The fundamental purpose of marketing is to differentiate. As I shared my post Monday – the problem with differentiation is that when everyone is trying to do it, it becomes meaningless noise and customer ignore it.
In today’s excerpt from my speech at EO’s Nerve Conference from last week, I share this insight – what I call The Value Add Trap. Think about the last time a salesperson said to you, “this is our value add.” What was your visceral response? The problem with traditional, offering-centric approaches to marketing is that all they end up doing is adding to the complexity. In today’s over-complicated world, buyers just shut you out.
Instead of taking a company centric viewpoint, start looking at everything from the persepctive of your customer. The simpler you can make their life – the more powerful your value proposition will be.
Last week, I spoke at an EO conference. EO is a great organization of leading entrepreneurs and the theme of the conference – Nerve – was to seize today’s circumstances and turn them to their advantage. I spoke about my favorite topic – Creating Demand.
Over the course of the next few weeks, I’m going to share some of the insights I made (and have been making) about creating demand. Today, I highlight the underlying cause that is making business tougher, and why traditional marketing approaches just make things worse.
The “noise” that is created by traditional marketing methods makes connecting with customers and prospect almost impossible. Overcoming the noise barrier with more noise, more “we do’s” won’t work.
What can you do instead? Stop forcing your customers to understand you, and instead make them feel understood.
I’m in the middle of working with a great client on developing their market messaging. This is a very successful company and their executive team is top notch. They’re at the epicenter of what I call a “Devastating Market,” as by some measurements the size of their market (demand) has been cut in half. We’re developing their brand promise, and one of their sales executives sent me a comment/question to the effect of:
The message certainly hits what we do, but it doesn’t really pull me in. They’re so direct, it feels mechanical. Ex: I believe IBM’s statement is ” we provide solutions “. GE touted ” we bring good things to light”. I come back to something that is broader, which in my opinion, is what IBM and GE is saying. Why don’t we go in that direction?
I’d like to share my response, because I think it hits at the heart of creating a powerful message:
This is a great question. I apologize in advance for what will probably be a lengthier response than you may have expected. You’ve kind of hit the central point that separates traditional demand fulfillment from demand creation. Plus, I have several thoughts on the issue.
Keep in mind that we are working on developing the marketing message that is the market manifestation of our value proposition; not our slogan. The is our brand promise. The IBM, GE statements were there slogans not their brand promises.
The purpose of our market message/brand promise is to, for lack of a better word, mark our territory. Done well it defines the decision. I often ask salespeople if we had 10 ideal prospects that made the right decision (as defined by you) in the right way (as defined by you); how many would buy from you? After the salesperson realizes that it’s not a trick question they give the right answer – all 10. The point of this is that it’s far more effective if we focus on teaching buyer’s how to make effective decisions, rather than trying to convince them to buy from us. The message/promise is the focal point for what, in our opinion, a good decision is.
The statement needs to answer the question “so what” for the customer. The vast majority of marketing execs agree that IBM, GE (including, by the way, Jack Welch who got rid of the statement) and several other equivalent slogans are highly ineffective. The problem with them is that they don’t stand the contrast test. GE said, “We bring good things to life.” Does the market think, or could GE demonstrate, that their competition “Brings bad things to light” or “good things to darkness”? As a result they define no ground in the buyer’s mind and contribute to the commoditization effect. On another note, these slogans supported an image marketing campaign. The goal of the advertising campaigns was not the direct creation of a sale, but to create “good feelings” about the company. It was their idea that good feelings would help make sales. They also each spent approximately $1 billion/year advertising in consumer markets. Also, take a look at how frequently each of those companies now change their message. (Though I have to admit that I liked GE’s recent statement – Imagine It; obviously for personal reasons.)
IBM and GE both play a demand fulfillment game. If you remember our conversation about The 7 Levels of a Growth Organization they’re at the Level 2 – 3 (Demand Fulfillment Organization to Solution Selling Organization). They both spend significant resources in R & D, both get the vast majority of their growth from acquisitions, and both see diluting share, margins and must fight a heavier competitive game. I’m by no means an expert in IBM or GE as my focus stays on small and mid-market companies; it’s always hard to translate the lessons of mega-globals to what we are able to do.
