Sometimes selling a solution or product feels like you’re sitting on a goldmine, yet no-one around you seems to understand. Often the value remains hidden, no matter how many ways you tell your story.
There are a few possible reasons for this:
- You’re too close: You’ve spent so much time with your product, so much money and research to ‘get the messaging right’, it seems like a no-brainer to translate the value to a customer. You might be thinking along the lines of “I just need someone to ‘make the video’, ‘build the website’, ‘do the slides’ or ‘write the article’ - but when you do, nobody takes any notice.
- You’re too far away: if you’ve had the luxury of developing your product in isolation, rarely exposing it to customers, you may not even be aware of how the value is understood by those who will use it. What often happens, especially with new concept products, is that once that messaging gets out to the customer, it doesn’t stick. For some reason, lead generation remains static, inbound contacts are scarce and those that do make it through the sales funnel rarely convert.
If you’ve had unexpected difficulty getting customers, or growing your business, it could be that your storytelling needs improvement. If your organisation is bigger than 10 people, it can be difficult to isolate the cause. The most effective solution is to dig right to the root - the original story that everything else is based on.
Here are 5 Red Flags that suggest your marketing language is too complicated to understand:
- BIG WORDS!! If you're using words like "synergistic", "leverage", "actionable", "contextual" and "hyper-growth" instead of simple terms like "works with", "use", "useful", "appropriate" and "fast", then you've probably disappeared down a rabbit hole.
- Long, confusing, meandering sentences that go on so long you forget what you were reading in the first place because the sentence is so long and meandering that it’s hard to keep track of what’s going on, like this sentence for example, which is very long, and also meandering.
- Complicated diagrams with arrows and flow charts.
- Abbreviations of product features no-one understands (e.g. “the U.U. connects to the W.T.F. so the C.C. starts the T.T.Y.L.”)
- Friends and Family won't speak to you anymore: A sure sign you’ve zipped past storytelling basics is a sore head and glazed eyes anytime you try explaining your product to your friends or family.
Steven Pressfield’s book “Nobody Wants to Read Your Sh*t: Why That Is And What You Can Do About It” is an essential read for marketers. This is especially true if your customer needs to understand something new before they can appreciate the value of your product. New concept products or new applications of technology force people to see value somewhere previously hidden from view. If you have invented something, it pays to think carefully about how you talk about what it’s worth to a customer. What does it do? What pain does it resolve? Why should we care?
A common problem with high concept, complex products is that it’s very difficult to bounce the idea off the man on the street, so that you get a feel for what comes across easily and what you need to cut out of your story. Put it this way - if you’re selling a banana, it’s easy to say “this is a ripe and sweet fruit that’ll give you energy and fill you up in a nutritious way!”. The guy on the street can immediately tell you ‘Hey that sounds great! I’ll have one of those delicious bananas, thank you”. This is different from telling the same guy that you've got "a platform slash solution-based approach to optimising return and leveraging high-value assets in your customer content collateral database". This tendency to add jargon to make your product or company sound cool was addressed in an Irish context recently in the Irish Times. The writer of the article even points out that a few companies using particularly complex tech language have been valued in the millions, and he wonders if there might be a link? Perhaps - the valuation of companies is a dark and mysterious art. But what about your customers, the ones you are selling to? The part of the brain that works out what you mean when you say something complicated is critical and judgemental. If you're selling something to someone who's already on their guard because of your isolating language, it becomes more difficult to convince them you have something of value to them. There are always simpler ways to explain things that bypass the initial distrust customers feel when they encounter something they don't understand - you just have to find them.
As an example, if you’re selling a SaaS platform using big data analytics to solve problems in real-time for millions of customers, as well as performing 10 other complex functions at the same time, it’s harder to encapsulate and thus to test your story. If it’s not a priority to find out whether your story is understood by customers from the beginning, or worse, if it’s actually considered an advantage to use high fallutin’ language and concepts to woo investors and customers, you can go months or even years before you discover that your customer doesn’t really care. Human nature makes it hard to turn back and admit your mistake, so many trundle on, gradually improving their story. This is a luxury few can afford - it takes too long and a typical startup in this situation can often end up going bust before they figure it out.
Identifying the problem of getting value across to your customer and taking action by starting from the root - your story and how you tell it - can be worth millions to a business.
“When you understand that nobody wants to read your s*&t, you develop empathy. You acquire the skill that is indispensable to all artists and entrepreneurs—the ability to switch back and forth in your imagination from your own point of view as writer/painter/seller to the point of view of your reader/gallery-goer/customer. You learn to ask yourself with every sentence and every phrase: Is this interesting? Is it fun or challenging or inventive? Am I giving the reader enough? Is she bored? Is she following where I want to lead her?" Steven Pressfield
A good place to start when examining your product and how you’ll talk about it is by mapping out everything you’re already saying, then eliminating anything that’s not essential. I do this using Mind Maps - an excellent technique for allowing everything to be recorded before the process of elimination begins. You can even do this as a group exercise - allowing each member of your team to contribute ideas on value and meaning for your customer. By using mind-mapping software, you can be confident nothing is being left out before you decide what to leave in.