Having written last on the “5 DIY B2B Messaging Mistakes” I’ve decided to address another challenge, hiring “Messaging Help”, that consultant, agency or firm that’s gonna help you get it right. And while I admit I have a biased view here, in the sense that I am a provider of this, I wanted to step back and talk about how to find the “contractor” that works for you. Since there is no Angie for B2B messaging, here’s a starting point to help you on your decision path.
Here in no particular order, and my top 5 tips on hiring Messaging Help…
- Beware the Generalist – everyone can “do this”
- Beware the Specialist – too much speciality can kill
- Beware the Low Cost Provider – price can be the signal of value
- Beware the High Price Provider – are you paying for overhead or quality
- Messaging or Domain Expertise – yes, you need a lot of one, but some of another
Let’s go a bit deeper on each of these tips:
#1 Beware the Generalist– Often an individual who has a great track record as a CMO or VP, they can do it all. But when’s the last time they did this? Think of it like hiring a retired QB whose now a head coach to be your Quarterback on the field. Or a general contractor, who hasn’t touched a pipe for 20 yrs to fix your leaky toilet. Can they still do it? Are they in synch with the current products, codes and tools? You get the picture. Messaging is a skill, and like any skill, it degrades if not practiced.
#2 Beware the Specialist – You hire these firms to do a job, because they are specialist at it. Then you discover that your web, your PR, your demand gen agency probably all have “messaging” offerings. That’s great if you want press coverage, or web or ad copy, but that’s what you will get. If your project is to build CORE MESSAGING, the blueprint or “bible” for your business, product line or service offering, beware of getting a great message for one of them, and thinking you are getting it all. Maybe a specialist messaging firm is a better answer!
#3 – Beware the Low Cost Provider -With messaging, there is NO barrier to entry. Just say you do it, tell a story or two, and then go to town. And do a bunch of other stuff too. (see tips 1 and 2 ;)). And do it cheap and fast. Well, you know the old adage, you can have good, cheap and fast, but you can’t get all 3. When a “messaging provider” is 1/3 the cost of the going market rate, then you should slow very much down before hiring them. Let’s say you were going to tile a bathroom in your home, and you get 3 quotes, one for $500, one for $1800 and one for $5000. Well, for me, if I want a good job that lasts, my first choice to dive deep into references, etc, is the $1800 one, unless of course I want it cheap because I am selling my house next week. There’s a reason why specialized skill like messaging aren’t cheap, because they are valuable and strategic. If it isn’t worth investing in, maybe you should be doing DIY!
#4 – Beware the High Cost Provider – On the other end of the spectrum is the high price provider. These usually show up as larger agencies with a very dynamic leader/founder who does most of the selling. Then they have a small to large army of “consultants” who do the work. This usually translates into more overhead for the provider, and bigger prices. This is OK, but the biggest risk is that the consultant or team of consultants will not be near as skilled and capable as the founder. Of course, the founder will promise you that they will be :involved: and that you are getting their best team. Is that worth the bet and the price tag?
#5 –Messaging or Domain Expertise – Yes, it depends. Obviously I am biased that messaging expertise is critical. That’s obvious already from tips 1-4. But do you need domain expertise too. My answer is yes but. I would NOT hire a provider to do the work if they had no knowledge of my space, though I would define space pretty liberally. If I was a marketing automation vendor, I’d hire someone who did a lot of sales automation but maybe not so much marketing, but I probably wouldn’t hire someone who’s closed connection to marketing automation was something like Support automation. Surprisingly, I would not hire someone who ONLY did marketing automation work. Why? Cross domain expertise is CRITICAL to creativity and out of the box idea generation. It’s invaluable in this line of work. Don’t over-focus on Domain expertise, if you don’t already have that in spades, you have a bigger problem then messaging!
So if you’ve decided to “get help”, I sure hope these tips drive you to a great decision and you hire the right person or agency to best serve your needs, and hopefully for just a few of you, that person will be me!
