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Messaging clarity to win Mindshare: SAVE (Simple, Aha, Visual, Execution) July 7, 2010

Posted by bernardlunn in Enterprise Sales, Enterprise Web 2.0, Strategy Workshop.
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Note: I wrote this 10 years ago and remembered it when facing a similar issue today.

Software market leadership starts with mindshare. Winning the mindshare battle requires intense clarity about your message. If you can distill your message into a single word or phrase that defines your market, you have a big competitive advantage.

Of course it is not that easy. Thousands of marketing professionals get paid millions of dollars every day to come up with cringe-inducing phrases and tag lines that last as long as snowballs in hell. What makes it so hard is that messaging clarity has to be based on a very deep understanding of the dynamics of your industry and the position of your company within that industry. If your message does not seem real, it does not stand a chance. In fact it has to seem so real and obvious that when people hear it they assume they have heard it before.

History Lesson – Information Bus

However that final touch of clarity that is enshrined in a single phrase or word, can make all the difference. I learnt this the hard way in the early days of the market for real-time application integration middleware. In case you are thinking 2001, let me set your clock back about a decade to 1991. This was when technology such as Publish & Subscribe, real time messaging bus and Enterprise Application Integration was being adopted on a large scale in the first vertical niche market – financial trading rooms on Wall Street.

My company, Aregon, was an early innovator with solutions dating back to 1984 that were the first implementations in the industry. We were the technical pioneers. However when customers started to ask us whether we had an “Information Bus”, a term invented by a rival company, things started to go wrong.

How To Respond When A Rival Has Mindshare?

None of our responses was very effective.

For example, “no, that is not what we call our technology, let me explain” left people cold. Customers saw the Information Bus concept and automatically “got it”. They did not want to waste time understanding some new concept. Coming up with an alternative message is doomed unless you catch things very early and you are very, very good coming up with an alternative.

Replying that “yes, we have an Information Bus and ours is better for the following reasons” will get you sales but will automatically relegate you to the position of follower. You can build a good business as the number two or three vendor in the market and, if you time it right, you can sell out at the right time for a reasonable valuation. That is what happened to Aregon. However that is a far cry from being the market leader in a large market, which was what happened to Teknekron, which was later renamed TIBCO (as in the The Information Bus Company) and became the leader in the booming enterprise integration market.

Why Was Information Bus Messaging So Powerful?

The payoff from getting it right is huge. However there are very, very few examples of great successes. Why was Information Bus so powerful as a message?

  • It was simple and easy to understand for the target audience. This does not mean “dumbing down” for everybody. This was a smart, sophisticated audience and they could count on a certain level of base knowledge.
  • It was based on a genuine “aha moment”. As related by Vivek Ranadive, TIBCO’s founder, the moment came when he asked a software expert to describe why so many software projects failed. As a hardware engineer Vivek, could not understand why well-tested components could not simply plug into the system Bus. Why not do the same with software?
  • TIBCO created a clear and simple diagram of the Information Bus that anybody could draw on a napkin and understand in a heartbeat.
  • The company made sure that everybody stayed on message. Execution consistency is critical to success. The phrase enabled a dialogue that went into increasing levels of details as the company engaged in customer dialogues. Yet at every level they could come back to the simple Information Bus concept and diagram.

Think SAVE – Simple, Aha, Visual, Execution.

Don’t Force It

Hiring external consultants to create your messaging is usually a mistake. At best external consultants can act as facilitators, drawing out what is already known but hidden. Great messages cannot be forced out; they have to emerge. You cannot set a firm deadline and it is better to have no message than a bad one.

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Comments»

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