In my travels as a growth marketing consultant, one the most common utterances I hear from B2B CEOs or Founders is “we need some help with our positioning” or “we need to tighten up our messaging.”
The nuance between positioning and messaging aside, the common underlying agita is a feeling that the company is not speaking to potential customers in the most compelling way possible.
There’s a feeling that there’s a disconnect between what’s being said, and the message that would resonate most strongly with potential customers. Or there’s just no consistency in the story that’s being told at all.
As I pondered this, I realized that I’ve never heard this request from a company that’s already doing well. Companies that are already scaling may want to go faster, may want more leads, may want to source bigger deals, or may want to experiment with pricing.
But it’s the companies who are under performing who tend to identify messaging as an area that needs some TLC. And it makes sense – if your messaging isn’t speaking to the pains and desires of your potential customer base, you can do everything else right and still really struggle to achieve your growth goals.
As I studied the companies that self-identified as needing help with their messaging, three patterns began to emerge.
This post will identify some of the common pitfalls B2B companies fall into with their messaging – if you read this and realize your company is guilty of one of these, it may be time to reevaluate the messaging you’re bringing to market.
Let’s dive in.
Self-identifying as #1
Everybody and every company wants to be “#1.”
That’s OK, but you’re not Nelly.
Think of it this way – selling almost any product is a lot like dating. People buy products from people they like on a personal level, just as they date people they genuinely like on personal level.
Most people are attracted to others who are self aware, and who can speak to their strengths and weaknesses honestly and comfortably. If a guy/gal approached you in a bar and the first thing they said was “I’m the #1 person you should consider dating,” you’d be a little off-put, wouldn’t you?
I find this message to be problematic for a few reasons.
First off, I would argue that the companies that are undeniably #1 in their market don’t often make this proclamation.
They don’t need to, because everyone already knows it.
Salesforce doesn’t tout itself as the #1 CRM on the planet – they don’t need to, as everyone is aware of their market position. That message would be nothing but wasted breath, a missed opportunity for them.
The second problem with this messaging direction is that often it’s either simply not true, or it’s such a vague proclamation that there’s no clear understanding of what makes them #1.
What’s the metric or source of data that you’re leaning on when making that statement? And is that the same metric or source of data that your competitors are relying on when making a similar declaration?
Ultimately this more often than not confuses potential customers and erodes their confidence in your business.
The good news is that the intention behind the “#1” message is most often a good one – what these businesses are after is credibility.
They are trying to increase consumer confidence.
It’s very similar to the notion that “nobody ever got fired for buying IBM.” Companies believe that by saying they’re #1, consumers will feel a level of comfort knowing that they are buying the best.
To solve this problem, ask yourself, “Are my potential customers really trying to buy #1?”
Chances are, probably not – they’re not trying to buy your product simply because it’s the best, they’re trying to buy some unique aspect or characteristic of your product that makes it the best.
What specific attributes of the market leading solution in your industry do buyers care about? The more specific you can be, the better. In the age of buyer empowerment, credibility absolutely does matter – probably more than ever before. Look for other ways to highlight your company’s credibility through social proof, user reviews, testimonials, or any other means that’s more specific and more human than simply declaring your business to be #1.
And if you feel like your company really is #1, take it one step further – what are you #1 in? What makes you #1?
Maybe you have the most customers. Maybe you have the most revenue. Maybe your product is the most reliable on the market by some concrete measure.
Call those items out specifically and more times that not your message will resonate more deeply with your prospective customers.
Self-Identifying as “Next Generation” or “Transformative”
How many times have you heard of a new product that represents the “next generation” of a product that you’re already using? How many times have you heard about a product that’s going to “transform” your industry?
Probably quite a few.
Now take a step back – when you’ve heard these sentiments, how many times has the “next generation” product really been that drastically different from what you’re using today?
Better yet, how frequently have you seen your industry “transformed?” Messaging in this direction is often exhausted and almost always results in a product falling short of the expectations that have been set.
Simply put, you can do better.
There are two trends that are common when I’ve seen messaging in this direction.
The first one is that the company guilty of this messaging is a technology company.
Think about that for a moment… this both makes sense, yet makes no sense at all.
Technology companies are interested in using applied science, their own knowledge, and technical means to build something new and better for a practical purpose. They are inherently trying to build the next generation of something that already exists; or they are trying to build something completely new to transform the way a practical task has historically been accomplished.
All of which is to say being “next generation” or “transformative” is part of their DNA – taking the time to state this outright represents once again wasted breath.
The second trend is that once again messaging in this direction comes from a well-intentioned place.
Entrepreneurs and business owners are usually excited about their products – they have to be if they are to have any chance of being successful. With that excitement comes a natural bias towards their own products, and a heightened sense of the differences between their product and other similar products.
With that bias and level of excitement, the differences between products appear larger than they actually are, most often well beyond what are perceived to be meaningful or truly significant differences to the business’ end customers.
Next thing you know, you’re bringing to market a product that you’re calling “next generation” or “transformative.”
The solution to this issue is once a gut check, as well as a higher degree of specificity.
Markets are sometimes transformed, no doubt – but if you’re an entrepreneur, ask yourself “how many times have I heard that? And how many times has it actually come true?”
If you’re honest with yourself it’s pretty rare that a product transforms a market, so take an honest, closer look at the transformative power of your product. Chances are your product is closer to “next generation” than “transformative,” so then ask yourself “what’s next generation about my product specifically?”
There is undoubtedly something specific that you are doing differently that you think offers your customers a better experience.
Call that out, as specifically as you can.
It may feel strange, and it may not feel “big enough” to be one of your leading messages… but chances are it probably is.
Specificity and honesty saves buyers time, builds credibility, and earns your business trust.
What’s more important than that when it comes to messaging that drives business results?
Serving Your Own Needs Rather Than Those of Your Potential Customers
The last messaging mistake I commonly see is less specific but even more widespread than the two I’ve mentioned thus far – and best yet, it’s perhaps the easiest to rectify.
Simply stated, it’s messaging that serves the needs of the company and its employees but not the needs of the potential customer.
The easiest way to identify this issue is to read your company’s messaging and simply ask yourself, “Do I care about this, or does our potential customer?”
This mistake can take countless forms.
For sake of illustration, consider “An energetic, innovative CRM company that’s taking down Salesforce.”
While this is a bad hypothetical example, you’ve probably seen messaging somewhat like this before. In fact, this message has some positive feelings to it!
The problems here could be…
- A) Who is looking for an “energetic” CRM?
- B) Are buyers specifically looking for an “innovative” CRM? Probably not – most CRM buyers want something functional that serves their needs well.
- C) Do buyers care about “taking down Salesforce?” Again, probably not.
Sticking with this example, all of these attributes likely DO serve the interest of the company and its employees.
Working in a fast paced, energetic, start-up environment is attractive to many potential employees. Likewise, working at an “innovative” company could help attract top level engineering talent.
And who doesn’t like a David versus Goliath scenario, where you’ve got a chance to take down or disrupt an industry leader? The message may very well be effective in helping the company with recruiting, as well as generating excitement and good will with existing employees of the business.
But if the message isn’t speaking to the pains and desires of the potential customer base, customer acquisition will suffer.
So much has changed in B2B marketing over the last 20, 10, even 5 years – sometimes it’s dizzying to consider.
But some marketing fundamentals are forever. Taking the time to carefully consider whether your business’s messaging serves the interests of your potential buyers is an exercise that will always pay dividends.
Watch out for the three pitfalls described above, and pressure test your existing messaging for self-serving bias as well as it’s level of specificity.