Cut and paste some copy from your website, remove formatting, product mentions(etc) paste into a slide, then do the same for your three top competitors. Do the same for visual language, then show your leadership team and ask them to spot the difference. Can they feel their company’s differentiation, culture and identity in the text and images to know which one was theirs?
I did this once, they couldn’t.
Playing it safe and being boring
B2B marketing copy is full of business speak and terms like “leading” that have been used so often that they have lost any impact on the reader. They will notice your statement of being leading no more than they would notice the spacing between the words. So much of our content has become filler, so much of our content has become just like everyone else’s.
As human beings we naturally like to feel safe, we don’t want to make a fool of ourselves, we are encouraged to color between the lines, we conform. We also forget that B2B buyers are people and feel we need to talk in words that are shaped into a business suit, when our audience are reading this in the evening in their Converse sneakers and jeans.
When we write our brand story (or any copy), we start the process by researching what our competitors say, what the category leader says, what industry analysts have to say and anyone else that has an opinion on what we do. You’ve probably been in those meetings.
The problem isn’t doing this research, the problem is what we then do with it and what we do next.
What often happens is the easy thing, we synthesize what we see and hear, we learn the lingua franca of the category and we create a story that is the story of everyone else, told in the existing language that we think everyone understands with just the tiniest hint of ourselves, maybe a fresh shade of blue and slightly more whitespace than Apple.
It is entirely acceptable, no one will object to this, from the CTO to the receptionist they will recognize and be comforted by these warm, safe, mealy marketing words, that say we are “leading” presented on a website that is easily identifiable as a B2B website.
Difference is actually commercially safer
However, if this was the truth, if we can tell the story of our product with a giant sausage machine in which we have tossed the words of the competitors, our product would be such a “me too” commodity there would be no place for it in the market. The category leader, the one who invented the language in which we are speaking will be collecting all the loot.
As marketers our work has to stand out, to create differentiation, maybe even disrupt a little or as Seth Godin says – “create a ruckus”. By sounding like everyone else, we would not find or create a tribe of like-minded people, we would be positioning ourselves on a long list, not on a short list of “their kind of people”.
What’s often missing in the process is to put the equal level of work needed to figure out not just the existing language of the category, but the attributes that make up the true representation of this brand and company, the people and their point of view, the product and the strategy behind its development and which of those attributes is different or can make up a different story.
We should focus on this and create a story expressed in a visual style that represents this difference.
For example, I have worked with charismatic, visionary CEO’s that when in front of an audience could inspire and sell, yet their companies had websites that were as dull as if the company was run by accountants. This asset of charisma was lost in the first sales touch marketing provides and did not represent the soul of these companies or the brand experience that a prospective buyer could expect (not just from the CEO).
This is not a process of aspiration, that we want to be all innovative, edgy, cool and hipster (or whatever you aspire to be), this has to be a true representation of the brand promise, what people will expect, the service provided and what is truly good about the product.
Expressing this difference will attract the kind of people that are your kind of people, that will buy from you, advocate your point of view or work for you.
Create something that critics will criticize
There is a flip side to this, that I referred to expressing a point of view, creating something people will care about, being different, creating a tribe means NOT being like everyone else and some people won’t like it.
That comfortable place of “me too” mealy words is behind you, but be brave and when you get to this point, you’ve done something worthwhile.
As Seth Godin pointed out nearly 15 years ago:
The products and services that get talked about are the ones that are worth talking about.
Feel the fear and be different anyway.
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