Have you ever heard product or service claims like these:
- [Our service] enables executives to achieve their top priorities.
- [Our product] enables you to make better use of your network to help the people you trust.
- [Our product] enables you to create beautiful native mobile apps styled with CSS.
These are typical examples of statements that all too often appear as the headline of product data or sell sheets, web pages, and other promotional material. Two of these examples come from small companies you probably don’t know, and one comes from a large company you probably do know. And while this type of phrasing is all the rage in Silicon Valley, it pervades plenty of other industries as well.
But it says nothing.
Or at least nothing useful. In these headlining statements, the companies producing the product have failed to communicate to the potential buyer why it is so important to the buyer to have the product or service being offered.
Of course, we want to enable our customers to do something that is of value, but all too often, when I see statements like the above, the value is either misplaced or misunderstood. This is often indicative of a serious underlying issue with the positioning of the product or service.
Allow me to explain.
In his seminal work on innovation, The Innovator’s Dilemma, Clay Christensen points out that every product, in order to be successful, must have a job. This means that in order for any person or organization to buy a product or service, they must have a job they want that product to do, and then they make a decision to “hire” the product or service to do that job.
Sometimes we know well the job we need done. A simple, if dated, example of this is the personal computer. When PCs were first brought to market in the 1970s, they were hobbyist toys. Then along came Dan Bricklin with a program called VisiCalc, and suddenly companies could “hire” personal computers to do the arithmetic that had taken junior accountants much of their day to accomplish. As the versatile computer became more of an office presence, it found more and more jobs to do but would never have been there in the first place had it not had a job in the first place.
Sometimes we don’t know the job we need done until it shows up in front of us. A personal example goes back just two years to when I bought my first iPad. As Silicon Valley marketing professional, I was a fairly mobile worker able to find ways to be reasonably productive from pretty much anywhere, whether traveling on business or working from home. Once I learned how to connect my iPad to all the relevant services, however, I became a walking office. Everywhere I went, all I had to do was open the iPad and suddenly there was no difference between being in an office and being anywhere else. The iPad did the job of making me location-independent (or as one of my campaigns put it, “as productive from anywhere as I am at my desk”). I wasn’t very aware I needed that job done, but once it was being done, there was no question that I had made a great “hire.”
So what’s the problem with statements like those above? They don’t connect the value of the product or service to the value the potential buyer needs. The marketers behind them found a really cool thing that their product enables, but they either failed to connect it to something their buyer needs or communicate that connection. This is a serious positioning error that could cost you your ability to successfully enter a market or overtake competition.
Fortunately, the solution is simple, and it is nothing more than great positioning. Here’s how:
- Understand your intended customer’s needs: What do they need done for them? What needs does this create? Which needs are being met and which are not? Can you identify any needs they have — or soon will — of which they are not aware?
- Look carefully at your own capabilities: not just your product or service but the whole range of capabilities your company, including its people and technologies, can bring to the market to serve those needs.
- Match your capabilities to the identified customer needs and figure out exactly how your capabilities meet those needs.
- Communicate as potential results your customers can achieve rather than things they could do, which will allow them to understand the compelling reasons to “hire” your product or service.
There is one more pitfall. Many of the start-up companies with which I work fall into the trap of defining customer needs as what they want them to be (or, in the worst cases, wish they were). It’s nice to think your customers should have a need to do whatever your product does for them, but (as we so often have to remind ourselves) we do not get to define what customers need and why. Our task is to discover the actual needs and meet them.
When you define customer needs, make sure you do not believe your own mythology. Make sure your findings are grounded in reality.
So stop enabling. Start solving problems and creating results. And your product will be the one that gets “hired” over and over.