Guest column

Here's what Houston's innovation community is missing out on when it comes to messaging

Don't miss a messaging or communications opportunity for your startup. Photo via Getty Images

By definition, companies throughout the innovation ecosystem have a purpose-driven story to tell. As communication strategists who specialize in purpose-driven clients, we wondered if influencers of Houston's entrepreneurial community see any recurring communication challenges getting in the way of companies successfully securing funding, acquiring customers and even recruiting talent.

For two months we interviewed investors, accelerators, industry customers and entrepreneurs themselves, asking for missed opportunities they may be seeing in what and how companies are communicating. Below are our findings, with corresponding recommendations organized into four key points of action.

Distinguish yourself from your competition

"They may have an incredible concept, but terrible messaging," was a surprisingly common response to our investigation of communication obstacles.

Many innovators think that simply describing the inspiration for their company, perhaps the illness of a loved one or an observed struggle, is enough for explaining the Why of their story. In fact, investors, potential customers and even employees are looking for something more substantial.

First, what distinguishes your company from others like it? Regardless of how pioneering the solution you offer, it will be compared to whatever else is currently available to address the need, including nothing at all. Simply explaining how what you provide works is not enough. Our research substantiated the need for also addressing your company's relevance and differentiation. Characterizing the unique essence of your company is an important distinguisher from the competition that helps cut through the noise.

When formulating a client's organizational messaging we not only examine their purpose, we study their values and culture so that it is reflected in language the company uses to describe itself. Potential customers we interviewed said the compatibility of company cultures and values weigh heavily in their considerations for partnering. So, you're overlooking a key distinguishing strategy if you think target audiences are only interested in the nuts and bolts of what you do.

Speak the language of different audiences

More than the fundamental act of communicating, messaging is language specifically tailored to articulate an organization's unique purpose, significance, values, and culture. Messaging delivers the greatest impact when it functions as a tangible asset. In other words, a formal document of composed language that ensures continuity and is utilized as talking points for investor presentations, content on the company's website, themes reflected in digital advertising, etc. However, it should not be viewed as one size fits all.

Information with universal relevance, known as organizational messaging, is essential, but so is audience-specific messaging that addresses the unique perspectives, priorities and concerns of individual groups. The need for companies to recognize this important distinction was another of our findings.

While both investors and customers are interested in the viability of your company's technology or services, they each have very different needs and priorities. To motivate desired action, you must speak each audience's specific language, which means getting out of your head and into theirs.

If you're a B2B2C company, you may even need to speak the language of your customer's customer. Several research interviews expressed how companies shoot themselves in the foot when they don't take the long view of an audience's needs. If, for instance, your customer is having difficulty explaining to their patients how your innovative medical device works, composing instruction language and even producing patient education tools may be an added deliverable necessary for you to retain that contract.

Not recognizing employees as a key audience and overlooking the importance of strong internal communications was also identified as an obstacle to success. Clearly, attracting funding from investors and business from customers is a core objective of effective communications. However, employees should also be considered a priority with messaging that keeps them informed, inspired and on track. Afterall, they're the team that will take your vision over the finish line.

Connect on an empathetic level

Research participants emphasized the need for factoring in a discovery phase that not only involves learning how to speak an audience's language, but gaining an appreciation for the challenges, goals, protocols and culture of those they're approaching as well. It requires assuming a level of empathy and understanding, rather than a singular focus on "sales," that ultimately culminates in rewarding, long-term relationships.

Effective communication is not a one-way exchange. Listening is critical. When what you've discovered is reflected in your marketing materials, that demonstration of a genuine commitment to connect is reported as being even more impressive.

Avoid costly consequences of poor communications

Companies operating without a Strategic Communications Plan risk the expensive consequence of functioning in a chronic reactionary mode with scattered results and lost credibility through inconsistency.

Yes, flexibility is important, but the research we've conducted reveals a clear advantage for those who recognize the importance of effective communications, particularly growth-stage companies that have gained their initial footing and are ready to build on their brand. The key is putting a blueprint in place that connects the dots of what you offer and your distinguishing essence, with the needs of your targeted audiences, by speaking their language. If not, you risk missed opportunities for securing funding, acquiring customers and attracting the best talent.

Changing the world is your passion, helping innovative entrepreneurs effectively communicate that passion is ours.

------

Kelli Newman is president of the Houston-based communication strategies firm, Newman & Newman Inc., where she leads a talented team of marketing professionals advancing the success of their purpose-driven clients.

