Rocket Fuel

You round up the kiddos and strap some luggage to the top of the family travel vehicle, ready for the annual summer road trip. Dad, dressed in his signature khaki shorts and sandals with knee socks says, “We’re heading to Wisconsin! Wisconsin Dells here we come!”

Woot-woot! Off to Point B: Wisconsin. Easy enough. 

Now, compare that to the mid-trip question from kiddo #2, “Where are we going?” to which Dad replies, “Who knows?”  

There’s something to be said for a spontaneous summer adventure with the family, but that should not be the case with launching. Unfortunately, something as vital as aligning your destination is commonly uncommon among launch projects. How uncommon? A recent Boston Consulting study found:You round up the kiddos and strap some luggage to the top of the family travel vehicle, ready for the annual summer road trip. Dad, dressed in his signature khaki shorts and sandals with knee socks says, “We’re heading to Wisconsin! Wisconsin Dells here we come!”

Woot-woot! Off to Point B: Wisconsin. Easy enough. 

Now, compare that to the mid-trip question from kiddo #2, “Where are we going?” to which Dad replies, “Who knows?”  

There’s something to be said for a spontaneous summer adventure with the family, but that should not be the case with launching. Unfortunately, something as vital as aligning your destination is commonly uncommon among launch projects. How uncommon? A recent Boston Consulting study found:

29% defined success during launch
13% after launch was over
6% never defined success at all

That means nearly half of all launches had no plan for defining success. Very convenient. But, when you hear that, it’s easy to understand why nearly 90% of launches fail.

That’s why it’s so crucial to define and align on your success—your Point B—as you build your initial plans. 

And there’s no standard, set definition for a Point B. It should be a combination of hard and soft metrics. Things like brand satisfaction, optimized sales cycles, site visits, product downloads, lead conversion rates—anything that represents momentum—works well. 

The key with a Point B isn’t just what. It’s when. And when is as early on as possible.

Looking for help defining your Point B? We should talk.

In product launch, a genuinely new and different or complex product can be tough to market, because your audience just doesn’t get it. They don’t know what it is, let alone why they want it. They need a point of reference anchored in commonly understood ideas, a practice we call creating a Standard of Identity (SOI).

Let’s use a couple examples from ancient history. Remember the Newton? 

Not the cookie. Think handheld device from the early 90s, named for the guy who “discovered” gravity. 

This turned out to be a fitting name choice, seeing that the Newton’s fortunes dropped like an apple from a tree. 

The Newton’s obituary has been written before. The stylus! The Steve Jobs situation! The Doonesbury cartoons!

But it didn’t help that the Newton claimed to be so many new and revolutionary things that it bewildered people. And bewildered people don’t buy.

Meanwhile, Palm Pilot took a different route. They positioned themselves as a calendar, with handwriting recognition and other techy stuff. People understand calendars. Palm Pilot anchored customers on the calendar idea, and allowed them to discover other features later. That Standard of Identity helped them win the PDA market.

A SOI places your offering in the right spot in the mind, by relating it to something familiar. It’s like describing a zebra to people who’ve never seen one. “A zebra? Dude, it’s a horse with stripes.” 

How would you describe your novel, or inherently complex product in just a few words that connect it to something your audience knows? Do that, and you’ve got your SOI. You’ve got a conversational shortcut to adoption. You’ve got a horse with stripes.

In our last blog, we talked about Avoiding the Vanilla Umbrella—messaging so generic and blah it could apply to everyone, without really saying anything, or exciting anyone.

In this installment, we’re back with another strategy you can put to work: Keeping Your Core Tight.

So let’s take a step back. In order to avoid the vanilla umbrella, you developed core messaging that is both monolithic and distinctive. Now you need to articulate that messaging in a way that connects with your audience quickly and powerfully.

Simple, right? Nah, obviously not. It’s an art form. Which is why the most iconic lines in advertising have stood the test of time:

Just Do It. Got Milk? Think Small.

You know them, and you get the point. Simple. Quick. Tight.

Now, you may think that’s fine for a sneaker or beverage or car, but that it can’t apply to super-complex, business-to-business, tech-centered brands, product and services marketed to logic-minded audiences. Well check these out:

IBM’s “Think” and “Every second counts”

Shopify’s “Let’s make you a business”

Slack’s “Where Work Happens”

Tight, right?

