The most common problem I see in smaller companies is the inability to describe what they do in  simple language. This is one of those things that sounds really easy but isn’t.   A simple description for a technology solution isn’t simple at all.  That simple description needs to clearly describe the space it plays in and the (hopefully unique and powerful) value it brings.

We live in a world where people are processing a lot of information.  For many small companies, making themselves known to information overloaded customers is the greatest challenge they have.  All of the details around features and functions and competitive differentiators don’t make much of a difference if, when a prospect comes to your web site and can’t figure out what you do in 60 seconds, he hits the back button and keeps on searching.  Marketers need to have a clear way to describe what the company does not to close deals, not to win in a competitive deal, but rather just to get a new prospect to say “I’m interested, tell me more”.

Maureen Rogers over at The Opinionated Marketers talks about this in a recent post I really liked here:

For years, I’ve worked with my clients – usually with complex, B2B technology products or services – to try to achieve as clear, straightforward, and concise an expression about what they do as is possible. I always hold up as a model – albeit a nigh unto impossible to achieve parity with – the van I used to see occasionally on my 128 commute: “We Clean Blinds.”

And goes on to say:

My friend and colleague Sean has a similar, parallel favorite: the plumbers with “We Show Up” on their truck….Finding the “We Show Up” for your B2B tech products may be no easier than finding their inner “We Clean Blinds.” But when you’re coming up with your messaging, it’s not a bad idea to strive to achieve something that’s as close to it as possible.

When I talk about a simple description of what you do, I am not talking about a value proposition per se. The standing format for a value proposition goes beyond the simple description I’m thinking about and normally follow a format like this:

For: (bulls-eye customer)
Who: (key purchase motivation insight)
Our product is a: (customer-language)
That: (key benefit)
Unlike: (key competitors)
Ours: (key differentiators)
At a price: (less than, equal to, or higher than competitors).

Doing a proper value proposition is a good starting point to get you to the very simple version of what it is you do because it forces you to succinctly define who your target market is and how you differentiate from your competitors.  Once you have that well-defined it starts to become easier to get at your simple statement.

Some people would argue that coming up with a simple statement about what you do is fine if you run a business cleaning blinds but is impossible for a software business.  In some cases that might be true but I can give you loads of examples where it’s been done.  Here are a few:

  • Red Hatthe world’s most trusted provider of Linux and open source technology.
  • SalesForce.comthe world’s favorite CRM software as a service.
  • WikipediaA free encyclopedia built collaboratively using Wiki software.
  • CAIT software management, services and solutions.

I don’t normally pick on people but I am going to give you a couple of examples of ones that (for me anyway) don’t mean a darn thing because they are way too full of marketing gobbledigook.  I’ll pick on some big guys since it doesn’t feel right picking on startups that might not even have a marketing person to think about this stuff.  These companies have hundreds and they still stink at this:

  • AdobeRevolutionizes how the world engages and interacts with ideas and information.  So the target market is the world, they deal with ideas and information and whatever the heck they do is revolutionary.  I have no clue what this means.
  • Sun MicrosystemsInnovative products and services that power the network economy. This one makes the very big assumption that I have any idea what “the network economy” is (nevermind that I’m thinking that anything that’s powering this particular economy isn’t working all that well).

The key difference between a good statement and a bad one is that a good one is easy to understand.  If you catch yourself using words like “revolutionary” or even “innovative”, you are probably going down the wrong track.  Keep it simple and if you can get someone to say “I get it, tell me more” instead of scratching their head, then you’re on to something.

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