I’m sitting here on the plane about to take off from Vancouver, BC where we just presented messaging and positioning ideas to a great technology client in a very hot space. As always, we took a look at their competitors’ messaging. It turns out, almost all their competitors are positioning as the leader. No surprises there. We see this pattern across a lot of industries. What was surprising were the grandiose superlatives rampant in the competitors’ messaging. Things like, “world’s most powerful”, “the most versatile … in the industry”, and my favorite, “The smartest, most aware, precise, easy-to-use, scalable, secure and powerful ______ on the planet.”
Everything is awesome! (Just ask your competitors.)
In essence, the noise in the marketplace could boiled down to this: Everything is awesome! (Remember the anthem from The Lego Movie last year?) I don’t know if it was because this is such a hot space with a lot of disruption or what, but it was incredible to observe. Everyone was screaming for attention: I’m the best! … No, I’m the better best! … I’m the best times infinity!
In their own words, here’s what ten of our client’s top competitors had to say about their technologies:
- “The most complete set of ______ available”
- “[Industry’s] largest ______”
- “The leading provider of ______”
- “The World’s Most Powerful ______”
- “The fastest-growing ______”
- “The only high-conversion ______ that boosts sales, … and provides unrivaled convenience for consumers.”
- “The [solution] for the next generation of ______”
- “The world’s most powerful ______”
- “The most versatile ______ in the industry”
- “The smartest, most aware, precise, easy-to-use, scalable, secure and powerful ______ on the planet”
Does this language sound familiar?
If you’ve ever been responsible for creating or delivering a B2B sales message, you’ve probably been tempted to go to market with a message like this. When all your competitors are screaming for attention, there’s definitely pressure to join the Competitors Chorus. But in a noisy marketplace, turning up the volume is not the answer to getting heard.
How do you get heard above the noise?
Do you just try to shout louder? No. For this particular client, we found a way to get above the technology discussion and elevate the conversation to a higher order need/priority for their customers and prospects.
Technology companies can get too caught up in their solutions. It’s natural. You’re building very cool stuff, and you’re always thinking about how to make it cooler, better, faster, etc. But you never want to lose sight of the true north. Who is your technology solution there to serve? What is the ultimate problem or need you’re solving for the customer? For our Vancouver client, we were able to anchor the message there – and do it in such a way that isn’t just shouting louder.
What if you can’t find your real differentiator?
In a space where there are a lot of strong solutions, it can be hard to find a true differentiator. Sometimes, what it takes is a fresh perspective and point of view. If you start talking differently, that actually is a differentiator. And you can be heard above the Competitors Chorus – in the middle of all the clamor and vying for attention. Don’t bow to the competitive pressure to say, “We’re better than best.” Offer a thoughtful, empathetic reply to your market, and people’s ears will perk up and listen. Elevate the discussion above the technology or solution. Speak to what the customer cares about. Then, your technology just becomes a natural byproduct of your mission to solve this customer need.
Whisper. (It worked for Steve Jobs.)
Just before the turn of this century, in a market dominated by PCs and Windows, Steve Jobs (and his ad agency) quietly challenged the world to “Think different.” The legendary brand message helped propel Apple to become one of the most successful technology companies ever. But the message wasn’t about the technology.
Up against competition that offered lower prices, more choice, and higher performance, Apple was able to find a message and positioning that connected on an emotional level and elevated the conversation above features and benefits. This was about a different way of life. Instead of shouting about more, bigger, better features, the ad campaign quietly portrayed simple black-and-white portraits of famous innovators with the Apple logo and “Think different” slogan alone in the corner of the page. Fast-forward a few years, and now everyone wants to be like Apple. (When we meet with clients to examine their messaging and positioning, we frequently hear the senior leadership say something along the lines of, “We see ourselves kind of like Apple.”)
You’re basically looking for some left turn that separates you from the pack – some different perspective or take on the whole industry that will cause people to sit up and listen. When everyone else is screaming for attention, sometimes a thoughtful whisper is what it takes to get heard.