Deep down you know communicating innovation is a must. The day will come when you’ll have to explain your company’s technology and the problem it solves. But what you may not have considered is when and where to start. Of course, before you begin spreading the word, you’ll have to think about who needs to know about your innovation and why. Then, perhaps most crucially of all, you’ll need to consider how best to explain your cutting-edge offering. While capital oils the wheels of innovation, we see time and time again that it’s effective communication that invariably draws R&D capital and sales revenue towards innovators. Companies with a rock-solid communications program for their innovation are simply more successful when attracting investors and executing their go-to-market strategy. So we’ve pulled together what it takes to be consistently communicating and optimising capital raises and revenue generation for your business.
Be the early bird
When you’re building a new business, time and money are often in short supply. Too many early-stage ventures, and even some more established businesses with R&D mistakenly see communicating about their technology as an after-thought. Communications are often first on the chopping block when businesses need to trim their expenses. Or they put their planned communications program on hold until they amass more capital. But if you take this tack it will, at best, leave your start-up and your ideas languishing in the doldrums hoping for a lucky break or, at worst, prove fatal for your venture. Remember, in Australia, 90% of start-ups fail. To avoid a similar fate, make sure stakeholders who want to join you on your innovation journey and help you succeed are on board with your vision. And the sooner you do this, the better.
Make the time, the budget and a plan
Ringfence some of your budget and engage an agency with a proven track record of communicating innovative ideas. Alternatively, if someone on your team has excellent marketing and communications skills, they could do the legwork on your communications activities and stakeholder relations. And then you could lean on an agency for strategic advice. If you have been remiss about tackling marketing and communications for your enterprise, now’s the time to get started. No company has a bottomless pit of cash to throw at projects or business functions. So check out our article, Five ideas to help you extend your start-up’s runway for ways to find the budget and time you need to communicate your innovation. Whether you decide to handle the majority of your communications in-house or outsource to agency experts, read on to see which areas and activities you’ll need to cover.
Identify your audience
When it comes to the audiences start-ups need to engage with, investors usually spring to mind for founders. But that’s one of the first pitfalls an innovation business can make. Sure you need to woo investors. But the task becomes easier when you’re engaging with two other categories of stakeholders: your employees and contractors, and your customers (current or potential).
Once founders have their team in place, they can be tempted to assume that their employees are, and will always be, on the same page. In reality, assembling and maintaining a high-performing team requires constant attention and effort. Having a robust internal communication plan will help you talk regularly to your staff about the company’s vision, mission, values and business goals. It will ensure this crucial activity doesn’t fall off the radar. Instead, your start-up will be more likely to maintain momentum and hit milestones, which will reassure investors and customers alike.
Some start-ups worry about making public statements too early and that their technology is not sufficiently developed to share with potential customers. Or they fear that communicating about their innovation could prompt rivals to poach their innovation and potential investors to boot. But convincing investors is a whole lot easier if you can show an impressive list of pre-orders for your new product or service from customers waiting in the wings. And if you craft your messaging for the public skilfully, you’ll successfully manage the risk of rivals swooping in and stealing your ideas.
Indeed, if you have early adopters convinced about your innovation, they’ll benefit your business in other ways beyond pre-orders. They’ll act as your company’s very own cheer squad, spreading the word about your new product or service to new customers with their enthusiasm, and helping you and your team maintain momentum. Beyond product evangelism, devoted customers serve as a sounding board, opening the door to conversations and two-way communication on how your business can improve its novel offering.
Hone your messaging with context
You’ll need a core set of key messages about your innovation that you tailor to the different needs of your three audiences of investors, employees and customers. Communicating about innovation programs is inherently paradoxical. You need to describe new concepts and explain why they’re important. But the words and terminology you need to explain what you do, and why, may not exist yet, let alone be accepted in common parlance. To successfully explain your innovation, you’ll need to harness existing words and concepts and use them to provide the context your audiences need. It’s such an important skill set to have in your wheelhouse that the commercialising innovation course run by Cicada Innovations and NSW Health includes how to communicate with key stakeholders.
When engaging with potential and existing investors, zero in on what they need to know about your venture and your innovation. When it comes to your business, this should include your team and the company’s financial position. On the innovation front, explain the problem your business is trying to solve, as well as who and how it helps. Keep the focus on what’s in it for backers if they fund your business and its innovative ideas. Take a look at our article that covers what to address, Find investors and create a winning pitch for your start-up.
