Much of what I get paid for is advising early-stage companies, especially on messaging and marketing. So let’s try to pull some thoughts together.
For early-stage companies, I’d say:
- Even more than for larger companies, the essence of messaging is to achieve the contradictory goals of excitement and credibility.
- If one of those must be sacrificed, sacrifice excitement. It is by far the easier of the two to regain.
- Note: Both your product and your company need to be credible. When your company is new, both parts of that are formidable challenges.
- Notwithstanding how limited your resources are, don’t rely too much on outside PR. You need to control messaging and key influencer relations yourself.
- Notwithstanding how limited your resources are, you need to address multiple audiences, at least:
- Prospective employees.
- Knowledgeable influencers.
- Not-so-knowledgeable influencers.
- Sales prospects (business folks).
- Sales prospects (technical folks).
Of course, these subjects are much discussed in this blog. The top three overview posts for young companies are probably: Read more
I see many slide decks, a large fraction of which are screwed up right at the beginning. Here are some thoughts on doing better. This post goes together with others that relate to presentations or press releases, including:
- Presentations for small audiences (August, 2014)
- Short lists of concise claims (July, 2014)
- Faith, hope and clarity (May, 2013)
In the first post linked above, I wrote:
The most generic and reusable part of a slide deck is its beginning — the “setting the table” part. A natural sequence is:
- Whatever seems necessary to introduce and identify you.
- Some validation as part of the introduction — company size, customer logos, whatever.
- The big business problem/need you’re helping with.
- A little validation about the problem/need.
- Some common difficulties in satisfying the need, which are happily absent in your solution.
- Specifically how you meet the need.
Let’s drill into some of those points.
Tips for company validation include:
- If you’re big enough to have validation as a market leader, of course offer that. Analyst firms (industry or stock) are generally the providers of such validation, either directly (those stupid quadrant graphs) or indirectly (via market share numbers and the like).
- Customer logos are great.
- Also great are strong aggregate claims about customers, e.g. “over 70 of the Fortune 100″.
- Financial or fund-raising success is solid validation, and has the second benefit of suggesting you have the resources to deliver on your promises.
- Mere influencer mentions are a weak validation. Also, beware of insulting influencers by quoting competitive influencers at them.
- Founder resumes are validation only for companies so small they can’t be expected to have stronger kinds.
My dislike of slide presentations is vehement and long-standing. Even so, my consulting duties often lead me to critique vendors’ slide decks, hoping to make them a little more tolerable. Most of the precepts I rely on in these exercises can be encapsulated in “C” words:
- All messaging needs to be Clear, Compelling, and Credible.
- Credibility depends upon, among other factors, Consistency.
- All collateral should be Cleanly Copy-edited.
- A presentation should always be tailored for the specific audience and purpose (it’s not a crazy stretch to call that Context).
And at the risk of drowning in excessive Cs, slide decks are a primary venue for a recent post topic: Short lists of Concise Claims.
Let’s talk a bit about that tailoring. Some things are shown only to very specific audiences. For example: Read more
It is often necessary to produce a short list of concise claims. A large fraction of all PowerPoint slides fit that model. So does the list of news in, for example, a typical product press release.
Making such lists is hard, for at least three unavoidable reasons:
- Individual claims should be concise, clear, credible and compelling. This is a very tough standard to meet.
- Ideally, lists of claims would both be fairly complete and tell a coherent story. That’s a difficult challenge as well.
- Different parts of your audience respond well to different things. No one set of words will please, interest or convince everybody.
Even so, many claims lists are yet worse than they need to be.
To create or improve a claims list, it helps to establish goals by asking
- “Who are we trying to persuade …
- … of what?”
and also to check resources by assessing:
- “What proof points do we have to support our case?”
In the case of a product upgrade, answers often resemble: Read more
I consult to ever more stealth-mode companies, so perhaps it’s time to pull together some common themes in my advice to them. Here by “stealth mode” I mean the period when new companies — rightly or wrongly — are unwilling to disclose any technological specifics, for fear that their ideas will be preempted by rival vendors’ engineering teams (unlikely) or just by their marketing departments (a more realistic concern).
To some extent, “stealth-mode marketing” is an oxymoron.* Still, there are two genuine stealth-mode marketing tasks:
- Recruit employees.
- Prime the pump for post-stealth marketing.
Further, I’d divide the second task into two parts — messaging and outreach. Let’s talk a bit about both.
*I am reminded of my late friend Richard “Rick” Neustadt, Jr., whose dream job — notwithstanding his father’s famous book on presidential power — was to be a US Senator. So he needed to punch his military duty ticket, and got a billet doing PR for the Coast Guard. (One of his training classmates was Dan Quayle.) His posting was to a classified base, and so his PR duties consisted essentially of media-mention prevention. But I digress …
As I wrote in a collection of marcom tips, the pitch style
“We’re an awesomely well-suited company to do X.”
- In stealth mode, when you don’t have anything else to say …
- … but not at first product launch, when you finally do.
For small start-up companies, this message is most easily communicated through highlights of the founders’ awesome resumes, for example:
Our CTO personally stuffed and dyed the yellow elephant for which the Hadoop project is named.
But that still begs a central question – how do you describe what your stealth-mode company is planning to do? I.e. — in the quote above, what is the “X”?
This blog is based on two precepts that also guide my consulting:
- In enterprise software and similar businesses, messaging is the core of strategy.
- Messages must be robust enough to withstand deliberate competitive attack.
Let’s spell that out.