Trending News

Building Houston

 
 

When examining how you can better prepare and respond to ongoing climate-related challenges, the CRE community needs to prioritize marginalized communities that are already experiencing most of the negative impacts. Photography by Peter Molick

Houston is no stranger to hurricanes, and in recent years winter storms have become an increasing concern. Following the winter freeze in 2021, more than 4 million Texans were left without power, water, or heat. The state’s infrastructure system was adversely impacted concurrently — including workplaces, hospitals, transportation, homes, drinking water distribution, electric power generation, agriculture, and grocery stores. Now, a new potential disaster is on the horizon. Recent research shows Houston is most likely to be affected by wildfires, a climate-related challenge that our city has not previously faced.

According to the Gensler Research Institute’s 2022 U.S. Climate Action Survey, since 2019, only 18 percent of Americans believe their communities are built to withstand climate change. The good news is Americans overwhelmingly agree that addressing climate change is urgent. The question many are asking is — “How can we take action to better prepare buildings and cities to weather the climate challenge?” The solution is simple. In order to understand where we need to go, we must understand how we got here.

With a population that has more than doubled in the past 50 years, it is challenging for most Houstonians to imagine a time when The Bayou City was nothing more than agricultural lands and oil fields. Today, Houston is known for being the fourth-most populous city in the United States. It is a sprawling concrete jungle home to the world’s largest concentration of healthcare and research institutions. When reflecting on the past 50 years, one can’t help but evaluate the city’s successes and shortcomings. While Houston has succeeded in becoming a diverse, international city, we have sacrificed the very ecology that once made up one of the country’s most productive agricultural areas. By 1980, Houston possessed the least amount of green space per person in the country.

As new developments popped up across the city, it became difficult to convince developers to pursue third-party certifications such as LEED, a globally recognized symbol of sustainability that provides the framework for designing healthy, efficient, carbon saving buildings. We can credit Hines with being one of the few developers in Houston to prioritize green design during the early-2000s. City leaders also began advocating for resilient strategies and more green space to attract and retain international talent and businesses. In recent years, we have seen an increase in buildings that are achieving LEED certification, and soon it will become the baseline.

The Houston Advanced Research Center, Photography by Shau Lin Hon, Slyworks Photography

An example of a project leading the way for resilient design is The Houston Advanced Research Center (HARC). In 2017 the organization completed work on its LEED Platinum Certified headquarters which was designed to meet the ENERGY STAR certification rate of 99 (out of 100). This means that the building is more efficient than 99 percent of all office buildings in the United States. Skanska is another construction and development company bringing a sustainable mindset to downtown Houston with its work on Bank of America Tower. In 2019, the 775,000 square foot building became the largest LEED v4 Platinum Core and Shell certified project in the world to date and was developed with harvesting technology that will significantly reduce energy usage.

It’s also important to understand the impact that the climate crisis is having on people. 91 percent of U.S. Gen Z/Millennials have been affected by extreme weather events since 2019, the most of any generation. These experiences have resulted in two generations preparing to react and combat climate change and has encouraged a spirit of transparency among companies who choose to share their environmental goals and strategies.

For architects and designers, addressing building and energy codes is proving to be the next big design consideration. As codes progress in the coming years, the result will be more unique and unexpected building designs.

When reimagining the use of buildings, Architects Paulina Abella and Tayler Trojcak propose an experimental process for repurposing vacant buildings called High Hackers. The concept provides an opportunity for developers to offer prime downtown real estate to people with diverse skill sets, whom they call “hackers,” to pursue projects shaped by their individual ideas. These hackers—makers, artists, and academics—will work alongside one another in spaces that encourage them to coexist with creatives from other fields and disciplines. More importantly, it fosters a collaborative, organic, and innovative workflow.

When examining how you can better prepare and respond to ongoing climate-related challenges, we encourage prioritizing marginalized communities that are already experiencing most of the negative impacts. Promoting awareness and optimism in our communities is another simple yet effective way to make a difference. For businesses, creating a sense of continuity in the face of climate events, investing in energy and resource efficiency and adaptation, and addressing insurability and the long-term value of real estate will ultimately help lead Houston and its community members toward a place of preparedness and resiliency.

------

Rives Taylor directs Gensler’s Global Design Resilience teams and initiatives and has been a faculty member of both Rice University and the University of Houston for 30 years. Maria Perez is a design resilience leader for Gensler’s South Central region and director of sustainable design based in Gensler’s Houston office.

Trending News