The first thing a startup needs to do is persuade customers that its products or services are worth their time and money. That’s just Business 101. But as obvious as this seems, we’ve seen countless startups fail to effectively communicate their offerings and struggle to compel customers to take out their wallets.
Many early-stage companies fall into the trap of overwriting: rather than use clear, straightforward copy, they throw too much jargon and technical detail into their marketing assets. Others seem to draft websites and ads without understanding who they’re writing for and what will inspire and motivate them to act. To help you avoid these common pitfalls when copywriting for a startup, we’ve assembled some tips we’ve picked up through years of experience.
Tip 1: Start strategically
Copywriting for any business is challenging, but copywriting for a startup can feel particularly overwhelming. The tools that big corporations supply their writers—like examples of successful clips and brand and style guidelines—simply don’t exist yet. However, for the same reason, the process can also be especially fun. Oftentimes, a startup’s brand hasn’t been defined, which gives copywriters an opportunity to exercise their creative muscle and put together something truly new.
Before putting pen to paper, though, there’s the less fun—but absolutely necessary—part: devising a strategy. Taking time to understand the landscape the company operates in, its audience, and its differentiators will help you write copy that doesn’t just sound good, but actually works. Even if you don’t have the budget for a comprehensive branding consultation, answering these questions and keeping them on hand as a gut check can help guide your writing and minimize rewrites:
- What does the startup do, and how does it do it?
- Who is the target audience, and what are their pain points?
- What benefits does the startup provide to customers?
- How do you want customers to feel after reading? What do you want them to do?
- What sets the startup apart from its competitors?
- How would you describe the brand in three words?
Once you answer these questions, it’ll be much easier to figure out what the content needs to communicate. For website copy, the objective might be to inform customers about the product or service. For content marketing, it might be to capture leads. Whatever it may be, starting strategically will yield better results than diving in headfirst and hoping for the best.
Question #3 is essential: “What benefits does the startup provide to customers?” One of the keys to copywriting for startups, especially in the tech world, is emphasizing the why instead of the what. Rather than get distracted by a product’s features—aka the bells and whistles—focus on why those features matter to customers. That’s how you write copy that deeply resonates.
Tip 2: Understand your audience
Audience is everything. When it comes to figuring out a startup’s brand voice, it’s important to keep the target audience front of mind. Is the main demographic tech-savvy zoomers or change-wary boomers? Do they lean formal or playful? Bold or subdued? Keep your audience front and center when copywriting for a startup.
Strong examples come from Goodles and Camp, two startups that put a healthy spin on boxed mac and cheese. By adding more protein, fiber, and healthy nutrients, Goodles and Camp deliver mac and cheese options that people can feel good about eating. But while their products are healthier, their marketing isn’t stodgy. Both brands opt for fun website copy packed with jokes and puns. “Mac’s back, baby,” reads Goodles’s homepage. “The mac and cheese we love just got gooder.” Camp takes a similar approach: “Creamy, dreamy mac & cheezy.” While both mac and cheese options might be less sinful, their copy suggests that they aren’t any less spunky or nostalgic than Kraft’s blue box. They lean into the silly, knowing their audience of Gen Zers and health-conscious moms looking for kid-friendly lunches will embrace it.
Another brand that successfully targets its audience with copy is Real, a therapy membership startup. With a target demographic of digitally native Gen Zers and millennials, Real leans into casual texting lingo to make a daunting endeavor a bit less intimidating. “We’ll help you develop new skills so you can take care of your mental health IRL, not just on-screen,” its homepage reads. Real’s therapy pathways don’t shy away from humor either: one reads, “WTF am I doing with my career?” These one-liners signal to young people that Real is designed specifically for them and understands their needs.
Tip 3: Declutter your copy
One of the biggest mistakes when copywriting for a startup is overcomplicating the message. Why use 10 words when you could use three? Why write “utilize” when “use” works just as well? The best copy is simple and concise—free from fancy terms and flowery language that gets in the way. Customers want to know two things: what you offer and why they should care.
Take a hint from Robinhood, the digital investment app that bakes simplicity into its value proposition. “Investing is simple here,” its homepage reads. “Start building your portfolio with just $1. Invest in stocks, options, and ETFs at your pace and commission-free.” By setting the stakes low, Robinhood appeals to casual and beginner investors who aren’t interested in the account minimums or opening fees that come with legacy brokerage firms.
The rule doesn’t just apply to B2C brands, either. Software startup LawVu, which provides a digital workspace to in-house legal teams, speaks to an audience with a penchant for complicated writing while keeping its copy simple. “The first truly connected legal workspace for in-house legal teams,” it proudly declares. Its product and benefits are crystal clear.
At MarketSmiths, we often ask new clients if there’s a brand they admire. Never has someone named a brand or website that’s complicated or confusing. The most popular pick? Apple—a company known for using simplicity as its guiding principle. While it can seem counterintuitive, the most memorable brands are the ones that keep things clear and accessible.
A B2B firm broke onto the global scene
A leading platform for collaborating in-house to generate beautiful regulatory and shareholder-facing documents, Tangelo needed help building up its international audience—with clear, engaging copy that even non-experts could understand. MarketSmiths was soon on the case, quickly grasping Tangelo and its complex B2B product positioning. Our early website copy for the Dutch firm helped secure its first Australian client, while a recent LinkedIn campaign got the company around 40 leads. Combined that with quick turnarounds and it’s no wonder we’ve been so instrumental in getting Tangelo noticed in a crowded market.
Let MarketSmiths lend you a hand
Copywriting for startups doesn’t have to be sensational, shocking, or too clever by half. Just keeping your copy simple and letting strategy guide you can win over customers in the long run.
And if you’re struggling to keep up with your startup’s content marketing needs—or looking for seasoned writers to take copywriting off your plate—the expert team at MarketSmiths is here to help.