Please know that a statement – no matter how good – will do nothing if it is not followed with a fully aligned execution program behind it. The purpose of the statement is to be the “point,” if you will, on our arrow. Our sales approach and marketing efforts should be used to highlight and enlighten buyers about the issues surrounding the issues surrounding the message. To use a political term, the “message statement/brand promise” is the filter we use to ensure that everything we do stays “on message.” The purpose of a powerful statement is not to create a “wow” effect – those statements tend to be very high on the emotional scale and low on the concrete scale and typically become more fads than long-term impacts (though, of course, there is nothing wrong if we a statement achieves both). The reality is that “obvious” is good. Obvious for the seller is often times boring, but for a buyer it’s clear, requires no thought and is easily understood. It defines the relationship.
I prefer, and my research finds to be more effective, really clear simple statements that are obvious like:
- Put a man on the moon and return him safely, by the end of the decade.
- When it absolutely positively has to be there overnight.
- Always low prices.
- A PC on every desktop.
- THE low fare airline.
- Cut your sales cycle time in half.
My friend, fellow blogger and social media expert, Craig Stoltz, has a terrific post that will tell you whether you are ready for the future or not. His focus is typically on traditional media and new/social media, but the point of his post goes way beyond that. It answers the question, “Am I ready to succeed with where the world is going,” in a simple, succinct and stunningly accurate way. It’s well worth the look.
Today, I got an email from a company offering to lower my TCO. Yeah, I didn’t know what that meant either. After considering it, I think it means total cost of ownership. I have no idea who this company is or how good they are, and my intention is certainly not to embarrass them. The only reason I noticed the email is because it completely nailed the problem that small and mid-sized businesses (SMEs) are having in the market today.
The vast majority of companies across the board are complaining about three things:
- How difficult the market is.
- How unwilling customers are to properly value offerings – thus putting tremendous pressure on margins.
- How difficulty it is to get a prospective client to talk to a seller.
While I will certainly admit that competition today is fierce, and breaking the buyer code is tougher; the bulk of the problem is being caused by the inept way businesses are going to market. I was talking with a client of mine recently about the challenges he was having with a new salesperson; and I commented that the root of the problem was that long before the rep had an opportunity to say anything the rep’s actions and approach were commoditizing the company. So, no matter how well the rep “talked” they were going to be defined by their price.
Here’s a highlight of the solicitation email (again, I am showing this not to embarrass the company but to (hopefully) enlighten readers):
There are four fundamental mistakes the seller made here:
- I did not ask for this email.
- It created no value. (Points 1 & 2 make it SPAM).
- It pretends to make a promise; but because the promise isn’t clearly defined AND it speaks their language instead of mine – it means NOTHING. (BTW, the promise would mean nothing for either of those reasons, the fact that both occur just amplifies the problem.)
- Their slogan “change for the better” means absolutely nothing – does their competition stand for “change for the worse.”
Without meaning to, this company has clearly communicated that they mean nothing; that there is no compelling reason I should break from my current thought patterns and allow them into my world. As a result, the solicitation creates a result that is worse than having done nothing. If I wasn’t looking for this type of service, the solicitation does nothing to create demand, and if I were looking for this type of service, the message commoditizes the company and I’m going to burrow right to price. I’ll take up their sales time (increasing their sales costs) and decrease their margins at best or completely waste those resources at worst.
It’s unfortunate, because this company is so close to having a positive impact. The email looked good, and the intent of their message is good. I could (emphasis on could) love the focus on total cost of ownership. The reason I don’t (yet) love it is because: a) they talk about lowering my TCO and I have no idea what that means, and b) even if they did mention total cost of ownership – I don’t know what my current cost of ownership is, so I have no way of understanding the value of the offer.
If instead of trying to convert me to a buyer, they had taken to opportunity to begin a conversation, they would have been on to something. Every SME I know is looking for creative ways to reduce costs while improving their capabilities – THEY JUST DON’T KNOW HOW. And, until I know how to do that I am incapable of understanding them. With their current offer, even if I were curious how to lower by costs, I would be afraid to call them because they’ve positioned themselves (unintentionally) as a peddler rather than a trusted, subject matter expert.
This solicitation makes the single biggest and most frequent mistake of marketers – it’s asking me to think like the seller. Your job, as a growth executive, marketer or sales exec is to think like your customers. Stop making your customers think like you.
This is what the content revolution is all about – creating thought leadership; and allowing that leadership to lead the sales efforts. Sure, it’s harder than peddling your wares, but it’s got three key benefits:
- It provides bigger margins.
- It actually shortens the sales cycle.
- It makes you competitor proof.
So here’s what I’d recommend:
- Drop the slogan – it adds nothing and isn’t necessary. Speak to me like a person.
