Founder & CEO, theONswitch & nunu ventures.
I sat in on a SaaS company’s online event recently. We listened as the presenter (a founder and CEO) talked about product features and functionality of their company’s latest releases and enhancements.
The words “you” and “customer” were nowhere to be seen or heard.
“User experience” (UX) is a clinical and soulless term. Consumers and business decision-makers never refer to themselves as “users.” We are flesh-and-blood human beings who take many factors into consideration when we’re choosing what to buy and who to buy it from.
As the number of marketing technology (martech) solutions grows exponentially (currently estimated at 8,000), agencies and companies are inundated by emails and LinkedIn messages from sales types, asking us if we want to take demos.
No, I don’t want to take a demo. I want to understand how your solution will make me more money, save me time, give me incredible insights or connect me with prospects. Most importantly, I need to understand why your solution is better than the other 7,999 options out there.
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Branding is even more important today.
When I worked at MasterCard, we spent countless hours homing in on what makes one piece of plastic (or series of numbers) better than those offered by Amex, Visa and Discover. I worked alongside a variety of marketers — of all ages and with different product backgrounds — to create that perfect unique selling proposition (USP).
As we fine-tuned our brand statement, we plugged in the names of our competitors and asked ourselves: “Does this still hold true?”
Back in that era, people who came from packaged goods backgrounds — and the agencies that supported them — were the gold standard. They were well-versed in brand development, product positioning, and product line extensions.
My head sometimes pounded and my eyes glazed over as we worked and reworked each word and comma to arrive at a precise USP — that single statement that explained why we were different from and better than our competitors.
But all that work and nitpicking paid off, as the brand surpassed its competition and the agency came up with a brand campaign that’s still alive and well, 20-plus years later.
Technology, like financial services, is a commodity business. A company develops a breakthrough app or platform and then numerous competitors create variations. The mousetraps they are building may be better, but buyers aren’t always sure why.
The time is now to bring back the USP.
Many tech company founders do not have the benefit of wise marketing mentors or packaged goods sherpas. They launch new products and services and rely on pitches about features and functions rather than how their platforms can help businesses scale and operate more efficiently.
So, what can tech companies do to stand out and better connect with customers?
1. Look to industries beyond the tech world to better understand the principles of brand development and differentiation.
• Invest in persona research to understand what is in the hearts and minds of your current customers and prospects.
• Work with seasoned marketing professionals (not just graphic designers or copywriters) to get an external perspective on your brand and competitors.
• Be willing to look at your product/service with objective eyes.
• Involve team members who have a broad and diverse skill set.
2. Hire cross-generational and cross-functional talent. Knowing how to code, train on a tech product, or build a fun culture are all great skills. But some of us “OGs” of the brand world can add a dimension to your business that tech companies need. You will want to work with honest and direct professionals who will respect your brand’s history and value, but will also see the world through a customer’s eyes. That also involves your willingness to listen and learn. Founders and developers love what they’ve built, but only by embracing different perspectives can you clearly see key benefits and differentiators.
3. Stop calling people ‘users.’ Yes, we use technology products. But we do many other things too. Your pitches should focus on how your product, service or device makes our lives easier.
4. Look to brands that have created solid and long-lasting USPs. Industries outside of your own still contain valuable lessons. Financial services is a great category to compare to tech because it is basically a commodity category. A checking account is a checking account is a checking account. What differentiates one bank or card from another is how the company behind it delivers its services.
5. Refine your own USP. Go through that headache-inducing process of looking at your brand and business objectively and critically. Be brutal in your candor and take the time to develop something truly unique and credible.
• Be patient and open-minded.
• Invest in brand development, but don’t over-spend.
• Work with professionals who have a broad and deep understanding of branding.
• Engage your team, so they will feel ownership of the process and can serve as credible brand ambassadors.
Although media has changed dramatically over the past decade, the basic principles of branding are timeless.
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Author: Nancy A Shenker, Forbes Councils Member