As I meet and work with technology clients, it’s quickly apparent whose messaging resonates and whose doesn’t. Technology is a tricky thing. It’s an insular world, the bubbliest of bubbles, where people get so far inside their own universe they completely forget that the rest of the world (especially prospects) can’t understand or relate to the Silicon Valley mindset. And communication breakdowns ensue. We look at positioning as having 3 distinct levels – Functional, Beneficial, and Universal. Understanding the levels will help guide you to create an effective message.
Functional – This is the bottom of the barrel, and quite honestly, where too many software and technology companies reside. Part of the problem seems to be that it’s a struggle just to communicate exactly what a lot of technology companies do. I’ve been in meetings where it took almost 90 minutes for the founder, CEO, CTO and CMO to successfully explain their product. Just being able to succinctly state what you do can be such a struggle it seems like a big win when you finally do. And, yes, internally it might be a big win, but relying on explanatory statements to position your company violates the first rule of marketing – you are assuming other people care. Trust me, no one does. What your software does, or how your software does it is table stakes for any marketing conversation. It does nothing to capture prospects’ attention, or encourage them to learn more. How many companies are positioned as “Next-Generation ____” ? Firewalls! CRM! Database! ERP! Just fill in the blank and you have your new positioning! No one else could possibly claim this! And no one could possibly be interested. This is talking about yourself, for the sake of making yourself feel proud of your product. If you want to intrigue customers, you need to do a lot better.
Beneficial – Here companies take a step forward by moving from inside out (talking about themselves, their product) to talking about what it does for customers. Reduced costs, better insights, faster time to market. All relevant, and all valuable. But generally not very inspiring. These benefits tend to be generic to the category. Everyone claims them. Security software secures data better. CRM software gives you 360 degree customer views. Finance software speeds processes. Wow. Really? While it takes functional and makes it more relevant to the customer, it’s still not compelling, or differentiated. And that first email, or home page, or trade show booth or linked in request, or whatever form of outreach, that relies on the category benefit just gets forgotten – ignored or confused with the hordes of other similar messages.
Fundamental – This approach sets aside categories and ladders up to more universal, human values. The positioning allows companies to think much bigger than their product, to a larger benefit that inspires excitement, curiosity and response. One security software client, freed of its category blinders, reimagined themselves as a way to unleash the power of the global, mobile workforce. Security wasn’t the end game. It was enabling people to work how, where and when they want, without concerns for security. It’s a much bigger promise than being the best Secure Email Gateway. It’s also a promise that resonated internally. Employees weren’t stopping malware. They were empowering and enabling others to do their best work, anywhere in the world. That made it a little more exciting and fulfilling to get up in the morning and get working. Of course, this message had to be backed up by the usual resources that provided info on the how, the what etc. But the Fundamental positioning gave prospects – CSO’s and CIO’s – the opportunity to see their own role in a much more important, positive light, that opened the door to many conversations.
So don’t settle for Functional or Beneficial when you can go with Fundamental positioning. Your sales reps will thank you.