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Copying Your Competitors Messaging Is a Losing Strategy

29 Oct 2018 | 3 MIN READ

Consumers are brand blind, until you give them a reason not to be

The impact of copying messaging is turning your product into a commodity, diluting the efficiency of your marketing spend and reinforcing the value proposition of the top competitor in your space.

Most companies directly and indirectly copy their nearest competitors.

Don’t believe me? Let me show you something.

  1. Go to the homepages of your two or three closest competitors.
  2. Take a screenshot. (Or, if you’re old school, print them out.)
  3. Edit out or cover up the logo. (Remember, customers are brand blind).
  4. Read the main body copy. Focus on how the company is describing itself, what it is claiming to excel at, what it is promising its customers.

Now, go back and examine your own homepage copy and messaging. Is yours unique? If so, kudos. You’re a rare breed. But far more likely is that your copy is almost identical to that of your competitors. I’ve run this drill for dozens of clients, and 9 times out of 10, they’re amazed at how much they sound like the competition.

Let’s zoom out a bit and take a broader look at this.

When we get a call from a prospective client, they usually tell me they are having “growth challenges.” They called us, they say, because they heard we are good “growth hackers.” Fine. But when we dig, underneath that vague term of “growth,” we also find the same thing: their messaging is broken.

To show them what the issue is, the first thing I do is peel back the marketing layers and look at the foundations of their messaging. What I almost always find is that the company is using the same messaging as their competitors, in all the same marketing channels as their competitors.

To illustrate this, I run them through the drill described above. Sometimes I take it a step further: I take their homepage, and the homepages of their competitors, and I strip out all the identifying branding. Then I jumble them up, and ask them to point to theirs. Often, they can’t do it. Take out the pretty logo and maybe a flashy accent color, and they look the same as everyone else.

This shows them a truth that all companies need to internalize: Prospects are brand blind, until you give them a reason not to be. Unless you’re iconic Google, Apple, or Amazon, they’re not seeing your logo. They’re seeing copy.

Once they can see this for themselves, this is when the messaging conversation can kick into gear.

The basics of a proper messaging framework

Now that you’ve arrived at this point, you can start developing a proper messaging framework.

Step one is customer interviews. Roughly five to ten of the type(s) of customer(s) you want more of in the next 12 to 24 months. You should conduct a needs-based interview (you can read the exact questions here), exploring the customers’ pain points and how they perceive the potential value of your product. This needs to be the raw truth; not what you want to hear.

Step two is anonymous employee interviews, where we ask the very same questions. They are anonymous for the very good reason that employees don’t want to look foolish in front of the execs. Again, you need the raw truth. And this is the only way to get it.

Step three is review the demographic profiles in your web analytics tool, database, sales CRM and anywhere else you have reliable customer or prospect data.

Next, with a bit of creative alchemy, you convert the customer and employee interviews into two fictitious personas (one for each). Then you get all the employees that participated in a room, and get them to read the personas back to the group. The purpose is not to demonstrate to the employees who was right and who was wrong, something the anonymity protects from anyway. The purpose is to start seeing things clearly, so you can get your messaging right.

Because from here, from this proper vantage point, you can get to work. All the egos have been left at the door, and you’re now taking the best from both your customers and your employees to create truly differentiated messaging. It’s the only way forward.

In the next post, I’ll talk about building a campaign test plan, based on the persona(s) and implementing it across the organization.

Until then, ask me questions in the comments below, or email them to me at david@butteredtoast.io.

Oh, and please share. Your Mom told you it’s good to share.