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November 30, 2015

Have you seen the award-winning ad for Volvo Trucks created by the talented people over at Forsman & Bodenfors? It shows JCVD doing an epic split over two Volvo trucks driving backwards. If you haven’t seen it, watch it; if you have, watch it again. It’s a classic.



So what does this commercial have to do with startups? My answer is: EVERYTHING!

I would love to see the brief that the advertising agency got when they were asked to create this ad but, without reading it, I assume it went something like this:


“We are launching a new line of European heavy duty trucks and each of these five trucks has some spectacular technology which is the result of very innovative engineering. We want you to find a way to explain this to people so they choose our trucks over the competition.”


Most people don’t find engineering that exciting, definitely not exciting enough to share, but somehow the great minds at Forsman & Bodenfors found a way to take the core message in this brief and present it to the world through a memorable series of stories, the Volvo Trucks live tests.


Now strip away the fluff from the ad and think just about the core message behind this live test. It’s basically, “Our new dynamic steering system is precise and stable, even when driving backwards.” That’s it. Not exciting, not even that interesting. But it’s simple to understand and, with the right treatment, both memorable and effective. I bet Volvo Trucks was pleased and got what they wanted.


Last week, I had the privilege of mentoring startups at H-CAMP, the Italian accelerator from H-FARM. For a whole week, I talked to some of the most interesting startups in the Italian ecosystem, learned their products, and how they’re going to change the world. Overall, I met 10 startups and worked with them on their messaging.

The mentoring began with a presentation about messaging and creativity followed by 1-on-1s with each team to understand their current messages and how to improve them. During the 1-on-1s I found a similar pattern which affects most early-stage startups. They talked about themselves, what they do, platforms, ecosystems, big data, algorithms, clouds and what not. What they didn’t talk about was their core message. How they’ll help people in a simple and understandable manner.


Your core message is the foundation of your marketing and it needs to start as early as possible. It will help you talk about your startup with investors, accelerator programs, VCs, angels, employees and, last but not least, users. Each audience might hear something slightly tailored to them but, at the essence, it’s always the same core message.


There are many ways to find your core message and even more ways to build a story it but I’ll stop here and leave you with one question:


When you describe your startup, do you tell people what it is or do you explain how it’ll help them?


If you tell people what it is, join me in my next post where I will write about how to pin down that elusive core message which will help your startup get traction. If you want us to tell you when it’ll be published, comment below or tweet to me at @cosmic_rockstar.



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