Messaging is the core of strategy
The enterprise software business, in simplest terms, is about the building, marketing and selling of software. Messaging is central to all of those activities! In particular:
- Selling boils down to two main processes, one of which is delivering sales messages. (The other, of course, is managing prospect relationships.)
- Marketing is mainly about developing and delivering messages. (Most of the rest is lead generation.)
- Development’s job is to make great sales and marketing messages be true.
If we add another level of complexity, the story changes only a little. Read more
|Categories: About this blog, Marketing communications, Marketing theory, Technology marketing||3 Comments|
A common subject of my consulting is naming, and specifically naming the category of product or technology something goes in. Clients are well aware that no market categorization is ever precise. Still, words must be chosen, collateral must be prepared, and talks must be given to rapturous* audiences. Here are some of my go-to techniques.
1. My most precise tip starts from a classic naming dilemma:
- If we call it something entirely new, nobody will know what we’re talking about, or why they should care …
- … but if we say it fits in an old category, then how do we differentiate it?
Increasingly, my advice is to pick a name that’s “half new”, usually in the form of a two-word phrase that overlaps partially with the name of an old product category the new thing sort of resembles.
In some examples from my own work:
- ClearStory Data emphatically does not want its service called “business intelligence”, as doing so might denigrate the novelty of ClearStory’s innovations. A big part of how ClearStory beats traditional BI is in the intelligence of its data handling. Voila! With a nice bit of double-meaning, ClearStory’s secret sauce is now described as “data intelligence“. Edit (May 2014): “Data intelligence” has held up as ClearStory’s top message.
- Platfora’s latest release focused on data sets that — after Platfora assembles them for you — are sort of like time series but also somewhat like event streams. “Event series” was the winning name. Edit (May 2014): Platfora reports that that choice worked out well.
- Tokutek, whose main differentiation is performance, makes storage engines for MySQL and quasi-storage-engines for MongoDB. What should we call them? “Performance engines” fits the bill, at least for the “not exactly a storage engine” MongoDB case. Edit (May 2014): Tokutek hasn’t really stuck with that term.
2. A principle underlying that tip is that connotation is as important as denotation. The reactions that category names evoke can be as important as their literal meanings, especially since those literal meanings aren’t very precise anyway.
Returning to the examples above: Read more
I edit a lot. In particular:
- I edit my own blog posts.
- An important part of my consulting practice is editing marketing communications.
- I also edit romance novels,* because:
- Linda Barlow, one of the world’s better romance novelists,* is my partner in all things.
- Linda has turned to self-publishing. (First book out: a revised edition of the great historical romance Fires of Destiny. A series of contemporary romances is coming next.)
- I’m a good enough editor to be helpful.
- Editing high-quality fiction is fun.
Editing and writing of course are based on similar principles, even though the processes are different. So let’s discuss what some of those principles might be.
*Actually, not everything Linda writes fits into the “romance” category. But the first books she’s (re)issuing do. And the biggest awards she’s won — a RITA, some RITA runners-up, and so on — are romance-specific.
My two core principles of writing or editing, almost irrespective of content type, are:
- Only give your readers what they (will) care about. Don’t inflict material on them that will bore them.
- Avoid mistakes.
That first principle breaks down to: Read more
Some principles of enterprise IT messaging.
0. Decision makers are motivated by two emotions above all — fear and greed. In the case of enterprise IT, that equates roughly to saying they want to buy stuff that:
- Is safe.
- Will confer benefits.
1. For a marketing message to succeed, whatever its goals are, the “confer benefits” part of the story needs to be:
2. The “safe” part needs to be believed too. Rational belief in the safety of doing business with you is good. Blind faith is even better, but usually is enjoyed only by the most established of vendors.
In some cases, that may be the greatest competitive strength they have.
3. To be believed, enterprise IT messaging generally needs to be:
A certain amount of exaggeration is expected, and easily shrugged off. It’s also possible to get away with a certain amount of vagueness, whether in a fear/safety story or when pitching something as new/innovative/exciting. But don’t overdo either.
One common way to overdo your exaggeration — make an obviously false claim of uniqueness.
4. Please note: Deficiencies in the consistency of your messages can undermine credibility and clarity alike.
5. Messaging can become distorted in many ways, both accidental and deliberate. For example: Read more
|Categories: Analyst relations, Layered messaging models, Marketing communications, Marketing theory, Technology marketing||2 Comments|
To a first approximation, messaging is the expression of positioning; and the way you know whether positioning is good is whether good messaging naturally flows from it. So it’s natural to conflate the two. But let’s focus for once on positioning itself.
I think positioning boils down to:
- Product category, even though product categorizations are never precise.
- Orientation, along multiple attributes.* Hence positionings are more complex than vendors commonly realize.
- (Optionally, but it’s a common option) Target customer group.
When positioning is framed that way, we can say that the primary goals of messaging are to communicate, emphasize or try to change aspects of your positioning.
*I used to say “dimensions” instead of “attributes” — but most likely the attributes aren’t all orthogonal to each other and also aren’t all measured on a continuous scale.
The modern concept of “positioning” was formulated and popularized by Jack Trout, starting in the 1960s, and can be stated as (filling) a “location in the customer’s mind”. In practice, a Trout positioning combines a product category with a single-attribute orientation such as “safe”, “powerful”, or “fun”. But I think that’s too simple for B2B or technology contexts.
I like the Geoffrey Moore formulation better, in which he offers a positioning template:
For (target customers)
Who (have the following problem)
Our product is a (describe the product or solution)
That provides (cite the breakthrough capability).
Unlike (reference competition)
Our product/solution (describe the key point of competitive differentiation)