Differentiate, Please!


I have developed something of a reputation for snarking at keynotes. It is a reputation that I fully deserve, and I have no intention of changing.

What I do want to change is how vendor marketing and PR people interpret my snark. I want them to understand why I snark, and why I will not, and should not, change.

Same Same

By virtue of my parallel careers as consultant and analyst/journalist/blogger I see a lot of keynotes. Most of my clients/readers don’t see anywhere near as many as I do, because it’s not their job. It’s what they pay me for.

My job is to distill the essence from the crashing torrent of information available today. My readers can then read this essence, this nugget of what I hope is, if not the Truth, a useful summary of what matters. I try to sift out the novelty, the insightful, from the noise of self-serving sales-pitch or outright dross.

What is astounding to me, on a continual basis, is how one of the fundamentals of marketing — differentiation — is outright ignored by tech vendors in presentation after presentation. Instead, I hear yet another middle-aged, white, male executive espouse the virtues of disruption, of something game-changing, of novelty and newness in a presentation that follows the same formula as the one from last week/month/year/decade. The same formula followed by every other presentation.

Now part of the reason for this is that structure is comforting, and some is necessary. Unfortunately, it seems to have overtaken the essence of difference.

Confusing Your Customers

I’m a relatively well-informed observer, so I’m better placed than most to identify the unique differences between presentations. If I can’t figure it out, wha hope do your customers have?

You have to be different, because that’s how your customers make a choice to buy you instead of one of your competitors. If your only difference is price, well, that’s easy to compare, so why not save your customers the trouble and just put the price on your website? Some vendors actually do this, but many don’t, because if your only difference is price, you’re a commodity, and the low-cost provider should win. Hello race-to-the-bottom!

Let’s assume you’re not actively trying to destroy your own profit margins. Great! But now all your marketing material is the same as everyone else’s, so how can a customer choose?

Perhaps your strategy is to confuse your customers so much that many of them buy your stuff by accident. I’m not sure that’s a wise plan, given that many of them will find out after they’ve given you money that they’ve bought something that isn’t appropriate for their needs.

The best marketing actively tries to match whatever you’re selling to the people who will most value it. You want to deliberately exclude people: the people who won’t like your thing. That saves both you and them the hassles of dealing with someone they don’t actually want to be friends with. No sane marketer would attempt to sell me feminine hygiene products.

Different, Not Better

Better is a terribly subjective thing because it’s almost never better on a single objective scale. A chainsaw is ‘better’ than a hammer for certain jobs and not others. Let’s be kinder: a chainsaw is faster than a coping saw for cutting down trees, but worse for intricate work, and generally costs more to boot. Which one is better?

“Oh, but we’re better at everything!” Ahahahaaha. you keep telling yourself that. Your customers don’t believe you, so now they have to figure out what (if anything) of what you say is true. Then, after they’ve figured that you, they have to determine which of those true things they value, and compare that to the costs as best they can.

And when all the vendors in a category are doing this, your customers have to do this for not just you, but all of your competitors as well. All before they make a decision of which one to buy.

By confusing your customers with a lack of difference, you’re actually introducing delays into the buying cycle.

This is why I snark: because these presentations are always being given by seemingly smart people who seem to want to actively confuse the people watching. It’s probably not on purpose, which I’m not sure is any better, particularly given the amount of money spend on these things.

Stop Slowing Down Your Buyers

Now imagine that, instead of being the same as everyone else, you were to offer a very clear point of difference — maybe several — that clearly signal to your prospective customers that they should self-select to you. Why would they waste time on figuring out if someone else might be a better deal if that process is going to take a long time? Maybe the amount of money is large enough, and the problem not urgent enough. Ok, fine, those customers might take a while, but all the other ones are buying now.

Guess what? You can take all of that easy-sale money and invest it on holding the hands of the customers who take a little longer because of special reasons… if they’re worth it.

Or, you can waste a bunch of money on a salesforce who have to fight a FUD war for the next six months just to get a customer to move past a PoC because you have nothing special to say to them.

If your point of difference is clearly articulated and easy to verify, a customer can quickly decide if they want to buy or not.

For all of those vendors who aren’t doing this: what are you trying to hide?


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