When 19 year old Phoebe Gormley quit university to set up Savile Row’s first women’s tailor she was taking a big risk. She faced a massive challenge with changing perceptions in order for her business to succeed.

Phoebe says:

Our biggest challenge in getting our message heard has been changing perceptions. Savile Row and tailoring have long been associated with men, so our biggest battle has been revising the way women think about their shopping.

Women rarely even tend to think to have their clothes made for them and it is vital to our business to undo this point of view.”

Two years on Phoebe has experienced significant success at Gormley and Gamble, but is still constantly working at getting her message out there to change women’s minds about tailoring.


As a communications strategist I see this all the time. Challenging perceptions and assumptions is a significant hurdle for business owners to get their message heard.

I’ve been speaking to several businesses about the struggle to get listened to amongst the crowd recently as part of some research I’ve undertaken at Leading Conversations.

I’ve spoken to people from different industries, with various business models, and they all struggled with the same five communication challenges:


  1. Challenging perceptions and assumptions

  2. Connecting with the target audience

  3. Creating a clear, simple, memorable message

  4. Cutting through the noise

  5. Lacking the time, skill or confidence


For example, challenging preformed ideas around estate agents, lettings and property managers has been a struggle for Lia Choi of Marybow Property.

Lia explains she suffers from people’s pre-existing beliefs about ‘agents’.

“I find getting my message out there very difficult because lettings/property management is such a saturated market and the public already has a firm (negative) opinion

 I still have some people who would rather not talk to me because I’m now an ‘agent’

Despite running a very different kind of ethical agency, I still struggle to get that message across


According to CEB data “80% of companies’ communication campaigns will fall short of swaying opinions and changing minds”.

In a recent article the CEB wrote “change the message, not the channel you feed it through”


I agree. Thinking about the right channel is important, but first you need to get the message right.


Connecting with your target audience

Your business messaging is so crucial to the success of your venture. Lots of businesses just dive straight in without developing their messaging, audience profile and communications strategy, and suffer as a consequence.

If you strategically plan your messaging from the outset, then you have a solid foundation to move forward with for all your Communications, PR and Marketing efforts.

Consistency, repetition and connection are key to building that trust with your audience. Your messaging helps you do that.

My tip:

Explain the ‘What’s in it for me’ to your target audience in terms of practical solutions and emotional benefit and you are much more likely to connect with them.

People don’t buy what you do, they buy how you make them feel.

Always consider how you want to make people feel in your communication as it is the emotional part of the brain that actually drives decision making.

Creating a clear, simple, memorable message

Even forVana someone with the exposure of a prime time TV series, getting your message out there can still be pretty challenging.

Vana Koutsomitis, last year’s runner up on The Apprentice, has been working hard to keep the momentum up since the show finished. Having successfully secured funding for DatePlay pretty fast, Vana explains:

“In such a crowded market the biggest challenge is crafting clear and concise messages and building your brand… it is important to send a unified message to your customers.

We make sure to do this across all social media channels and in all of our written and spoken communications



stand4 sketch logo copy

Josh Turner from Stand4Socks says it isn’t always that easy to keep your message simple,

“When I launched Stand4Socks I used messaging on top of the Brand ‘Stand4…what do YOU stand4?’ to say ‘Socks for social causes” – which spiked interest but not answers.

Then we started using ‘ordinary purchase, extraordinary purpose’… Now coming up to our year anniversary and selling through multiple channels, we have been able to understand where we fit in the market, what our customers think and want and now have a simple message of ‘Not just Another pair of socks’ which encompasses our three USPs through the slogan of ‘Look Good, Feel Good, Do Good’.

“Our issue is keeping it simple, as we kind of can’t, we have three usp’s and are about to add bamboo as a fourth!

The most successful businesses have a core messaging they have always stuck to and make it hard for people to compete with them on that”

Cutting through the noise

Sheffield based business Steel City says:

“The biggest challenge we face is getting heard online… the reason being is that there is so much noise. On social media your story or promotion only gets seen for a fraction of a second, if at all, and the time spent putting it together may outweigh the engagement and response.” 

Proving that doing things differently works, Steel City, a branded gifts company, came up with an idea that was about engaging the customers, and not about themselves.

To cut through the noise Jennifer Burton, Marketing Exec, comments

“We had to come up with more engaging content and campaigns.  This year we had a Tea Champion campaign where we asked for nominations for the best tea maker in the office, in return for a tea goodie selection. We definitely got a lot more engagement than normal with this campaign”


Tip: It’s not all about you! Make campaigns about your audience to get noticed.

Put yourself in the customer’s shoes for a moment and think about what might engage them.


What about all that noise online?

In a market place where nearly every business has a website and a growing number have a social media presence, cutting through the noise to get noticed is a huge challenge to business owners.

Jo Cumberpatch, from Kids game Gotrovo says

“Getting yourself identified in the fast-paced and crowded consumer goods market is hugely challenging.

 When we began operating a few years ago we naïvely thought that a website meant we were out there, and could be found. How wrong we were.

 We are working hard to create a brand presence and identity for ourselves by blogging about our core values, connecting with like-minded businesses and parents, and creating consistent customer-centric initiatives. We need to create something that connects people to our personality and has them buying from us as an experience, because they want to share in our ethos and journey.

 And ultimately hoping this organic experiment will gradually grow to complement our successful Amazon presence.

 We can’t compete with the big manufacturers on price or in getting our brand message heard.”


Louise Downing of ethical interiors store SpotDeco.com says:

“Standing-out on search engines has become a full-time job for many website owners. The huge competition coupled with ever stricter search ranking criteria, is making it increasingly difficult for businesses to be visible. A strong ranking ensures a regular stream of ‘free’, organic traffic, which should be the bread-and-butter of any company…

Companies are under pressure to produce optimised content that informs, guides or entertains customers, such as through reviews, videos or images. It also requires you to position yourself as an industry expert through guest blogging, contributing to articles or reaching out to the media.“

This is all very time-consuming and really tough when you’re just starting out, as you’re still an ‘unknown’.

If you can’t do all that yourself, it can be costly.

Louise adds “Most large companies either have entire teams dedicated solely to content or they use content marketing agencies

Lacking the time or skill or confidence

The final challenge that I hear again and again from clients and business owners is that they just don’t have the time to dedicate to communication and sometimes lack the skills and confidence to get it right.

My top tip:

Get your proposition, messaging and communications strategy clear up front to save you time in the long run. It forms the basis for all your Marketing, PR and Customer engagement activities. As well as your communications with employees and stakeholders.

Knowing your message clearly, knowing how you are going to get it across to your target audience, and knowing how to make that message resonate means that the hard work and thinking is done upfront.  It is a massive time saver for all communications, and it will help you address the other top 4 challenges at the same time.

Final tip: It’s okay to ask for help.


Getting expertise and guidance up front can save you so much time in the long run, and will make all your communication efforts much more effective.

All the best



Lucy Griffin-Stiff, is the Founder of Leading Conversations a Strategic Communications and Engagement consultancy. Lucy works with businesses of all shapes and sizes to help them create a clear proposition, messaging, and communications strategy to connect with the audiences that matters to them.