Crafting Simple Value Statements

Products can be like babies for founders and we all know what babies are like.  When we’re talking about MY baby, I’ve got a lot to say.  Look at her remarkable crawling technique! Her charming smile! And she smells like flowers!  Meanwhile there isn’t much to say about other babies that are just doing regular baby stuff like crawling and smiling and stinking like poop. Much like proud parents, founders often go overboard with messaging by talking a lot about features that are either non-differentiating or irrelevant for their target market.  When working on messaging for startups, it’s often harder to get agreement on what NOT to say than it is to decide what should get talked about. Here’s a strategy for getting to a simple value proposition that I’ve used that seems to work. 1.  List out your target segments and stack rank them.  If you don’t have a released product yet or are in the early stages of getting customer feedback, you won’t know exactly what these are but your research should give you some clues.  Here’s a hint – the whole wide world including people without a computer is not a segment.  I’ve yet to work with a company where we couldn’t identify at least 5 potential target segments that we could stack rank according to which ones we thought we had the best chances with. 2.  List your key differentiated points of value.  This isn’t a feature list.  It’s is a list of unique benefits that your features provide.  Things on this list should look like “Gives network managers better network visibility to stop a...

Buzzwords and Why We Can’t Stop Using Them

Buzzwords exist for a reason.  They are a shorthand way of expressing a complicated concept.  Words like “next-generation” and “advanced” are ways of saying that your product is better.  Not just a little bit better, a whole lot better.  It’s like a generational gap, it’s so much better.  It’s no wonder we want to use them.  Saying “next-generation” is a whole lot easier, not to mention briefer, than trying to describe how your database returns queries much faster because the underlying architecture is fundamentally different than your competitors, or how your deployment and ongoing maintenance costs are much lower than other solutions in your space because of your deployment model. Unfortunately when you use those generic terms, you force customers to interpret what you mean when you say them.  Does “next generation” mean faster, slower, cheaper, more expensive, easier to use, harder to use, contains more features or contains fewer features?  Your customers might interpret that in any of those ways and make a purchase decision based on that.  If your product really is next generation, you probably have some great reasons for customers to buy.  There are no good buzzword shortcuts to creating great value propositions – you simply have to do the work. If you think your prospects know exactly what you’re talking about when you say your products are “innovative”, you’d better test that assumption. Subscribe to this blog or follow me on Twitter or...

Beta as a Product Marketing Exercise

A recurring theme of my conversations with folks in the past week has to do with Beta products and what the goal of beta testing is really about, particularly when you are talking about bringing a new product to market.  My point of view on this is that beta testing is as much a marketing exercise as it is a development exercise. The traditional view of beta products is that Beta is about testing specific features of the product to make sure they work in the customer’s environment.   A better way to think about beta testing is to think about is as a period where you are testing the set of assumptions you made about the customer problem and whether or not your product solves that problem in a way the customer understands and values.  The shift in thinking has a big impact on both what you include in the beta product and what you do with your customers during the beta. Here’s a comparison of the two approaches: Traditional Beta Who Manages the Beta: Development Product: As feature-rich as time and money allows, but testing is incomplete.  Essentially the product you plan to release at the end of beta when testing is complete. Data Collected: What other systems are in the environment for compatibility or integration challenges, number of failures and the conditions under which the failure occurred, scalability, and usually some general feedback around ease of the use and the UI. When to Exit: When internal testing is completed (i.e. the Beta runs for a set period of time unless a serious unsolved defect is found), when...

Product/Market fit and Market/Product fit

In many start-ups the difference between success and failure is gaining a critical mass of early adopters that love your product.  A lot of this has to do with getting the right product for the market you are going after (Sean Ellis and others refer to this as product/market fit) but I’ll argue that it’s also important to think about this in the reverse and make sure you are going after early adopters that makes sense for your product.   What I mean by this is that before you’ve written a line of code, some thought has gone into defining, to a fairly fine level of granularity, who is in your target market and how you are going to reach them.  The way you construct your value propositions, your call to action, how you attract early customers and possibly the look and feel of your early product will be influenced by what you define those early segments to be. Some thoughts on what a great early adopter segment looks like: They place a big value your key differentiators – Your product will have benefits that only it can deliver along with benefits that customers can get elsewhere.  For example you are offering a product where the key benefits are related to simplicity, scale and cost reduction. Your customer research has validated that all three of these are important to customers in the space.   You think you beat the other products in your market when it comes to simplicity and cost reduction but nobody else offers scale.  The easiest segment you could go after is one where scale really matters because...

Pre-Launch Marketing for Stealthy Startups

Some products and services don’t have a pre-launch phase.  For companies where building a minimum viable product isn’t a months-long effort, it makes sense to just launch a beta and then start talking about it.  For other companies however, the product might take a bit longer to develop and talking about it before it’s been released in some form could be pointless (because you don’t have a call to action yet), risky (competitors position against you or customers get confused because there aren’t enough details) or both. One of the techniques that I’ve used in the past is to engage with the market by talking about the business problem that your product or service is going to solve, without getting into exactly how you plan on solving it.  At IBM we sometimes referred to this as “market preparation”. For larger companies this often entails spending a lot of time (and money) with industry analysts and industry leaders sharing your company’s unique point of view on the market and why it is currently being under-served.  If you do this properly you’ll come to a point where your point of view starts to align well with that of the influential folks you’ve been working with.  By the time you launch, these folks will be standing behind you saying that your view of the market is one customers should consider. Pre-launch startups generally don’t have the time, clout or cash to change the way Gartner Group thinks about a market but that shouldn’t stop you from taking your message out directly to the market you care about.  There’s never been a better...
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