Messaging, after product and funding, is arguably the third key thing to get right for early stage B2B start-up success. Yet just the other day, a friend of mine who is a well respected Venture Capitalist said to me, “You know Ken, most of our early stage company think they can do messaging as a DIY project, but the truth is, they are just not good at it”.
This got me thinking watching all of the DIY home improvement shows, especially the ones where the pros come in and rescue the homeowners. Then I realized just how bad I am at even the simplest home improvement project, but that I am pretty good at B2B Messaging, so maybe I could share some common mistakes I’ve had to come in and “rescue” founders from. So here, in no particular order, and my top 5…
- They focus too much on how, and not enough on what and why
- They focus too much on themselves, and just how awesome they are
- The don’t have a well articulated problem statement they are working from
- They think a website is a messaging framework
- Their value is not well articulated, unique or meaningful
Let’s do a quick peek into the messiness of these mistakes:
#1 Too much how – We mistakenly think that all of our uniqueness comes from our amazing how. The innovation in our code, our science or our other “special sauce”. But without the what and the why, the how is meaningless. Instead, ask yourself what is my unique approach, why did I build it in the first place. Why should anyone care. Thinking different and taking a different approach is often the uniqueness that matters MUCH more than the how. No one really cares how things work near as much as what it does for me and what the value of that is.
#2 Too much me – I had one client when I went to their homepage it was literally all about them. We have amazing customers, we’ve won all these awards, we’ve been featured on this show, our team is the smartest in the world. Many early stage customers are super proud of themselves. They are literally BRILLIANT. They have track records of success. They have PHDs from amazing places. They ran top secret projects for governments. AND, investors LOVE to invest in super smart people. Customers on the other hand, sadly don’t give a crap. They care about your insight, not your degree, they care about this product, not the one you built and sold for $1B dollars, they care about what you can do for them, not what you did yourself. So, put your ego aside, and focus on them, not you. Besides, if the battle always goes to the smartest, which it doesn’t, I’ve got bad news for you there is probably a competitor with better credentials than you have, let her brag, not you!
#3 – The Problem with Problems – I’ve ranted about this one before and it hasn’t gotten any better. C- is still the best grade I see from DIY messaging teams. And if you can’t build your message around a big, relevant and meaningful problem you are lost! Obsess about two things, who are you helping and what are you helping them fix. Once you know that, everything else is (relatively) easy. Problem is the foundation of your messaging and if you’ve ever seen a home on a bad foundation…well enough said.
#4 – Your Website Does Not a Messaging Framework Make – The best analogy I can come up with a trailer does not make a movie script. Your website is the OUTPUT of a great messaging framework. As is your sales presentation, your PR boilerplate, your product brochure. Making a website without a messaging framework will result in, well, crap. Don’t do it. Find a framework and use it. I am quite partial to mine, which is the topic of much of my book Launching to Leading, and can be downloaded here (but you’ll want to read the book to make sense of it).
#5 – Where’s the Value – DIY messaging doesn’t focus near enough if at all on value. Marketing and sales is all about a conversation with buyers about the exchange of value. You want their time, attention and dollars, and they want what in exchange? Something they need that solves a problem (see #3) and the benefits they get from doing so. After you’re done obsessing on problem, obsess on value. What value can I deliver that my competitors can’t that customers CARE to trade time and money for, not just think it’s cool. A messaging framework should help here too. And if you’d like more of my thoughts on both problem and value, you can check out my LinkedIn Learning Course here.
So to put a wrap on this DIY project, if you do DIY Messaging; remember lower the heat on the how and you, obsess about problem and value, and don’t confuse your website for a messaging framework…now back to all those pesky home improvement projects for me, nah, I’ll just hire a pro!!!
View this on demand webinar and learn how companies like FireEye, SkyHigh and FastSpring leveraged my storytelling framework to establish and grow market and category leadership.
Get Out and Engage! – Why You Need Both Customer Empathy AND Intimacy to Drive Aligned Engagement
Do you know what keeps your customers up at night? What gets them excited in the morning? Have you walked in their shoes? Do you seek to understand before being understood?
