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What’s all the fluff about – A messaging masterclass by Vikram Bhaskaran

SETTING THE STAGE 

It was Summer’s first break. She was skipping around her backyard with her puppy in tow when she stopped for a moment below the tree to look up at the beaming sun. That’s when a lemon hit her on the head. She chanced upon her Eureka moment and decided to make, well, lemonade. She realized there was so much more lemonade left that she decided to sell it. She drew up a signboard advertising lemonade, put up some chairs, got a table, and set them on her lawn under the shade. She sat down with her large jug of lemonade and waited eagerly for her first customer. 

The mild breeze made her doze off as she waited, and was woken up by a sound from across the street, only to realize that she had her first customer waiting. Dressed in a full-length cloak, an old man walked up to her and bought some lemonade to strike up a conversation with her. He began asking her questions about why she wanted to sell lemonade. She replied that she wanted to help people beat the heat and enjoy their day. Being charmed by the little girl’s answer and doing his bit in paying it forward, the cloaked man gave Summer a couple of hints to help her find her hidden treasure. And here’s what he had to say. 

We start businesses because we are passionate about something in life, and we exist to make meaning. Setting out on the journey to explore the meaning of every business involves five steps. 

STEP 1: Testing the waters

It’s just like learning to swim. You don’t just jump into the water and expect everything to be alright. You understand and have a sense of the pool before stepping in. Likewise, understanding the market shape is quintessential when beginning with your narrative arc. Know who you want to go after and their availability. Think about your market and how you want to pitch your story or value. Pay attention to how the demand scene is in the market; will you be seeking your ideal customers, or will they be seeking you. With Summer, he explained that she needed to be more proactive in seeking out her customers. 

STEP 2: Gathering your superpowers 

Once you have tested the waters, it’s time to round up all your equipment. You will need to decode where your strength lies and how you will stay afloat. In marketing parlance, this would mean construing who your competition is. You will need to show your prospects how you are significantly different and better than the rest of the players. And customers might need a bit of convincing and persuasion to gravitate towards you. Decoding your behavior irrelevance, use-case irrelevance, and key-feature irrelevance will further help your cause. 

STEP 3: Taking the plunge 

Answering the who, why, and when questions are the toughest. But when you begin to unbuild and rebuild in layers, it becomes more like having a cake. Here are some tricks and beginner ingredients to go with. 

  1. It’s time to retire John and Jane – With a modern spin on the classic jobs to be done framework, you analyze and reiterate the purpose your customers have hired you to do. The user in any situation will have a motivation to try a product, service, or offering for her to reach an expected outcome. For example, with Rocketlane, a SaaS purpose-built customer onboarding platform, the user will be able to streamline their onboarding process and get themselves out of an escalation situation. In this case, the expected outcome for the user would be to deliver a delightful customer onboarding experience to her clients. One counter to this framework is to work on what happens when you cease to exist in the market.
  1. Why are you ‘the Chosen One’? – It’s wonderful to be the chosen one. But like in Harry Potter, you will have to swish your wands and make the world a better place for your customers. Here, the age-old value prop canvas with circles and rectangles can be reformulated to point out customers’ pains and aspirations to be linked back to one’s product pain relievers and gain creators. Your aim would be to ‘wow’ your customers and get them to be all smiles after using your product. 
  2. The build-up before the finale – Somewhere along the way, customers would have had an event or situation leading them to realize that something was challenging. The incident would have made them want a better solution, and that is when they search for you. For Summer, the heat was making people want a cool drink. But with Chargebee, the Zero Moment of Truth for customers was when they realized they couldn’t spend so many manual hours sending invoices to multiple people. 

STEP 4: Tying things up 

Here’s where you start making sense of how your narrative should flow. You begin to focus on something beautiful you want to save in this world and how you will do it. You can have unlimited sides to the multifaceted protagonist, and she might as well wear a cape, carry a wand or come dressed in a suit. But this is going to bring meaning to what you do. Conspire a solution to solve the world’s pain, and make sure you are there to help solve it. 

STEP 5: The Circle of Life 

No journey is complete without piecing all the bits together. When you started, you had a broken world to fix. Your customer had landed in the abyss, the pit of exasperation, and had found you as their Gandalf. With you on their team, the customer was able to experience their ‘wow’ moment and return to their zen mode.

Having ended his long monologue, the cloaked man saw Summer and her puppy snoring slightly beside him. The scene brought a smile to the man’s face, and he set out on his path with a chuckle. 

THE ACTUAL FLUFF 

Leaving behind Summer and her puppy, we pan out to see how the narrative arc and sticky story will help startups with their marketing. 

Everyone remembers the adorable Vodafone puppy that follows you around. Everyone remembers the Coca-Cola red, the Pepsi blue, and the Cadbury purple. And everyone surely remembers McDonald’s jingle of ‘I’m lovin’ it’! All this is to say people love a sticky, good narrative. 

As the saying goes, people don’t buy goods and services; they look to buy relations, stories, and magic. And weaving magic into your story is the elixir of your marketing game, be it for category players or category creators. 

Startups want to stand out from the crowd and get noticed as unique snowflakes. They want to create foundational building blocks by upping their marketing game in the most ingenious ways. And more often than not, all this marketing might seem like a truckload of fluff. But once you unpack all the fluff, you will have gotten to the inner core of your business, and this is precisely what Vikram Bhaskaran, Fractional CMO & Advisor, for SaaSBOOMi Growth 2022, taught everyone to do in his exquisite workshop recently.