Differentiate Or Perish Writes Dave Haynes

Guest Contributor, Dave Haynes, The Preset Group

It is really interesting to spend many years in this industry, pitching sets of pots and pans and trying to win over prospective customers … and then stepping back from the contest and realizing what’s going on.

Damn near everyone is using the same sales pitch.

I am talking suppliers. And I am talking operators.

When you manage to escape from the bubble that is your company, or the larger bubble that is your general technology or media proposition, you start to realize the sales and marketing pitch – those bullet points that people use to excite prospects – is pretty much the same one the next guys are using. And the next guys. And the next guys.

Everyone is the industry leader. What they do is the next generation. They’re the best in class. The audience is premium. Their medium is highly targeted.

My work now gives me the blissful perspective of looking from the outside in at the industry, functioning as a smarty-pants consultant and communications specialist. I get asked now to help companies pull together their marketing copy and strategy, and enable them to stand out from the many other companies that offer variations on essentially the same products, services or audience.

The problem is … most companies are so busy getting everything else done — to organize, launch and run a technology or media company — that the actual time spent developing a compelling set of marketing messages is minimal. It’s one of those, “Oh crap, we need a sell sheet and some stuff for the Website!” situations, that usually involves someone who shouldn’t be doing marketing pulling together a few points during spare moments.

I have done a couple of competitive analyses for technology companies lately, and what really struck me was how similar the value propositions are between technology companies. Go through 15 company sites and you will find most of them highlighting the things that everybody else is highlighting, like flexibility and scalability and support for most media formats.

Ad network operators are not as bad, but the same issues apply.

Volkswagen markets itself on statements like “The art of rocket science.” It does not plaster signs on its windows reading, “Tires on our cars are filled with air!”

So why, when I go to many Websites for vendors, do I read excited bullet points about Day-part scheduling!!!

Well, woohoo! Peddling features and benefits that just about all your prospective customers already assume you have is not the path to glory.

There are clear indications much of what gets written and trumpeted is a variation on what a competitor has on its site. Chances are, that copy was ‘inspired’ by another competitor’s copy. And so on. Companies need to spend more time thinking about how they set themselves apart from the mob, and far less worrying about how their competitors market themselves.

What is it that you guys do, or have, that makes you different? Are you particularly strong in a vertical market? Does your technology have some whiz-bang component that’s rare or unique? Is there something you are doing that others can’t touch?

There are companies I won’t name who market themselves on technology offers that aren’t even unique, but they’ve nonetheless made that gadgetry their own. They’re the guys who do (insert not terribly unique thing here) and they let people know. Compare that to what most companies go out with, which is essentially: “We’re one of countless industry leaders and we offer the same dynamic, flexible and cost-effective stuff for digital signage networks that you’ll find on the next 14 sites you browse and sell sheets you read!!!”

Try this exercise: Print off your main Web pages and sell sheets and grab some Hi-Liter pens. Underline in yellow those phrases and features you’ll admit are common across many companies, and in another colour highlight those features that are unique or more compelling than common. If there’s a lot of yellow, you need to get to work.

There are many, many reasons why a company might prosper or fail, but a really strong predictor for failure is a company that can’t put into words how it is different and why that matters. The same disciplined work that goes into product development, budgets and staffing needs to also go into how your company goes to market and sets itself apart.

If you can’t differentiate, you perish.

Dave Haynes has worked in the industry for the past decade and now runs a media communications firm called pressDOOH and is a founding partner of The Preset Group consultancy.

He also writes the industry blog, Sixteen:Nine and a second blog aimed at raising the standard of writing in the sector, called Buzz, Not Buzzwords

9 Responses to “Differentiate Or Perish Writes Dave Haynes”

  1. David Street Says:

    So Dave we are not allowed to use any of your so called buzzwords (even if they are accurate) to describe products and we are not allowed to say what it does. Instead of which you want us to bang on about something irrelevant like rocket science ?

    you need to watch some Ronseal adverts mate, check out http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HA_qxAWCwqI

  2. Kyle Broflovski Says:

    David. You are as usual missing the point with your barbed comments. Dave is spot on, what he is saying is that branding and marketing are key. As signagelive is one of those companies that is actually doing quite a good job with marketing and building a brand you might want to shut up and let your business partner do his job whilst you go back to coding your windows systems. Would you buy ‘sugared-water’ or would you buy ‘coca-cola’ ?

  3. Paul Jankauskas, CEO AHMN Says:

    I must agree that in too many cases I have see a great technology or product developed by some really smart people only to be lost as soon as they realize they actually need to sell the inventory. I would suggest that if an equal amount of time and effort is spent upfront on the sales and marketing issues as are spent on product development, a more well rounded product offering with more realistic expectations will be developed. Often times I have seen the sales side of the equation treated as a necesary evil instead of the integral part of the overall process that it is.

  4. David Street Says:

    I fully understand the power of marketing, but we are in a very new industry that still needs a lot of explaining and selling, we can not afford to be vague and arty. I am still surprised how many new customers don’t understand the full potential and are amazed at even basic features.

    I do agree with the headline and sentiment that you need to be different and we strive to introduce new features and benefits into our product all the time to out run everybody else, so far so good hence the brand.

