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Do you remember the bit in Pretty Woman when Richard Gear asks Julia Roberts her name? Her response is start-up marketing gold dust: “whatever you want it to be”.
How many times have you heard a pitch from a start-up which goes along the lines of: “Our product is unique. No-one else does what we do.” This is especially common in business-to-business services. Ask the same start-up who their competitors are though and they often say: “We don’t have any competition as our proposition is unique.”
Really? I think not and here’s why: the customer.
The customer is king, and in their eyes you are not unique. Well you might be different but the customer still has to have some frame of reference to compare you against to make a purchasing decision. Given that they have to pay for the product/servi
ce they will have a very definitive say on how your product is positioned so you ignore their views at your peril.
Granted your product or service might be totally different to anything else out there but the customer has to position it against what they currently use. That way, they can then decide whether they want to purchase it or replace an existing solution. This is not a trivial decision — particularly in business-to-business.
As a founder of your business you see things very clearly. You know exactly what you do, how you are different, why you are better… The trouble is people outside your business don’t — if they do you are lucky and be, very, very nice to these advocates. But, for the most part, they have neither the time nor inclination to work it out. So you have to help them – big time!
In the IT space there is an old adage: “No-one gets fired for buying IBM”. The point is that we know what the company does and stands for. The challenge for start-ups then is doubly hard. First, you have to get to the decision maker and then you have to convince them to trust you and risk their money and reputation. If the product or solution is positioned in the customer’s mind in a way that reduces this risk, you are half to making a sale. Which brings me neatly to the final point — the pivot.
It’s a classic piece of re-positioning. There are times when start-ups create a product or service that ultimately no one needs or offers benefits that are of limited value. When this happens there are two options: quit or re-position.
I worked with a social networking start-up that was aimed at highly regulated industries. However, the offer of a social network was not particularly attractive to that audience. The start-up repositioned its product as a collaboration tool to reduce time to make decisions and support sales. Suddenly, it was much more attractive.
The product didn’t change but the positioning did.
Marc Duke is a marketing consultant and founder of Marc Duke Consulting.