All timeless cliches, right? But many marketers forget to take them to heart. Many sit in their cubicles (or home offices these days) and fail to engage in discovery conversations. They are “too busy” to keep up with news of the industries they serve, the functions they support, and the businesses they are trying to help. Worse yet, they seem more focused campaign metrics and business results than on customer problems and transformation.
Is this unfair? Probably a bit. But achieving what I call Aligned Engagement, where your narrative and messaging, and the content and programs based on them, breakthrough and have maximum impact and results requires both customer intimacy, a clear understanding of the business and personal goals and challenges of your buyers and users, as well as customer empathy, understanding how they think, feel and act to meet and exceed these goals. Without intimacy, your programs will lack meaning, and while customers may appreciate the empathy, they will probably just say, “Thanks for caring, but no thanks, I’m not buying”. And with high levels of intimacy, and low empathy, you’ll feel creepy, because you seem to understand them at a business level but don’t relate to them as humans.
Aligned Engagement, where the magic happens, is at the intersection of high levels of customer intimacy and empathy. So get out of that email inbox and spreadsheet and go engage. Talk, zoom, survey, watch user testing, sit with customer success, the options are endless. Don’t be a marketing wallflower, get out there and learn and care. The rewards are many and the opportunity is yours! – Ken
I’ll be talking about the role of customer empathy and intimacy in building your breakthrough narrative in my March 18th Webinar, I hope you can join me.
In my post of November 4th, I outlined the Five Messaging Habits of Highly Successful B2B Brands, in this post I’ll take on 5 Bad Habits to Break. If you’d like to learn more, watch my free recorded Webinar on this topic.
We all have bad habits, both in our personal and professional lives. Over the years, I’ve noticed 5 Messaging Habits that get in the way of B2B Brand Success. Let’s take a quick look at these 5 bad habits to break
- Bad Habit 1: Overvaluing Value
- Value is critical to success. However, it is a necessary but not sufficient condition for great messaging. Put another way, value is a great justifier of purchase, but it is rarely a motivator. In today’s crowded marketplace of ideas, if you ONLY focus on value, at the cost of story and experience, you will NOT breakthrough and your value will be wasted. Overvaluing value is a habit you must break to lead.
- Bad Habit 2: Confusing Strategy with Story
- My business strategy is about ME, not my customer. My market story or narrative should center around the customer, with my brand as “best supporting actor” but not the lead. Keep your strategy tight and save it for investors, but make your customer the hero your go market story. Brands that talk too much about their business strategy instead of the transformative customer story simply don’t get noticed by overwhelmed buyers.
- Bad Habit 3: Being Impatient
- It takes the 3-5 repetitions for a new idea or “meme” to implant itself in a meaningful and impactful way in the human brain. Yet many expect a new message to move the needle in weeks if not days. Because of this, we tweak, throw out and revise messaging so much, we lose the impact of repetition, dramatically lowering our effectiveness. Be patient, we are fighting a war against competition that is measured in months, quarters and years, not days, weeks or campaigns. If you aren’t tired of saying it I guarantee you haven’t said it enough
- Bad Habit 4: Getting Stuck in the Weeds
- We LOVE our product and we love to talk about their amazing features. And even if your baby has the most beautiful eyes in the world, how many pictures of them do your customer’s really want to see. Getting stuck in feature/function land is a habit we need to break. We need functional, motivational and transformative value. But most founders and product folks get stuck in the functional weeds, giving lip-service to the layers of messaging above that.
- Habit 5: Talking Too Much
- Tell, tell, tell and tell some more. Whitepapers, product data sheets, feature comparisons, etc, etc, etc. Take a lesson from (Pre-covid) Costco. Show, sample and buy. Telling is boring, telling is too demanding on the audience and telling is simply lazy marketing.
Want to improve your results, start breaking the bad habits and living the good ones.
To learn more, watch my recorded webinar on this topic.