How much bearing does your competition have on your messaging?
I think you should always consider what's happening in the market when defining any sort of messaging. What's gaining traction? What's causing you to win/lose deals? What growth opportunities are opening up?
This must factor in competition. How is your messaging differentiated from the competition but also aligned to where the market is headed? What are you saying that might play up the weakness of your competition?
Competition should always play a factor because with messaging you're trying to concisely communicate how you're different.
Competition plays a central role in messaging development and you must get extremely familar with how your competitors tell their story. After all, there's a reason we call it "positioning and messaging", because ultimately the best messaging positions you against something else. It draws contrast between you and your competitor and creates a real choice in the mind of the buyer. It's not enough to merely stand FOR something. You also have to stand AGAINST something in order for messaging to be effective. You must attack your competitor and have messaging that creates an opposition between you and the alternative. If you don't, then you end blending into a sea of choices, indistinguishable in the mind of the buyer.
Competition is critical and should always be a factor in your positioning and messaging for B2B. At Okta, it is a core part of our brand identity and position to be best-of-breed, vendor-neutral. This is how we plan to win the market and is also a core competitive message. When we look at all of our messages by importance to the customer, on average, this is likely the #2 or 3 most critical. However, we elevate it to #1 and reinforce this everywhere because we want our marketing and field teams to be seeding this competitive differentiator from the outset.
I view the competition as a distraction. Depending on your company’s space, new competitors will pop up every day, or existing ones will launch something new that surprises you. As a PMM, it’s your job to know about this—and if you have a lean team, I recommend you closely partner with Sales Enablement, or User Research, or Product, or some team that does have the bandwidth to always keep their ear to the ground and inform you.
My advice is to identify your top competitors and be sure to get agreement from leadership that these are the competitors you actually care about (i.e., secure agreement that you are going to keep competitors A, B, and C on your radar, and you are all comfortable ignoring D, E, and F). The rest just create noise and will distract you.
The competition should not guide your work in any way other than for you to do the following:
- Understand your strengths relative to them
- Understand your weaknesses relative to them
- Know your overall summarized positioning
- Know how to differentiate your messaging and positioning from them
- Arm your sales team to explain why you’re different and better than competitor X if a prospect asks
Internally, you can and should provide competitive positioning, feature comparisons, and anything internal partners need to advocate for why you are different and better.
Externally, I recommend staying focused on how your company helps your customers. That is far more helpful and elevated than creating comparison charts on your website for why your company is better (prospects typically look for comparisons on review sites or affiliate sites anyway). Think of it this way: the market leader’s website typically markets itself, not its competition.
In 2020, there has been major interest in workplace productivity software. Competition begets innovation, so it’s great that users have more choices than ever. Our role is to help potential users understand what Coda can offer in a sea of possibilities.
Some of our guiding principles for competitive messaging are:
Benefits & Value > Solution > Features > Jargon
This means we always strive to show the value & benefits of our solution, instead of getting bogged down in the kind of industry jargon that is all-too-common in bakeoffs.
Show, don’t tell (but let others tell the good news as much as they want)
Our Doc Gallery has thousands of examples of how people are using Coda to run their businesses, facilitate meaningful changes in their lives, or just have fun. We let that stand alongside social proof and advocacy from clients and makers without invoking direct comparison.
Honesty is the only policy
In our Doc Gallery, you’ll likely find some docs comparing Coda to other products. We strive to acknowledge where we don’t provide the same solution as other tools. But we also don’t shy away from when we have features and utility that you won’t find on other platforms.
One example of how this came together is our friend & advocate Ben Parker’s “Notion User’s Guide to Coda.” Ben published this doc alongside the launch of our Notion importer. We checked in with him along the way to make sure we were honest about where certain paradigms in a named competitor can’t be repeated in Coda, and to identify how to translate other patterns in Coda. We’ve heard from fans of both products that it’s quite fair and candid, and that it was helpful for those that were newer to Coda.
In doing so, we believe we provided (1.) value, by (2.) showing (3.) honest comparisons between tools.
Competition as a whole informs your positioning in the market. Positioning leads to messaging. So yes competition as a whole does influence your messaging.
I would advise taking a layered approach to messaging and as a general rule, always recommend finding the high ground.
- Your website should mostly consist of your top differentiators and value proposition, independent of specific competitors.
- Positioning is where competition is implictly addressed. The key attributes, value propositions and differentiators that you convey are always cognizant of your broader market. Re-evaluate broader positioning from time to time.
- Some companies with more standardized offerings run ads with comparitive landing pages. This is doable, but only if the contrast is easily explainable and helps in a mid-funnel to down-funnel sales process. Market leaders generally don't indulge in this, upstarts sometimes have to. This has to be as factual as possible.
- Your messaging on sales collateral should also be mostly independent of your competition, but your sales team should be trained to both set competitive traps and handle competitive objections.
Find The High Ground:
- Sometime back, I had came across a competitor who said
did not do X. And created a whole narrative around why X was important. Now, we did do X. This was irksome and we tried engaging politely with this company to no avail. At that point we ignored them and moved forward.
- Weaker players will sometimes try to bait you or they may try to gather competitive intel through misrepresentation. Do not take the bait.