Railway platform sign showing "2"; representing two messaging mistakes which harm demand generation activities
  • 19
  • March

Two messaging mistakes which prevent awareness from generating demand

Lots of companies (and the agencies they hire) are great at public relations: through good planning and diligent execution, their executives speak at conferences, their technology wins awards, and people in the industry recognize their name. They have succeeded in creating awareness. But that’s not the same thing as succeeding with demand generation.

They’ve generated a golf clap, and nothing more.

Unfortunately, companies see the attention they get and confidently conclude it’s only a matter of time before that attention turns into demand and, subsequently, sales.

Companies see the attention they get and confidently conclude it’s only a matter of time before that attention turns into demand and, subsequently, sales. This misplaced faith is a mistake and it can have catastrophic consequences.

This misplaced faith is a mistake and it can have catastrophic consequences if not recognized and addressed quickly. In too many cases, the company simply runs out of runway before they can generate self-sustaining revenue, and the whole venture collapses.

Optimizing the link between awareness creation and demand generation

In my experience and observation, when awareness doesn’t turn into demand the number one cause is a messaging problem. To have any realistic chance at reaching your demand generation goals:

  1. Your message needs to tell people what you do
  2. Your message needs to tell people why what you do is valuable

If your message fails to fulfill either of these requirements (and especially if it fails on both) then all the awareness in the world won’t lead to demand generation.

Start with the what (sorry, Simon!)

One of the first things I do when I sit down with a client or prospect is ask, “What do you do?”

One of the first things I do when I sit down with a client or prospect is ask, “What do you do?”

It’s straight out of Office Space—I keep asking until I get a satisfactory answer.

As an aside: I love that he’s largely describing product management.

And I mean, really, what is it that you do, in an almost thermodynamic sense: you expend energy to do some form of work. What is that work?

Often, we have to peel off a few layers to cut through the aspirational exec-speak to ultimately identify what the company (or product) does.

Here’s an example. Let’s say I ask, “What do you do?” You answer with something like, “We’re building the operating system for the mobile Internet.” I’m gonna call BS, and I’m gonna ask again.

And again.

And again.

Eventually, you say “We build a chat app for kids and people who want to interact with kids.

OK, now we’re getting somewhere: we both agree on what it is that you do.

Here are a few other examples to drive the point home (note that I’m being illustrative here, not critical—all these companies are quite skilled at using the right messages).

CompanyAspirational/Mission-Oriented MessageWhat They Do
MiovisionBuilding Smart CitiesCount different modes of transportation
DejeroReliable Connectivity, AnywhereBlend multiple networks (with different reliability and other characteristics) into a single connection
SSIMWAVEUnderstand the Viewer ExperienceExamine video and reliably tell you what numerical grade a human viewer would assign to that experience
Darwin AIBuilding AI You Can TrustReveal exactly how your AI model turns data into outcomes
ProNavigatorSolving the Insurance Industry’s Information ProblemsInstantly retrieve accurate answers to insurance questions
RouteThisRevolutionizing the customer support experience – for both agents and customersQuickly diagnose configuration and network issues inside the home network

There’s a time and place for aspirational, ambitious, corporate-speak, but when it comes to demand generation you need to be clear about what you do.

Show why what you do is valuable

Next, you need to clearly communicate why what you do is valuable. Typically, that means showing how what you do helps your prospect:

  • Save money: Reduce the amount they spend (whether in capital or operational outlays) on something (a process, a solution—and so on), without unacceptably compromising their existing results and/or without introducing an unappealingly large burden of additional complexity
  • Make money: Increase their returns by allowing them to do something new (and presumably valuable) or to improve their efficiency with some existing and sufficiently valuable activity
  • Solve a known problem / address a known need: Permit them to do something which they need to do (for example, gain a crucial set of data or piece of information, comply with a regulation, and so on—maybe they don’t want to, necessarily, but they need to)

Of course, if you have multiple value propositions or multiple ways of delivering value propositions, then we’re venturing into use case territory.

For instance, here’s one use case for each of the companies I listed above:

CompanyUse Case ClassUse Case
Miovisionsave moneymake optimized transit and infrastructure decisions based upon accurate real-world data
Dejerosolve a known problemtransmit low-latency, live video from remote field locations with poor connectivity
SSIMWAVEsave moneyoptimize video bitrates to substantially reduce distribution and delivery costs
Darwin AIaddress a known needenable someone to explain to regulators how their cancer diagnosis AI makes decisions
ProNavigatormake moneyincrease sales by answering prospect’s insurance questions faster and by providing them with the best coverage options
RouteThissave moneysolve more customer support problems and solve them faster by quickly diagnosing network and configuration issues within the home network

An all-too-common, but much weaker, value proposition is to help them learn about something.