These lines, from some or the largest B2B brands in the world, distill core messaging down to something so simple, intuitive and flab-free, it’s immediately understood by all.

Looking for some help tightening up your core messaging? We’re here for you.

In an earlier blog, we talked about the importance of being emotional. Once you get on an emotional footing, you’re up for the next task: Keeping it simple.

But here’s the rub: That’s hardly simple to do.

Keeping it simple allows you to own a place in the mind that is as singular as possible. And, of course, you need this singular belief to register and connect with your audience.

We simplify communications in two primary ways: Avoiding the Vanilla Umbrella and Keeping Your Core Tight.

Let’s dive into the first now.

Avoiding the Vanilla Umbrella is about creating monolithic messaging that is compelling across all audiences, starting from the top down, rather than bottom up.

Often brands begin the strategic messaging process with customer profiles or personas. No problem there. The issue is the tendency to generate messaging for each persona based on wants, needs and motivations, then look for commonalities to meld into an overarching “umbrella” message—a bottom-up approach.

Sounds reasonable, right? But the result is typically a lowest-common denominator vanilla. It’s tough to find compelling commonality when you begin, tangled in the weeds, at the bottom.

Instead, try this: Begin with and focus on your core audience (you have one) and base your positioning on their needs. Laddering up (elevating) to emotional needs is especially important here. Then take a top-down approach, looking for ways to leverage and unify the positioning among individual audiences.

Let’s say that positioning is about Freedom. Think about the ways you are delivering freedom to audience A, B, and C. This enables a more singular, monolithic outcome. Yes, most of your audiences have different motivations. That’s okay. Those specific features and benefits become important key messages to those audiences that support the positioning.

Simple! OK, maybe not. It’s hard work to get the singularity you want and an umbrella that’s not so…vanilla.

And check back for more on our second tip to keep it simple: Keeping your Core Tight.

In a hyper-competitive world, it’s more important than ever to stand out from the crowd. But with so many touting similar benefits, how do you do that?

You make your way apart from the crowd, to a place where only you can stand.

Then you claim that place for yourself. Sorry folks, nobody else gets in. It’s yours and yours alone. Your one-and-only.

Your one-and-only is your territory. You own it, you build your story on it, you use it to uniquely characterize, differentiate and rise above the competition.

So how do you find that and get there? Try this:

Make a list of the three most important facets of your offering. For example, at the product level, that might be: 1. Speed 2. Precision 3. Ease of use. Maybe none of these things would be a point of differentiation by itself. But triangulated together as a unified territory, they could represent something distinct in the industry and, more importantly, ownable by you. Your only.

Maybe your only exists at a wider level, beyond the product. For example:

1.  Product: Advanced therapy capabilities

2.  Focus: Designed specifically for caregivers at home

3.  Support: Expert help on hand 24/7

However you put the pieces together, try to find your one-and-only. Because when you can say, “We’re the only alternative that delivers A, B and C,” you may find yourself in uniquely compelling territory. And there’s no substitute for that.

Your new product or service is the most important thing for you and your team. You’ve poured your heart and soul into every facet. But what happens when it becomes clear that whatever you’re introducing isn’t seen as vital by your audience? 

Don’t sell your product or service to them. That’s right. If your audience isn’t seeing your offer as meeting a core business need, stop selling it to them. 

Remember: you’re dealing with the emotional human mind. People prioritize their most immediate needs and wants—and anything else is secondary. 

We call these main course issues. Main course issues keep your audience up and night and steal their attention from just about anything else. We’re talking mission-critical concerns. In healthcare, it may be data security and compliance. For the CEO of a manufacturing company, it’s material sourcing and supply chain availability. 

Keeping with the dining metaphor, if your offering is not perceived as an answer to a core issue, you’re selling the side dish. It’s not that your product or service isn’t relevant or remarkably unique. It just requires a different communication strategy. 

We’ve worked with many companies with this communication challenge and found these ways to help shift perspectives.

1. Find common ground.
Go beyond just the finite. Think bigger, higher-order concepts. Make the association by connecting the dots between your product or service and the context of a larger topic. Talk trends. Do what it takes to be included in the main course conversation.

