I spend a fair amount of time talking to companies about positioning and messaging, which appears to be an endemic challenge for pretty much everyone. This is particularly true for technology vendors, who face the headwinds of the tyranny of words and convergence of everything.
Try as we might, these days, it can feel downright impossible to get a meaningful point across. While these challenges are certainly real, I’d argue that many marketers aren’t helping themselves.
Here are the six ways I see positioning and messaging efforts going off the rails:
Buzzword bingo—perhaps the most common affliction for technology marketers is the much-maligned tendency to stuff sentences chockablock with throwaway words and phrases. Buzzwords are the artificial sweetener of language. They create the illusion that you’re making sense or saying something of value when you’re actually just filling the air with meaningless jargon.
Verbosity and smart talk—a pathology ranking a close second to buzzword bingo is the use of language that’s overwritten and overwrought, long flowery prose littered with bold-face SAT words that acts as a smokescreen to true understanding. When in doubt, say more. In positioning and messaging—and perhaps also in life—the more you say, the less you probably understand. Leave the verbosity to Faulkner and the smarty pants talk to the nattering nabobs on cable news (and never say “nattering nabobs”).
Special snowflake syndrome—particularly in engineering-driven cultures, I see companies that grow, a-hem, rather fond of their own secret sauce. Passion is critical, to be sure, but this is its mutation. These special snowflakes feel they owe the world a full-throated holler from the hilltops of the goodness they’ve gifted upon thee. Sometimes it’s warranted, but more often, it’s a form of self-deception that comes from too much time in front of the mirror, not the market.
Hoarder complex—positioning is an exercise in sacrifice. Increasingly, who you are is defined by who you aren’t. What you become depends on what you’ve left behind. These hoarders leave behind nothing. Their messaging becomes a catchall of everything that was ever uttered or thought, a potpourri of ideas present and past. The result? Quite simply: A dog’s breakfast.
FOMO—fear of missing out has been popularized by the addictive qualities of social media, but it’s also quite evident in how we market. Marketers often attach their wares to whatever trend is drawing heat and light, diluting its meaning for themselves and others. Worse, this affinity to the trend du jour often leads to thrashing, as marketers cycle through an unending series of new new things.
Me-too—Gartner analyst Hank Barnes will tell you that failure to differentiate is the curse of the technology marketer. I agree. The source of this issue is more than just a failure of imagination, although that’s certainly part of it. The trickier issue is that this struggle to differentiate is an artifact of the world we live in. Things that are hard to do are still easy to say. Thus, everything converges. Everything sounds the same. What made you different suddenly isn’t. Which is why the customer experience is now the new battlefield. Words matter, for sure, but not nearly as much as deeds.