- Ronak Ganatra
It isn't every day that I hop on a Skype call with a startup founder who is so blunt.
"We don't sell online forms. We make organizations more productive," he subtly corrects me. "It's a deceptively small difference. After all, who cares about boring surveys? I started JotForm 13 years ago, and even I'm not passionate about forms."
Selling something bigger means capturing attention by selling an idea that is bigger than a thing, not capturing dollars by (hard) selling a thing. In this post, Ali's constantly going over how companies need a "North Star" of what they're doing, which isn't just an objective statement highlighting their products or services but selling a mindset, of sorts, that focuses on the benefits.
Using the example of Intercom, he goes over how they don't just sell their "boring" chatbots, but make it a point to focus on selling the idea of "making internet business personal" - and this narrative informs behavior across their entire company; so their growth teams, support teams, and content teams are always in sync on how to tell the company's story, but making it as value-driven as possible.
Building on this, its more about finding out what success means to potential (and current) customers, and using that as the "core narrative" to help them get there - and how going beyond your "otherwise selfish brand" to caring about your customers' success is good for business.
A good practice is to portray yourself by replacing "what you do", with "what benefit you provide".
You're not selling furniture storage space, you're delivering peace of mind.
You're not selling another chat software, you're transforming organizations.
Why I love this
In this post, Ali concentrates on how brands need to focus on building a "core narrative" - a piece of storytelling that helps define their brand rather than just selling shit. They don't give a shit about your business, they care about how you improve theirs.
To me, this brings up a very stark (but noticeable) difference in how companies present themselves across cultures, and how it's important to find a balance in storytelling vs. objective description - as well as how it's possible to build a core narrative in either scenario to empower potential customers.
From experience, American customers and consumers are more inclined to react to emotive storytelling that sells an emotion or sparks a thought - in contrast, Europeans are more accustomed to being receptive of certifications, statistics, and hard-facts - a story of who likes how much bullshit.
Still, the one commonality between both cultures is how they react to a bigger story that goes beyond a brand - and how both continents want to buy products or services that talk to them beyond just a feature-table or a pricetag. They want to be sold something "bigger".
When you're at IKEA, you're not just buying a MALM. You're buying into their narrative of a comfortable lifestyle at an affordable price.
Don't sell boats. Sell time on the water.
I've been following Kevin's blog for a long time, and by a weird combination of work-related events, we ended up getting in touch to collaborate on a fantastic conversation about Content Strategy (more on that later). While he's always been writing exceptional content, a particularly striking post to me was about a term her coined - Platform Confluence - "the combination of several apps and sites owned by the same company into an ecosystem in which user signals and ads reinforce each other."
The core idea around the post is on how some companies (especially around a marketer's use cases) have built consolidated ecosystems that interact with each other in such a granular manner - giving marketers much better accessibility to users and their data when sticking to advertising or promoting content via those platforms.
The growth loop is simple: better monitoring across several platforms = better ads = more ad clicks = more revenue = more products/acquisitions = better monitoring...
Google, Facebook, and Amazon started off as simple solutions. Google for Search, Facebook for Social, and Amazon for Retail.
Now Facebook has themselves, WhatsApp, Giphy, Messenger, Instagram, and more. Google is essentially an advertising. "https://www.nature.com/articles/s41599-017-0021-4#:~:text=Ask%20someone%20what%20Google%20does,Google%20is%20an%20advertising%20company.&text=71.3%25%20of%20Google's%20revenues%20comes,%2C%202017%2C%20p%2023).") company across Search, Display, Android, and the Play Store. Amazon now owns entire customer segments by extending to audiobooks, review aggregation platforms, groceries, smart homes, and gaming. Today, through growth and acquisitions, they're now the behemoths of the marketing world in their own right, consolidating an ever-growing number of products into their own "walled garden" of user data, keeping marketers addicted to spending budgets within these ecosystems.
This "platform" confluence makes marketers more efficient in what they do since they have much better insight into their customers within these ecosystems - giving them the ability to create more efficient campaigns. On the flip side, it really places all the importance of perfecting paid acquisition, reducing the investment into organic and sustainable channels - increasing the reliance brands keep on these platforms.
Why I love this
Because it's such an obvious yet unnoticed occurrence, that coining the term alone resonates with what's happening within the wider marketing landscape. Ad dollars are spent within these "ecosystems", and an increasing number of marketers are specializing in these "platform confluent" roles without necessarily realizing it.
In my mind, it leaves marketers handicapped to adapt to changes in these ecosystems when and if they come around, and restrict them from focusing on building strong strategies that look beyond their CPCs and CPAs off of a platform - ironically, focusing on only one of the 4 scalable channels (according to Kevin) - Paid Marketing, SEO, Sales, and Product Virality.
