A few years ago, after completing an engagement with Lee Hecht Harrison in working on the narrative for the launch of what became known as their “Active Placement” service, their then CRO Kevin Gagan said to me:
That comment has stuck hard with me. Somedays, I believe Kevin is correct. I see this especially with clients who have great ambition for their offerings, and struggle to narrow down their message for better impact. But when they do, often it creates new strategic focus in many aspects of the go to market, be it product roadmap, packaging, pricing or channels. The story drives the strategy.
Other times, the vision and strategy are very well defined. Often driven by entrepreneurial leaders with an innate sense for the buyer and the customer, the product, packaging and go to market plan are strategically sound, but the story is so narrow that it undersells the offering and doesn’t break through. When you fix that, clearly the strategy is driving the story.
So I decided to ask my LinkedIn connections what they thought.
As you can see, they were somewhat divided, with a plurality saying that Strategy drives story. But I have now landed in the 29% that says it’s a give and take. When story and strategy evolve together, they can create a “virtuous cycle” of a powerful and impactful GTM narrative and mix. Story drives strategy drives story in a never ending dance.
In one Hatha Yoga You-tube class I do, the instructor says,
Strength and flexibility, engagement and relaxation, each reinforced by the other. Story and strategy, the Yin and Yang of B2B Go to Market Success.
May all of you and your customer’s Hero’s Journeys be successful, transformative and rewarding – Namaste – Ken!
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!!!
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.
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.
ForgeRock is a leader in the Identity and Access Management space. Having been founded in 2010, ForgeRock has broad platform capabilities and an amazing global customer base. ForgeRock’s platform provides solutions across both employee, customer and IOT identity challenges. Despite their platform and product leadership, in mid 2019 ForgeRock had limited brand recognition and even those who did know the company did not have a good understanding of what the company did. ForgeRock needed to tighten up its positioning, develop a clear narrative, and consistently project it in all their go-to-market activities. A major product release was the ideal “vehicle” for this “relaunch” of an updated brand, new market narrative and value messaging to support the goal of growing and accelerating the company’s market leadership
Ken worked with the executive, product, sales and marketing leadership teams to develop a go to market narrative and value messaging platform that focused on magnifying ForgeRock’s ability to accelerate successful Digital Transformation for its customers. The resulting story, titled “Access the Future” and its companion value messaging, both differentiated ForgeRock from its competitors and magnified the value of their platform for buyers.
“Ken hit the ground running with us. His deep experience in security and B2B businesses helped him quickly come up to speed on identity and access management and understand its importance to digital transformation. But more importantly, his framework and methodology helped us clearly articulate our brand, message and value in the context of our customers making their ‘hero’s journey!‘ ” – Atri Chatterjee – Chief Marketing Officer, ForgeRock
Chatterjee continued, ” The results of this work started coming in right after our product launch. Our new messaging project drove everything we did to market ForgeRock. This resulted in an increase in website traffic by over 50% in three quarters. In that same period, our visibility with prospects, customers and analysts also went up tremendously resulting in a steady increase in inquiries and inbound leads.”
Market Leaders do it better! When you are a follower, it feels like you are pushing a boulder uphill while your rival leader is like a snowball rolling down. So what are some of the messaging habits that Market Leaders consistently show? Here they are and why they are so dang important
Habit 1: Transformative Narrative
Their “story” is aligned with the customer’s reality yet challenges it and transforms their outcomes, making their offerings the magic in the customer’s Hero’s Journey. When brands tell a transformative aligned story they breakthrough and get attention and put the best prospects into the top of the funnel and creates more engaged and motivated customers.
Habit 2: Message Depth
Leaders layer their message from and include all 4 of the key value layers communicating aspirational, transformational, motivational and foundational value and do so for both the business and the individual user/buyer. Depth of messaging accelerates pipeline velocity from the top to the bottom
Habit 3: Experience Rules
We now live in the “show-me” era. Leaders demonstrate their value from the first click to the purchase and beyond. Whether a product led Go To Market or a traditional one, you need to demonstrate and deliver value in compelling, innovative ways. Demonstrating value early and often drives acceleration into your pipeline
Habit 4: Category Leadership
Leaders define, (re-)create and lead their categories. By connecting their solution to important customer problems, they re-frame the market and tilt the playing field to their advantage, changing evaluation context and criteria in their favor and building “unfair” market momentum.
Habit 5: Shared Purpose
Their brand purpose is a shared aspiration with their customers. How they team together to make the business world or society at large better. Shared purpose creates customer commitment and loyalty
Commitment, Breakthrough, Momentum, Velocity and Acceleration, who doesn’t want these? What other habits do you see from market leaders?
DeepFactor was founded by two industry veterans who deeply understood some of the challenges across security, performance, and compliance that face today’s software development teams. Having built an initial product, DeepFactor needed to translate the co-founders’ vision into a compelling go to market story and message platform, and implement that platform across initial go to market assets such as website, datasheet, and sales presentation. In order to launch with velocity, DeepFactor needs a differentiated story that was targeted and consistent with their product led go to market strategy.
Ken first helped the founding team refine the target market segments and personas and refine the Go To Market strategy and then develop a compelling market narrative and value messaging platform and implement that message in a powerful launch. The resulting story, titled “Runtime Ready” describes how developers are “Runtime blind” and DeepFactor can transform their DevOps process to deliver Runtime Ready releases.
“Ken brought not just process and framework, but deep industry knowledge and insight. Ken’s work and advice has delivered key contributions to our early success.” – Kiran Kamity, CEO and Co-Founder, DeepFactor
DeepFactor’s launch has established for them a unique positioning and initial toehold in a crowded but growing market. Early results include several marquee initial customers and upcoming partnerships. By clearly positioning DeepFactor as a unique and meaningful solution, this work has created a platform for future growth and success.
FastSpring, an e-commerce platform for software companies, was having a challenging time positioning itself and its value in the marketplace. While many companies offer point solutions that software companies can piecemeal together, FastSpring’s real value is in being a Merchant of Record that combines a robust technology platform with e-commerce expertise. Because of this unique and extremely robust offering, the team often struggled to properly convey the full value of FastSpring.
Ken worked with the executive team and sales and marketing leadership to develop a story and messaging platform that highlights both the aspirational value and tangible ROI that their customers can achieve when they work partner with a full-service e-commerce partner and how they can now “Sell More, Stay Lean, and Compete Big.”
“With Ken’s methodology, process, and facilitation, we were able to develop our messaging to better articulate who we are and how we help our customers,” said FastSpring VP of Marketing, Sarah Bottorff. “As a result, we have already seen significant improvement in metrics across our entire sales and marketing pipeline.”
Since rolling out the new story and messaging platform in mid-2019, FastSpring has seen significant revenue and pipeline growth. As Bottorff points out, while that success is due to great execution across the entire company, getting alignment behind a powerful, customer-centric and inspiring message has been a key component in its achievement.
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