here. Or go right to her great site we created,

Startup branding and messaging is hard work. The pressure to create a digital presence that supports current goals and shows the long-term vision is a balancing act. Above all, focusing on the customer experience in front of you is the best approach. The discovery questions and framework will get those critical first customers. As a result, you and your company will be around long enough to evolve.

Finally, think of startup branding as your version of the Grey’s Anatomy scene where Dr. Meredith Grey says, “So pick me. Choose Me. Love Me.” And the Startup Digital Branding Framework will ensure your idea connects with those who’ll love you most.

Design for the Most Valuable Customer

Design for the Most Valuable Customer 650 650 Kim Donlan


Customer engagement is a vital part of every conversation across an enterprise. It involves everything and every action the customer encounters — and is based on a deep emotional connection. A connection that intrigues, assures, entices, satisfies and soothes the customer so that they never look at the competition.

Customer engagement can be defined differently within an organization and even within a single department. When launching a new product or service, how do you determine what connection and which series of actions are the most valuable? Do you have a plan for the most profitable customers to engage with your organization?  

81% of marketers admit customer engagement is the top priority yet only 28% have a plan*

There is a better approach. Just remember these three key points:

  • Discuss engagement early and often
  • Advocate for customer centricity at all costs
  • Remember that a single path is not a journey — it’s a trap

Step 1: Discuss engagement early and often

Your product launch may require a new website, an email blast, a lead generation campaign — all of which must make and reinforce an emotional connection. Continuous discussion of exactly what that emotional connection is should include near- and far-reaching teams to expose opportunities. Empowering others to own the emotional connection improves engagement across every touchpoint.

Step 2: Be customer-centric at all costs

It is natural to think from a company view — especially with the pressure to outperform KPIs. When you look outside in, you see the longer view — the opportunity for customers to have conversations on multiple paths to the same destination. It takes discipline to home in on what Peter Fader calls “the most valuable customers.” Connecting with the most valuable customers requires creating positive online and in-person conversations some of which will lead to a lift in the KPIs while others will be measured by lifetime engagement value.

Step 3: Remember that a single path is not a journey — it’s a trap

If you only offer a single path, you run the risk of alienating customers instead of enticing them. The customer might feel led into an alley with the requisite marching band parading behind. Without choices, customers may protest in small or big ways like providing dirty data or just not trusting the emotional connection.

Offer customers minor content detours to support their decision-making. This goes a long way in ensuring the customer feels empowered by your messaging and connected emotionally. More importantly, your customers will reciprocate by willingly providing accurate contact information. The bonus is that you will have embedded a mini A/B study for added insight into content and behavior.

Customer engagement requires a holistic approach — a precise solution that matches your culture, company, and competitive advantage. It involves everything and every point the customer encounters — and is based on a deep emotional connection. A connection that intrigues, assures, entices, satisfies and soothes the customers so that they never look at the competition.

*According to a recent report by B2B Marketing and The Telemarketing Company