- Create a campaign that creates value for key buyers. To do that, the seller must first go through a painstaking process of understanding who their customer really is (which I can tell from this solicitation they have not done).
- Create content that supports their value proposition – and teaches me (the potential buyer) how to understand their value proposition in a way that creates value for me, the buyer, even if I don’t buy from them.
- Make a clear promise – one that is easily understood and valued.
Early in my sales career I was given some of the worst advice ever – it nearly destroyed by career. “It’s a numbers game,” I was told. If I could rid the world of one destructive, commoditizing thought it would be that piece of advice.
This philosophy shows up in a number of places. Most recently, it has shown itself as more and more businesses are turning to “social media” to drive the outreach programs. As more and more small and mid-size business (SMEs) executives and salespeople are looking for new ways to stand out, they are experimenting with things like LinkedIn groups, Facebook pages and Twitter. I applaud this effort – however, please stop demeaning yourself by begging and peddling for “fans.” (For those that are not familiar with these tools, fans simply means people that decide to follow your posts and/or be alerted anytime you put something up on one of your pages.)
I’ve lost count of the number of requests I’ve received recently asking me – no, begging me – to become a fan or follower of their new endeavor. This idea is clearly rooted in the idea that if more people are “fans”, then you must be more successful. In reality, this is just another example of modern businesses taking a quantity/volume approach over a quality/profit approach. I am not impressed by the number of followers you have,nor is any reasonable person that I am aware of. I am, however, impressed by the quality of followers you have. One of the ways I judge that is by judging the quality of your content.
It’s funny, I’m a big (BIG) Bruce Springsteen fan – seen him more than 30 times and I’ve got tickets to see him several more times this year, plus I’ve turned on hundreds of people in my life to his music – and he’s never once asked me to become his fan. He takes the harder route – he did (and continues to do) something great and I became a fan. I’ve found this principle exists in business today – those that ask me to become a fan provide the least value; while those that provide great value never feel the need to ask. The more we pursue fans (remember, that’s short for fanatical) who are not really fans, the more we reduce the impact of having actual fans. When that happens, no one is better off – actually, it’s one of the reasons that marketing professionals are in the trouble they are in.
I guess it’s human nature to look for the shortcut – the easier route. Look getting people to click a button to become a “fan” is relatively easy – it’s a lot harder to build a true fan base; a community of people who are connected to what you do and care – passionately – about what you and your company are. It might look better to have thousands of people signed up to be your “fan” – but I’ll take the few that really, truly care.
The über-lesson for presidents? You can’t be too honest in describing big problems, too bold in offering big solutions, too humble in dealing with big missteps, too forward in re-telling your story, or too gutsy in speaking the previously unspeakable.
In today’s environment, we should all cut this quote out and keep it in plain site.
One of my clients is doing some pretty great things in transforming HR from a cost related issues into a key strategic driver of results for SMEs. Karen Usher, TPO’s founder and Chairman, is writing an article for publication on the what’s and how’s that forward thinking SMEs are taking to become stronger in response to the economic shift we are experiencing.
In Karen’s words:
I believe that there’s a positive, but under-reported story about a critical component of our immediate business community. Smaller and middle market companies – a huge component of the DC area market – have traditionally been characterized by more energy, more creativity and more resilience, and they’ve always instinctively known how to capitalize on that to build and grow. Because of that mindset and experience, I believe that this market, in general, has been much more sure footed responding to recent economic pressures and that a good number of the companies in this sector are now actively positioning themselves to grow in our new economic environment.
So, I’m seeking to have a nuts and bolts conversation with a cross section of CEO’s that will help me understand further what some of these small and mid-sized companies have done to respond to the changing economic landscape and how they are leading their companies into the “new” future. I believe that hidden in those conversations is a pattern of responses, actions and leadership that collectively can serve as a model for all of us as we walk our way forward in these challenging times!
If you’re interested in sharing your ideas (and possibly getting featured), email Karen: kusher (@) tpo-inc.com, or call her: 703.533.1533.
I was reviewing websites of a group of people who attended one of my speeches yesterday. As I was looking at them, I couldn’t help but think of the Seinfeld episode where the characters always spoke in third person. It was hilarious.
It’s not so funny with a website. Your website is your opportunity to personalize your firm and to connect with new people. Third person language homogenizes the discussion. It is cold, boring and blah.
So, drop the artificial third person language and start a conversation. Speak to me like I’m a person you want to do business with.