Marketers have more data at their fingertips (almost for free) than they ever had to work with, and the idea of Platform Confluence really gives them a bang for their buck. Taking the example of Google, marketers can really stretch that dollar with near-perfect targeting, by showing ads to segments and users they care about almost anywhere on the web. If they're looking to sell a drill to DIY enthusiasts, they can literally show variations of their ad to the exact same person across Google SERPs, the GDN, YouTube, and even in their own eMail via GMail ads - quite safe to assume that they can follow someone across potentially 70% of a person's daily online activities until they buy the damn drill. And hey, if they do buy the product, then there's a high likelihood Google's going to know they came to your shop via their location activity (or via GShopping) before they leave a rating on Google - adding improvements to their algorithm in the future based on that person's attributes.
Actionable Platform Confluence really is like crack to the data-addicted marketer.
We take so many platforms and targetting options for granted, but when you take a step back, the reality of what is possible with audience data and intent data can quite literally blow your mind, and also creep you out a bit.
However, after reading the entire piece, and thinking more about the implications - my biggest worry was that marketers could potentially get so involved and addicted to one of these ecosystems, that they shoot themselves in the foot by staying extremely reliant to them - and possibly affecting their own growth by restricting their ability to learn more about sustainable marketing, SEO, content strategy, and looking at the bigger picture.
So I spoke to Kevin about his thoughts on what role Platform Confluence plays in restricting marketers into being more narrow visioned - chasing a more favorable ROI, rather than having more crossovers outside of these ecosystems into a longer-term strategy, and one of his (paraphrased) statements really sums up everything I think about this.
By [platforms] cutting down the walls between these platforms, they [the marketers] have a much better insight into what they're doing and being more effective - so be really good at one channel, and then mature over time. It's then up to them to use those learnings and apply what works to other channels by repurposing it, like content, blogs, social, etc. to build stronger campaigns across platforms.
Coined by Scott Galloway, "Yogababble" roughly translates to the amount of bullshit tech companies use in their mission statements to describe what they do. The " Yogababble Index®" is the correlation of their fluffy bullshit v. their post-IPO stock performance a year later.
Mission: "To make video communications frictionless."
This is accurate. Zoom is a video communications company. It offers less friction, as demonstrated by a higher NPS score (62) than Webex (6).
Bullsh*t rating: 1/10
Stock return 6 months post-IPO: +122%
Mission: "To unlock the potential of human creativity by giving a million creative artists the opportunity to live off their art and billions of fans the opportunity to enjoy and be inspired by these creators."
OK, sort of. Hard to see how Celine Dion is unlocking human creativity.
Bullsh*t rating: 5/10
Stock return 1-year post-IPO: +9%
Mission: "On the most basic level, Peloton sells happiness."
Nope, similar to Chuck Norris, Christie Brinkley, and Tony Little, you sell exercise equipment.
Bullsh*t Rating: 9/10 Stock return 1-day post-IPO: --11%
Well, quite frankly it's hard to not read an article about bullshit-statistics when the article starts with this.
Malcolm Gladwell writes about a fascinating episode in history. Neville Chamberlain's first plane ride was a trip to meet Adolf Hitler. The British Prime Minister was taken by Hitler's charisma. He believed the German leader when he promised not to invade Czechoslovakia. After his triumphant return from Germany, Chamberlain took the non-aggression pact Hitler had signed and waved it from his window at 10 Downing Street. Five months later, Hitler invaded Czechoslovakia. The people who understood Hitler, who got it right, never met him.
The rest of the post just gets better.
Why I love this
It's hilarious at first, hard to look away after. Tech companies (startups especially) love sprouting buzzwords and bullshit all over the place - gamechanger, revolutionize, disrupt, move the needle, ping, holistic, synergy, growth hacking, 🤮.
Having that as a daily Slack thread is one thing, but having that level of fluff in the company's external messaging (unless it's a really prominent company-audience fit) isn't really helping them gather any trust from the market, who's investing in their speculative future more than in their ability to stuff as many consonants into a word as humanly possible.
Its hard to not catch this bullshit in the wild after, and a blunt catch-out on how this fluff ends up transforming into a drop in market trust when the real world catches up is refreshing.
I've come to the realization that we're not bringing joy to the universe. We are not Chipotle.
- Scott Galloway
Corey's pretty baller with his newsletters (well, tldr.coreyhaines.com isn't really a thing anymore) and all the work put into SwipeFiles just reflects this. Before sending one out, he ended up having a Twitter conversation with Ann Handley (@annhandley, equally dope), who was subscribed to his list.
In his words:
Have you ever been playing a sport, doing a musical performance, or telling a story when you notice that your crush is watching you? It's terrifying.
The same thing happened when I saw the tweet. At first, I was scared.
After freaking out a little, he decided that there's no need to be so insecure about it.
Shouldn't I always hold myself to a high enough standard that I would be proud of any of my marketing heroes to read my writing at any time?
When you write for no one, you'll write haphazardly. When you write for the internet, in all of its entirety and vast expanse, you'll write lazily. But when you write for your heroes, you'll write your best work. The work you wouldn't have written otherwise. The work you'll be proud of.
In the end, the newsletter went out without changes. But the lesson was still learned: always write as if your heroes were reading.
Why I love this
Just. Fucking. Write.