    So Kyle in the word of your friend Eric Cartman Screw You Hippy !

  5. Anon Says:

    I wouldn’t be surprised if what we have here is a situation where some people are getting a little tired of being told how poor their marcoms are continuously. I realize Dave has a new business to get off the ground, but he is going to tread on toes like this. Look, we have to spell out in simple terms what digital signage is to our customers. Buzzwords are part of the business lexicon and are useful in establishing brands at an early stage and developing a market. Yes, of course they don’t differentiate, as they are common place, but we need to clearly identify what it is we do. The differentiator comes in the sales process. No matter how good your copy and collateral is, it will not sell a hundred thousand dollar system. People buy from people and charisma and good old fashioned sales people are what actually sell. Marketing is great and absolutely vital unpinning for the sales process but many customers do not yet fully understand DOOH. We’re not VW and we don’t make cars. Yes, there is a lot of very poor marketing materials out there but let’s here more about what makes your copy great and what differentiates you. More positive, less negative please.

  6. Jack Boyczuk Says:

    I think Dave is spot on. Too many companies don’t develop messaging from the buyers perspective (my company is guilty too). Lately I’ve spent a lot of time talking to stakeholders in a few vertical markets and it’s very eye opening to hear their opinions of what we sell and the benefit they perceive.

    Also consider what successful companies sell…Nike sells success and the potential of what can be done with their products, they don’t talk about how great their laces are or the quality of the leather.

  7. Lionel Tepper Says:

    It’s not just the message, you also need to consider your “brand.” Your customers are looking for more than just features and services. They’re also looking to connect with your companies on deeper level. That connection is with your “brand identity”

    Most people looking at digital signage products and services for the first time “research” the market. They are looking for familiar names that they “know and trust”. That’s why brands like Cisco, 3M, NEC, and NCR are successful—straight out of the gate. They build on their established brand with adjunct programs—like press releases—because they are known and trusted. Companies in the digital signage space need to invest more in brand image along with a message of differentiation to build trust with buyers.

    Think of it this way, If you’re a buyer in this market—who are you going to spend your dollars with? Are you going to go with a unknown name and risk your project—possibly your job on an unproven, unknown “me too” product or service?

    Buyers invest emotionally in your brand. They want to know that they can trust you. That trust my not be directly expressed, it’s a subliminal process where a buyer becomes emotional attached to a brand. Part of this investment process is getting to know your products and services over time through branding (Image building)

    How do you build brand image? Through a comprehensive, integrated marketing plan. That means that you need to use vehicles such as display advertising, branded downloadable resources, traditional print advertising and direct mail, along with press releases, twitter, social media, and Google Adwords. All of these elements (and more) together build brand image over time.

    Building brand image means that YOU need to invest in your brand image by hiring professionals to help you hone your message, design better Websites, Invest in graphic design for better product and company logos, develop a campaign that speaks to the core brand promise. In other words… it’s about execution. The only company in this space that can put out press release without advertising is Scala. Scala can take this strategy because their brand is one of the oldest and best established brands in the digital signage market. Those of you who think that you can take a page out of Scala’s market plan are misinformed. Most of you are not executing well, and in a crowded marketplace—many of your companies will fail.

    If you think that putting out a constant stream of press releases, twitter messages, and google adword campaigns is build brand image, then you just don’t get it and your wasting your energy. Those companies that do “get it” will eat your lunch.

    The digital signage business has marketing backwards. Plastering the Internet with junk PR is just a lot of noise that all sounds the same—and mostly goes unread.

  8. Dave Haynes Says:

    I agree with Mr. Anon that good, old-fashioned salesmanship will win or lose the day, particularly when maybe 95% of what the various vendors are selling is common to most or all of them. BUT, an awful lot of the pre-sales work is done online and via email blasts. If companies don’t do the work to make themselves stand out and be worthy of a follow-up email or demo request, those sales people never get the chance to turn on the charm and expertise because the leads never materialize. If you really think buzzwords and nonsense phrases will do the job to drive sales activity, then shift away at those paradigms with your state-of-the-art pitch.

    Dave H

  9. Lionel Tepper Says:

    I just read a good post on the branding Strategy Insider blog “Branding Commodities” that talks about B2B brand differentiation that I think applies to this conversation, here’s part of what they have to say:

    For B2B brands, you can pursue any combination of the following to provide differentiation:

    • Superior product or service consistency (quality control)

    • Superior ability to customize products or services to a customer’s specific needs

    • Superior responsiveness (order fulfillment, technical support, customer service)

    • Optimal/preferred bundling/unbundling of products and services, creating greater perceived value or better fitting a customer’s approach to purchasing

    • Superior range of products and services (one-stop shopping)

    • Value chain integration

    • Unique/preferred/more accessible distribution approach

    • Identify your most important/profitable customers or customer segments and focus on meeting their unique needs

    • Conduct conjoint analysis to determine what they value the most

    Here’s the direct link to the story:

    Like it or not digital signage hardware and software is a commodity—and buyers already know that. There are too many companies offering the same thing. So as Dave says: Differentiate or Perish.

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