As a founder, leading your team is central to what you do. You need to communicate big picture concepts, such as your vision and business goals, as well as the tactical moves the business has to make along the way. Be crystal clear with your team about the value your innovation brings to customers and humanity more broadly. This will help your employees gain meaning from their everyday work. And if you provide constructive feedback, your staff will understand how important their individual contributions are. Internal communications become increasingly critical as you begin to scale up and team dynamics alter as new employees join your business. Read our article, Eight expert tips to scale up your innovation business for more pointers on managing communications with your team.
Start-ups are often late to the party when explaining their innovation to the early adopters of their novel offering and the general public more broadly. Sometimes start-ups worry about overpromising because their technology is not sufficiently advanced, or that they’ll give away trade secrets to competitors. Both of these potential pitfalls can be overcome by focusing on how your innovation benefits or will benefit customers and the wider society. By providing appropriate context and sharing high-level information about your innovation and business, you can step potential customers and the public through the problem or pain points you’ve identified and are seeking to solve. And with the right communications strategy and messaging you can comfortably achieve this without making misrepresentations or compromising your intellectual property rights in the process. Indeed you’ll build confidence and trust among the public and your customer base about both your innovation and business.
Tune your channels
With your messaging on point, it’s time to think about the communication channels you’ll use to deliver it. Examples of communication channels include email, social media, online events such as webinars and in-person channels such as conferences and face-to-face meetings. The golden rule for developing your communication channel strategy is simple: use the channels your audiences use. That way you’ll be sure your message is delivered to the people you want to reach.
The market for your innovation and the environment where your business operates will influence the channels you select. But in broad strokes, your main channels for investors will be face-to-face or online meetings, events, for example, conferences and email communications such as newsletters about your business and its progress. For staff, it will include an array of in-person activities, from one-to-one meetings and team-building activities to email communications and online in-house meetings and activities. The golden rule for employee communications is to ensure your team receives company news from you and your executives before they see it in the press. When it comes to potential customers and the general public, the variety of channels is even broader. Social media, client newsletters, direct mail and email, blogs, case studies and news articles are the order of the day.
Find your frequency
When you communicate with any audience, be a dolphin, not a whale. This handy analogy from David Feeny, Emeritus Professor of Information Management at Saïd Business School, University of Oxford was intended as advice for managing communications during organisational change. But it applies equally to communicating innovation, because innovation, by its nature, creates change.
The frequency Professor Feeny is referring to isn’t about the high-pitched noises dolphins and whales make to communicate underwater, but rather how often they take a breath. Dolphins can only hold their breath for a few minutes, so they come up for air frequently, whereas whales have much bigger lungs and can make one breath last up to two hours. It’s better to be like a dolphin and appear frequently and regularly for your audiences with updates about your innovation and business. This builds confidence and trust and keeps your business front of mind with the stakeholders that count. But if you make a big splash like a whale and then disappear into the deep for extended periods, your key audiences may have moved on by the time you resurface.
Capitalise on communications
With the communication strategy for your innovation in place, you’ll be able to drive your business forward like never before. While motivating your team, increasing sales or pre-orders and raising capital from investors may become easier, expectations around your innovation are likely to grow with your company’s newfound success. So you may need additional capital to fast-track your R&D.
One of the fastest and simplest sources of R&D capital is a Radium Advance. It’s a loan from Radium Capital that gives your business early access to your expected R&D tax refund. If your company’s eligible to claim the R&D Tax Incentive refund, then you can apply for a Radium Advance. Once you supply the few items of documentation we need, we can approve your loan within two business days.* And the finance you need will reach your bank account a few days after you sign your loan agreement. So why wait? Reach out to one of our R&D finance experts to learn more.
 Lessons at Startup (2021) Latest list of famous failed Australian Startups and Businesses 2019-20 [online] available at: https://www.lessonsatstartup.com/list-of-famous-failed-australian-startups-and-businesses/
 Science ABC. 2022. How Can Whales & Dolphins Hold Breath For So Long Underwater? [online] available at: https://www.scienceabc.com/nature/animals/how-can-whales-and-dolphins-hold-their-breath-for-so-long-underwater.html.
*Radium Advances can be approved within two business days if all application documentation is received and correct.