Your product is positioned, even if you didn't do it on purpose
If you're not actively positioning your product in the market, there's one of two things that can happen:
- The team will use a "default" or assumed market position,
- Customers will decide what you are, using the clues they can assemble.
In either case, the resulting positioning might work, but there's a strong possibility that the positioning would be out of your own control - pigeonholed into a category that takes the narrative away from you and makes your strengths seem irrelevant.
Given that most products today have capabilities that overlap market categories, customers use these categories to mentally classify solutions and give them context. Calling your product "eMail" gives the assumption that its similar to other solutions, with the expectations being another Gmail or Outlook. Calling your product "Chat" gives similar assumptions to other chat apps. On a pure product level, both have similar overlaps to communication, messaging, and contact management, however, each category has critical differences that differentiate one another, enabling different use cases and users.
Incorrect positioning leads to a potentially great product losing out because of perceptions. An eMail app positioned as a Chat app loses to the competition for not having instant messaging, a core component of chat apps. A Chat app positioned as an eMail loses because of not having a calendar integration - critical to emails. Companies need to select their market category and positioning carefully, themselves because customers will position the product for them otherwise - something they're not necessarily the best suited for.
Customers are experts on their own needs and pain. Customers are not experts on YOUR product. They will naturally try to quickly match your product's most obvious features with a market category they already understand. If your best features are difficult to wrap their minds around, they will ignore them and focus on the easy to understand stuff. The result often places a really innovative product in a category it can never win.
For example, suppose I built a new app that could be positioned as email, chat, or "team collaboration". The best-differentiated feature is "context-aware file sharing" (I'm making this up ok, don't ask me what this is). I also have instant message delivery. If I introduce the product to a customer, without attempting to position it myself, they might easily conclude I'm a chat app. That is likely the first thing they will think of when they see that feature. That would be OK, except nobody cares about file sharing when they are looking for a good chat app. Instead, I could have positioned the product as "team collaboration" and suddenly my innovative file sharing stuff is not only obviously relevant, it's cool.
Why I love this
April Dunford is pretty much my go-to for anything Positioning. The one thing that's evident from her book, Obviously Awesome, is that she isn't just another marketing "guru", but been in the trenches and figured a lot of things out over the years.
Taking a bit of a stretch to talk about repositioning more than just initial positioning - A lot of SaaS companies reach a point where they struggle to define their direction. MRRs start to stagnate, the product they set out to build in the beginning evolves based on a blend of customer feature requests and internal innovation levers - and slowly but surely - the product of today is a loose resemblance to what it was when the initial spec was written.
Teams go into a frenzy to define who they are now, as well as prepare themselves for the product they want to be, and at many times, there are internal opinions going in different directions on this. There's usually no right or wrong - but it's critical for teams to align on how they want the product to be positioned going forward.
Taking steps to define and take control of your positioning helps in providing potential customers with a really clear understanding of who you are and what you do. It gives the right trust signals by removing the vague blanket of marketing-talk that oversells your product into coming across as something it isn't. Great positioning can provide visitors with the right context into what you do, and convert them without misinformed assumptions - reducing the risk of dissatisfaction or churn down the road.
Taking control of positioning gives you the opportunity to set the narrative and successfully establish yourself in the segments that you care about, and prevents your brand from losing meaning.
Think of why the Zune failed. It wasn't a bad product per se, but it aggressively came into a market dominated by the iPod. The iPod wasn't selling an mp3 player, it was selling "music in your pocket". It had already positioned itself as the most convenient portable music solution since the boombox.
Microsoft came in selling a product, rather than an idea, and didn't consider the uphill battle of positioning it against the "idea" that Apple was selling.
We all know what happened to the Zune.
To be fair, this TL;DR is probably longer than Eddie's post itself - how he manages to stuff in exceptional value in his micro-articles that average at ~200-300 words - I'll never know.
A copywriter named Richard Dennis analyzed every sales letter by Gary Halbert (a famous copywriter of the 20th century) to discover that Gary was a big fan of dropping cliches like "Easy as pie", "Speak of the devil", and "A picture is worth a thousand words" all over his copy. Turns out he used these unoriginal phrases a lot, and never really bothered to invent catchphrases of his own.
Why? Because what's the point? Copywriting isn't supposed to make readers think, because thinking is working, and we fucking hate working. Working means processing, and every time someone stops to process your copy, you're losing their attention.
Also, cliches are universal. It makes your copy more efficient by using fewer words to get to the point.
Why I love this
Because it's not obvious. In marketing, we love to think that we're being ultra creative and dropping phrases like "think out of the box" and "let's make that ours". In fact, we actively discourage simplicity in campaigns in order to "stand out". Why? Considering how much content is out there, its ridiculously unlikely that any of us are going to end up recreating the wheel, so might as well spend those resources to deliver value quickly and concisely (I hate fluff, but I'm also guilty of overusing it).
Going with simple, tested, and effortless (on the reader) content that's understandable by everyone removes the risk of alienating audiences that don't "get it", and let you focus on delivering your point quickly and efficiently.