Why is it weaker? Because if the value was clear to them already, then it would really be in the “solve a problem” bucket; instead, you need to expend time and energy educating the prospect as to why this information you can provide is valuable (even though they, as experts, have so far failed to recognize the value).

A few other points I’ll make here:

  • Simpler is better: the more straightforward and direct your value proposition, the better (in general, and especially for ventures, startups and scale-ups)
  • Limit complexity: the fewer additional things (components, partners, integrations, etc.) needed to achieve the value, the better
  • Don’t forget the alternatives: remember, your value proposition is being compared against doing nothing, building something in house, getting it from Oracle/SAP/etc., using Excel, hiring some interns, and other uses of capital (so, NPV calculations against alternative investments)…but now we’re straying into positioning

The power of “So what?”

It can really be tough to truly, realistically, honestly get to the heart of your value proposition. One tip: just keep asking, “So what?” until you get to a satisfactory bedrock answer.

“We do X.”

So what?

“It helps people do Y.”

So what?

“Well, then they can do Z for 30% less.”

Bingo!

It can really be tough to truly, realistically, honestly get to the heart of your value proposition. One tip: just keep asking, “So what?”

Facing a harsh reality

Sometimes, what you do just isn’t as valuable as you think it is. Maybe the implication is that your entire business is on shaky ground, or maybe it’s as limited as a particular use case just isn’t worth promoting very much.

As a guide, Pragmatic Marketing advises you only pursue value propositions which tap into:

  • Pervasive issues, to ensure a large enough market
  • Urgent issues, so people will act now
  • Valuable issues, so people will give you money

Here’s a recent example. I was helping a client develop a use case library to really showcase their value. Through quite a few in-depth discussions (lots of “so what?”), we whittled down their initial list of ~15 to about ~10. From there we wrote them out and refined them.

During one review cycle, the CEO flagged a value proposition with a comment like, “This seems really soft.” He was right—the description wasn’t nearly as compelling as the other use cases. But now the question became: is the description poor, or is the value proposition legitimately not that interesting? If it’s the former, then we revise the description until it does the use case justice; if it’s the latter, then we drop the use case (or kick it into a “maybe later” pile).

To find your market, find your value

Once you truly understand your value, it’s easier to find your market, which makes all your sales and marketing activities (including demand generation) more efficient.

Once you truly understand your value, it’s easier to find your market, which makes all your sales and marketing activities (including demand generation) more efficient.

Here’s a trivial example: Focals by North, the smart glasses which have seemingly been lauded and derided in equal measure.

I think I have a pretty good idea of what they are and what they do. But, to me, there’s zero value. In fact, there’s negative value because there’s cost and negative gain:

  • (cost) I’d have to fork over a few hundred bucks
  • (no gain) They don’t do anything I need or even want
  • (negative gain) I’d have to take on the added ‘complexity’ (mental weight) of introducing yet another piece of unnecessary technology into my life, with all the sustainability, privacy, and security concerns that brings
  • (negative gain, but no offence intended) I’d have to start wearing glasses

Now, obviously that doesn’t mean they’re a bad product, or necessarily represent a bad bet for the company (time and “the market” will tell).

It just means that I’m not a good prospect and, by extension, the collection of people like me don’t represent a good target market. Maybe you could convince me with time and effort, but that’s not efficient or scalable.

Who would convert with higher rates and better efficiency? Someone:

  • With money to spend
  • Comfortable with introducing—or even eager to introduce—more technology into their lives
  • Who, for whatever reason, can’t look at their phone or smartwatch and who absolutely needs information and notifications right now
  • Who already wears glasses

North’s best (most efficient) market for Focals is the collection of people who tick those boxes, because they value what Focals do more than any other group.

Obviously, in 10-15 years when today’s generation of technophiles start experiencing degenerative eyesight en masse, a major barrier for widespread Focals adoption will disappear. And hopefully it’s not countered by a back-to-basics movement to reduce technology’s footprint in our lives.

Wrapping up: turning awareness into demand generation

When you truly, realistically, honestly understand what you do and why it’s valuable, then you can identify your best markets (and accounts, and roles/people within those accounts) and focus your awareness efforts there.

But keep in mind that it’s not enough to generate awareness. To reach your demand generation goals you need to make sure that when a prospect sees your message, what you do and why it’s valuable both come across loud and clear.

It’s not enough to generate awareness. To reach your demand generation goals you need to make sure that when a prospect sees your message, what you do and why it’s valuable both come across loud and clear.

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