Startup Messaging: Should You Differentiate Against Your Competitors?

Startup Messaging: Should You Differentiate Against Your Competitors?

Alex Goldfayn had a great post this week called Death by Differentiation that got me thinking about competitive positioning and startup marketing.  Alex, a marketing consultant, laments that many of his clients are too focused on differentiating themselves from their competitors: These companies have focused their marketing on smaller, peripheral features which differentiate them from the competition. So that instead of focusing their message on the 80 percent of the product or service that speaks to mainstream consumer interest, they instead focus on the 10 percent that makes them different from competition, which mostly matters internally. Thinking about how I would apply this thinking to startups, I found myself agreeing and disagreeing with the post.  On the one hand, I agree that vendors often care far more about tiny differentiating features than prospects do.  On the other hand, if all the solutions in a market deliver the same particular point of value, doesn’t that value become expected or assumed?  And (as is the case with many startups) if I’m entering a market with an established competitor, don’t I have to focus on what makes my offering different because my prospects will always be comparing us? In my opinion, how you articulate your value to customers should describe what makes you better, it’s just not always in the way you might think. Your messaging needs to: Take into consideration what the customer already knows about the market Highlight how your solution is better than what prospects perceive to be alternatives Be focused on value (not features) Diving into each of these – here are some things to consider: 1/ Test...

Startup Messaging and Market Frame of Reference

Messaging is one of the hardest things startups do, particularly startups in emerging markets. Your marketing messages need to describe what you do in a way that is both easy to understand and also illustrates the unique value that your solution can deliver. Often the most challenging part for startups is that the market category is not yet well-defined. The messaging therefore, not only needs to describe your product, but the whole reason that product category should exist. Folks in established markets take shortcuts you may not even notice Established products, have the luxury of working from an established frame of reference.  For example, when Salesforce.com can simply describe itself as the leader in CRM.  Their customers understand what CRM is, why you might want a CRM system, the value a CRM system can bring to the table, etc.  All they have to do it state why they are different, hence you get “The world’s most popular CRM software as a service” or more recently “The leader in CRM and cloud computing”.   Simple right? Now imagine how much more difficult it would be to describe what Salesforce does if you didn’t what what CRM was. Other really large companies will simply assume you understand what they do and skip that step entirely.  Accenture for example makes no attempt to tell you what it does beyond “High Performance, Delivered.” (although, they do use the phrase “Global Management Consulting, Technology and Outsourcing service as the title text for their home page).  Oracle states that they are simply “hardware and software, engineered to work together” and IBM is just, well, IBM. Frankly,...

If Your Message Works, Don’t Tinker With It

Al Ries published a great article in AdAge yesterday talking how a perfectly good message and value proposition can be ruined by too much “tinkering”.  The essence of his point is that when companies have a great message that’s working, there is always pressure to abandon that for something that sounds fresher.  He says: Common sense says that marketing messages have to constantly change in order to stay in tune with the times. Marketing sense says that’s nonsense. The way to build a brand is with a consistent message over an extended period of time. ….They tinker with new ideas when they should be hammering the ideas that already exist in consumers’ minds. Once a brand is established with a clearly defined marketing position, the brand’s owner should ask a fundamental question before making any significant changes. Why tinker with success? I see this a lot.  There is an almost irresistible urge to change the core messaging as often as we roll out new campaigns.   The reality is that often we are changing course just when the message is starting to resonate with the market and we lose the momentum we just started to build. Why do we do it?  Because we get bored.  Because we have seen it so many times it’s hard for us to believe that the entire world hasn’t seen it (even when our budgets are microscopic, interestingly enough). The reality is that we aren’t getting our messages in front of customers as much as we think we are (particularly when we are talking about small companies with limited budgets) and even if we were,...

The Dangers of Outsourcing Content Creation

You want to create some whitepapers, an e-book or maybe a brochure but none of your great product people are great writers.  No problem, you think to yourself, we can just hire some outside folks to write them for us.  You can, but it won’t be as easy as you think. Your Writing Probably Sucks (not that there’s anything wrong with that) Not everyone is a great writer even if they write a lot.  My writing is a perfect example of what a typical product marketer’s writing looks like.  People tell me my writing is “fine” but I know my grammar is lousy and I’m prone to using sentence structure that could politely be described as “creative” (hey, I’m an engineer by training and that English class I took in grade 12 is only going to take me so far).  I know this because I’ve had professional writers edit my work.  if you’ve never had a professional edit yours you might be shocked at how bad your “fine” writing is. But my lack of writing skill hasn’t stopped me from writing dozens of whitepapers, brochures and articles and literally hundreds of pages of web content (not to mention 156 blog posts).  Most of the time good enough is good enough, particularly if you’re a cash-strapped startup. But sometimes you will have some content that you know you are going to use like crazy in various forms and you don’t have the skills in-house.  Here are some tips on what to be careful about: Decide Why before Who – You might be launching a new product and need someone to...

6 Secrets to Better Marketing Messages for Startups

Good startup marketing starts with good messaging.  You can have the greatest product in the world but if you can’t clearly communicate the value you deliver to your customers, nobody will ever be able to figure that out.  Here are 6 ways to build better messages for your startup that will lead to better marketing: Reduce the number of words you use – People have short attention spans and they won’t read a page of text just to figure out what you do.  Take your one page description that describes your key differentiated points of value for your market.  Then pare it down to a paragraph.  Then whittle it down to 2 sentences. Now tell me in 8 words or less.  You need to be able to communicate what you do, why people care, and who the people are that should care in as simple a way as possible.  Simple value statements work better. Lose your pointless tagline – Why do so many startups I come across have pointless taglines? Some even have great one line descriptions of what they do and then add a completely non-differentiating tagline that not only fails to add to anyone’s understanding of the offering but distracts from the decent description they do have. Follow, forget, fail.  If it can’t stand alone than just don’t do it.  Write a solid one-line description of what you do and leave it at that. Get rid of not just buzzwords but also jargon or overly technical terms – Startups in particular often fall into the trap of using terms that are very familiar inside the company but...

Startup Messaging

I was lucky to be invited to speak at DemoCamp Guelph last night. There was an awesome crowd of smart startup people there and a great set of demos were shown. I gave a talk on messaging for startups.  I picked that topic because I think messaging is pretty hard and a lot of folks don’t know where to start to create better messages. The essence of my talk was that good messaging answers the following questions for potential customers: What the heck is it? (meaning can you tell me in plain language what it is that you do) Is it for me? (meaning does your messaging appeal to the segment that you are targeting) Why buy it from you? (meaning what are the compelling reasons to choose your offering over a competing offering) I also noted that these questions need to be answered for prospects in that order.  Trying to differentiate before people understand what you do is pointless. Here are the slides: Startup messaging View more presentations from April Dunford. I want to thank Brydon for inviting me to speak as well as everyone else that took the time to chat with me last night.  I spent years in Waterloo, both as a university student and later when I was working for Watcom/Powersoft/Sybase so it was fun to go back and see how well the startup scene is evolving there.  I need to figure out a way to spend more time out there. If you enjoyed that, you should subscribe!  You can sign up for email updates, subscribe via RSS or follow me on...
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