2. Flip the script.
Become a solutions provider. Arm your customers with center-of-the-plate content. Entice with valuable info like a white paper that’s central to their pain. Suddenly, you’re the company helping your customer address key challenges—and you just happen to have something that can help.

3. Prioritize your target.
Forget the corner office and the C-suite. Seek out the people in the organization likely to champion your offering. They’ll fight for you. Talk to them in the context of problems they confront and they’ll champion you internally. 

It all comes down to honestly assessing where your brand and offering fit in your audience’s mind. And if it’s not the main course, get creative and take other approaches to get there.  

Want to talk about how you can move from side dish to main course? We’ve got the recipe

What Are You Launching

Redefining the Offer to Differentiate

There are many questions that come up in the launch process, but you’d think the one thing you know for sure is the product or service you’re launching. Right? 

It turns out sometimes the answer isn’t as obvious as you might think. In fact, we’ve found that a good percentage of projects we work on result in a redefined offer from what was defined at the outset. How is that?

It has a lot to do with today’s rapidly evolving, hyper-competitive and highly commoditized landscape. Sometimes an offering alone isn’t enough to differentiate from competitors. And as this is all about winning minds and taking share, it’s healthy to take a step back to make sure your offer can perform.

There are a number of ways to redefine an offer. Here are a few we’ve used with our clients in recent years.

Higher Company Purpose

Consider that you may be revitalizing your portfolio, a business unit or even the company itself. This can be about an emotional recommitment to the customers in a market segment. Or perhaps you’re launching your leadership vision, one in which you own the market issue. In either case, your product and/or service becomes the proof of purpose.

A Hybrid of Tangibles and Intangibles 

What’s more important, the tangible product or the intangible service? A hybrid of both can uncover a more meaningful message. Weave products, services, support, education, expertise, etc. into a singular offering and differentiated story.

New Categorical Distinction 

Maybe you have a unique combination of components that deserve their own categorical distinction. It can be a bold move to restart the market conversation as the only offering that delivers X, Y and Z but it may be worth it when the market is crowded.

So take a moment and ask yourself what you really launching? Aligning your team on the right answer could make all the difference.

Read a quick bit about company differentiation in “Be Your (Differentiated) Self.”

Earlier we talked about six things key to a viable launch. Now we’d like to delve in a little deeper into one of those areas—setting up your launch leadership team.

As the saying goes, any successful team needs leaders. The ones who will do the work and put in the time to make sure the project succeeds. Over many years and countless launches, we’ve learned some things about who should be on your leadership team to best position you for success.

The first element to success is finding people who have the right personality and clout to be open and honest. This is not the time to be passive, or focused on not rocking the boat. You need people who are willing to share their thoughts and, more importantly, will speak out when they see something that needs addressing.

Next, you need to find people who are willing to be true evangelists for the project. Like any successful movement, you need true believers. The ones who have the spirit and energy to push a project through the doldrums and confront the inertia. Because when the project hits a rocky patch—and it inevitably will—these are the ones who will take the reins and push it forward.

Finally, you need to draft a team across disciplines and departments. A cross-functional team helps create buy-in and allows everyone to feel like they have a voice. In addition, diverse backgrounds and viewpoints can avoid the oft-trodden tropes and drive truly novel solutions that make a real difference.

Wondering who should be on your launch leadership team? We’d love to help you draft a team of winners.

It might be tougher to succeed today than at any other point in history. After all, market gravity today is enormous. The world is changing, constantly and unapologetically.

On the outside, you’re facing:

● Shorter product lifecycles
● Rising consumer expectations
● Increased customer choice
● Decreasing attention spans
● Limited differences in products
● More commoditization and globalization

And that’s just externally. There’s a whole new set of complexities inside your own walls.

Internally you must confront:

● Decision-makers with competing priorities
● Poor communication between teams
● Doing more with less
● Compressed timelines
● Layers of decision-making
● Reduced margins

It’s clear companies are spread thinner than ever and being asked to do more with fewer resources.

So that’s how it is. And what do you do about it? You don’t throw your hands up in defeat. Not you. No, you find smart, savvy ways to be successful. You work to overcome the inertia and put your brand in motion.

There’s no secret to making it all happen. No magic. It’s plain old hard work. It’s having a plan, preparing for success, and seeing the work through to completion. That works. That’s the way you defy the forces of gravity trying to keep you down.

Looking for a lift? We’re ready to help.