February 16, 2014

Messaging to multiple audiences

A common question I’m asked may be paraphrased as:

My standard three-part answer is:

Read more

December 29, 2013

The core of strategy

This blog is based on two precepts that also guide my consulting:

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:

If we add another level of complexity, the story changes only a little. Read more

November 3, 2013

Rules for names

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.

*One hopes.

1. My most precise tip starts from a classic naming dilemma:

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:

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

August 30, 2013


Paul Graham got into a flap by saying that strong accents interfere with founders’ entrepreneurial success. The key section makes it sound like his point is you have to be able to pitch in (fairly) fluent English:

Conversations are more of a problem, as I know from my own experience doing office hours. We talk about a lot of subtle points at office hours.  … And I know I don’t get as deeply into things with the groups that don’t speak English well. I can feel it happening; we just can’t communicate well enough. …

A startup founder is always selling. Not just literally to customers, but to current and potential employees, partners, investors, and the press as well. … And yet a lot of the people you encounter as a founder will initially be indifferent, if not skeptical. They don’t know yet that you’re going to be huge. You’re just one person they’re meeting that day. They’re not going to work to understand you. So you can’t make it be work to understand you.

At least in enterprise IT, however, I’d say that there are four points, not just one. You — and by “you” I mean the CEO, the CTO, and any contributor in sales, marketing or product management — should be able to:

My reasons for saying that start:

You can’t sell effectively without listening. This is one of the basic facts of business, yet shockingly many people forget it. You can’t pitch effectively without understanding how the prospect frames what she hears, and you can’t judge that unless you listen to what she says.

You can’t listen at maximum effectiveness without selling. Of course, that depends greatly on what you’re listening for. But commonly your goal in a conversation is one or more of:

Read more

July 22, 2013

Some principles of editing and content development

I edit a lot. In particular:

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:

That first principle breaks down to:  Read more

May 10, 2013

Faith, hope, and clarity

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:

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

May 7, 2013

Notes on pricing

Vendor clients often ask me about pricing. Everybody knows that there usually are:

But the whole process has to start with some concept of a single-unit price.

What kind of price? Well, for appliances, you usually should just charge a one-time fee for whatever is in the carton, plus annual maintenance; most alternatives are gimmicks. But for packaged software, there are numerous choices. The easy part is timing:

Tougher is deciding what kind of “unit” you should price by. My standard advice has become: Read more

April 7, 2013

Messaging and positioning

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:

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)

But while those are all good questions — compare them to my own strategy worksheet — Moore’s version is flawed too; in conflating positioning and messaging, he oversimplifies them both.  Read more

January 22, 2013

When I am a VC overlord

When I am a VC overlord:

  1. I will not fund any entrepreneur who uses the word “disruptive”, unless she has actually read at least one book by Clayton Christensen.
  2. I will not fund any entrepreneur who mentions “market projections” in other than ironic terms. Nobody who talks of market projections with a straight face should be trusted.
  3. I will not fund any software entrepreneur who is unfamiliar with “The Mythical Man-Month”.
  4. I will not fund any software whose primary feature is that it is implemented in the “cloud” or via “SaaS”. A me-too product on a different platform is still a me-too product.
  5. I will not fund any pitch that emphasizes the word “elastic”. Elastic is an important feature of underwear and pajamas, but even in those domains it does not provide differentiation.
  6. I will hire a 16 year old intern of moderately above-average intelligence. I will not sign or propose any contract that intern finds difficult to understand.
  7. I will hire a second intern of moderately below-average intelligence. I will not fund any product whose documentation that intern finds difficult to understand. Exceptions may be made for products sold to orienteering athletes, crossword puzzle solvers, or engineers.
  8. When a board on which I sit approves revenue targets for the year, I will further stipulate that the year-ending sales pipeline must comprise more than a Chinese hair salon, an Italian pushcart vendor, the CEO’s brother-in-law and a bankrupt bait shop in Nome.
  9. I will only hire a CEO who can explain the technology at his previous company. A CEO who doesn’t know what his products do can’t sell or market them either.
  10. I will only hire a CEO who can also walk me through a sales cycle at her previous company. A CEO who doesn’t know how a customer buys may well have trouble producing revenue.
  11. I will support any plan that I agree is good for a company I have invested in, nor matter how modest or how bold. I will participate in any funding round that I think is profitable for my limited partners.
  12. I will remember that a board of directors has a fiduciary responsibility to all shareholders, and not just to the preferred ones.

Please offer your suggestions below. An associate will get back to you with our decision.

Related links

December 9, 2012

Marketing communication tips

I review many press releases, websites, slide decks, and complete marketing strategies. Inevitably, there are certain marketing communications tips I keep repeating. Some of them are:

  1. Pitch at a suitable level of detail.
  2. Treat your top influencers as individuals.
  3. For every news item, ask yourself — who cares?
  4. Don’t pigeonhole your company or product.
  5. Use a proofreader or copy editor.
  6. Use short(er) sentences.
  7. Blog.

I shall explain.   Read more

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