Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Marketing doesn't need to differentiate you...

(... caveat: at least, not at every point in the buying cycle)

Smurfs may be great gardeners, but they'll never make it in marketing: they've bought into the message that you need to differentiate yourself, when all that's doing is qualifying them out of potential deals. Poor old smurfs...

I'm worried that too many people (me included, too often) put too much faith in the 'differentiate or die' message. A quick google search shows that over 50,000 pages are making that point (and, having obviously just visited all of those, I can faithfully report that they all support my argument...)

Let's say there are lots of companies acknowledging a need for your kind of solution (some in the sweet spot where you really do have better features than the competition) - but there are three big names always getting on the shortlist for the RFP.

Now, do you really need marketing to differentiate yourself from the big three? Or is the issue actually that people see you as too different already (or don't see you at all)?

There's a strong argument that marketing up to the point of the RFP should be all about 'me too' - we have a great client list (like them), we have delivered great results (like them), we have features x,y,z (like them)...

The chances are that one of them is already helping the prospect to shape their RFP (or at least, knowledge of what one of them can do is) - so the only thing you're going to acheive with differentiation is to discount yourself from the deal.

Of course, if the competition is bigger than you, then you will need one kind of differentiation - nothing to do with what you say, but all to do with how/where you say it. They'll own various saturated marketing channels (think AdWords for one! Tradeshows/exhibitions for two...) - but it's your opportunity to get smart and targeted with your direct communications to really deliver that 'me too' message in a way that gets 'me too' onto the shortlist...

Of course, once you're on that shortlist and having your sales meetings - that's the time to really stick it to the competition (and your sales team need all the support they can get to highlight the places where your product/service differentiators meet the pain points of the prospect).

But start the differentiation too soon and you'll end up needing to create a whole new market before anyone will buy from you (which is a great challenge to have, if you're up for the fight!).

So, anyway, have you spotted the 5 differences in the smurf picture? Go here to see if you got it right!

Saturday, 2 August 2008

Is there an opposite to thought leadership? And would it be a bad thing?

Last week, a colleague proposed the possibility that - with every man and his dog creating a 'thought leadership' position - the real thought leaders might be doing just the opposite.

So what would this vacuum be called? 'I forgot' is the best answer so far.

And are you a 'thought leader' or an 'I forgot'?

Everything starts right with thought leadership programmes - 'we want to have something interesting to say to clients and prospects, ideally something that stands us apart from the competition'.

If only it stopped there as well. But too often, after this great start, people put the 'stand apart from the competition' before the 'interesting to clients and prospects' - which typically means taking an even more tangential/futuristic view on a subject. And so the thought leading position gets farther and farther away from where the majority of clients/prospects are fighting their day to day battles (and spending the majority of their budgets).

We did some research recently with people making buying decisions worth millions of pounds - and found that the people taking the decisions weren't necessarily in the c-suite, but departmental heads/programme directors - people with day jobs too big to worry about what might be possible in the future and all too concerned with what's happening today.

So maybe the really innovative thinking would be to stick to what worries these decision-makers - stories about what's going right and wrong, implementation pot-holes, war stories...

It suddenly makes the 'I forgot' position a whole lot more attractive.