It’s 10am and I’m meeting with another well funded startup in San Francisco referred by a prominent local VC.
During this initial meeting the conversation goes something like this:
“We’ve been doubling every 6 months, our churn is low and our average deal size is up….”
“But, (and here’s the rub) our growth is slowing, and what we’ve been doing isn’t working as well as it used to.”
In most cases I’ve done my homework before I get into the room. It’s a simple exercise of reviewing the homepage and traffic sources, and their top competitors.
What becomes painfully obvious is that someone, is copying someone. The competitive emulation is typically severe. Both in terms of brand positioning and messaging, with few exceptions.
To prove my point, I strip the branding elements from their website and that of the competitors, and then I put them into a slide presentation and ask them to pick out their homepage.
In most cases, they struggle or they can’t, with confidence, pick out their own homepage.
I don’t do this to put anyone on the spot. I do it to make a point. That consciously or subconsciously, they are chasing exactly the same prospect with basically the same messaging and offer.
Overtime the law of diminishing returns sets in and growth begins to flat line.
The next step is to put a process in place to fix it. Permanently.
I get back to basics. I speak to as many customers as I can, and then I start interviewing employees. In particular, sales, product and engineering.
The goal is to build one to three needs-based personas. I don’t really care about their demographics. I care about their role, and what drives them to make a purchase decision.
The interview is so detailed that it borders on uncomfortable. I ask them to describe what someone in their role looks like, social background, upbringing. I ask what they drink. Where they eat and who they hang out with.
This isn’t the typical bullshit pragmatic marketing persona interview that every company conducts. This is real life.
It gets right at the heart of who people are. What they care about. Why they buy.
The persona is the most important step. Everything else cascades from there.
For example, as a marketer, what if you knew that a SysAdmin feels under appreciated, constantly under attack, cynical, hates sales and marketing, loves video games, loves free tech t-shirts, drinks Bullet, reads DevOpsDigest and ProductHunt, has an equal love and hate for technology, has a middle class upbringing, mostly hangs out with his wife’s friends, is experimenting with Snapchat, and feels like they are the smartest person in the room.
Imagine how that would inform your copy writing. The images you choose for the website. The channels you use for content syndication. The tactics you’d use to reach them. The frequency of communication. The influencers you’d target.
Starting to make sense?
Like I said, everything else begins to reveal itself. Tactics become obvious. Content calendars are easy to create. Resources are allocated accordingly.
But what about the competitive emulation?
The next step is list all of the attributes that someone shopping for your service would expect. Be brand agnostic. You’re strictly making a shopping list of the most common attributes one would expect.
Next, list all of your company’s augmented attributes. What makes you amazing? Both in terms of the product and the company. Then force rank those attributes and narrow them down to three or four.
The augmented attributes need to be unique and defensible for a period of time. Be careful here. This isn’t just marketing foder. They need to exist.
Armed with the persona and the positioning, you’re ready to tell an amazing story.
Grab the personas and positioning work and invite a designer and copywriter to a meeting. Pass it across the table and ask if they can write and design for that person. Their face will light up.
Copy, style guides, mood boards and creative briefs will start to flow.
Obviously they will need some guard rails. You have creative, workflows and landing pages that have worked. Don’t ignore what got you where you are today.
Just go to work on telling an amazing story, and watch your growth reignite.
Thanks for reading, and for sharing. You can find me on Twitter @davidbaeza