If you could describe the goal of B2B messaging in the simplest way possible, you might say that it’s to get the right message in front of the right audience, at the right time.
Easy to say, tough to do.
The most clever writing in the world won’t matter if it’s delivered at the wrong time or to the wrong person.
And a particularly tricky challenge that marketers often face is deciding whether to focus their B2B messaging on the product they deliver or the problem they’re trying to solve.
Ultimately, you’d love to convey both.
But because most buyers will only invest a few seconds deciding whether they should spend more time learning about you, you have pick one to emphasize.
To decide, you first have to identify whether the product you’re selling is already considered a best practice or whether the solution itself is part of a new B2B category that the market is still learning about.
Dropbox Built a New Category With Problem-Focused B2B Messaging
When Dropbox was launched in 2008, the world didn’t know that you could have your files automatically synced across multiple devices. The entire concept of your information living on something called “the cloud” was completely foreign to most people.
That’s why when Dropbox first starting talking about its software, they focused on one thing first: letting people know that the problem of having to manually sync files across their devices was now solvable.
Take a look at this early explainer video and see for yourself:
Nearly the entire first minute is devoted to explaining the problem. In fact, Dropbox even abstracted the problem by talking about it in another context first (keeping track of your car keys).
While the video goes on to explain how Dropbox works, you’ll hear nothing about product features. The video exclusively focuses on helping the audience understand that there now is a solution to a persistent problem they face.
And at this point in Dropbox’s history, that’s all they needed to say.
That’s because when you’re building out a new category, your audience only needs to know a few things:
- You understand the problem they have
- You’ve built a solution that addresses this problem
- What the experience of using this solution looks like
- What do to next
If you’re truly solving a new problem, this information alone will be plenty for your potential customers to digest. Going further by talking too much about features or technical details will only overwhelm your audience with too much information, which might turn them away.
In short, if you’re building out a new B2B category, focus your messaging on showing your audience that their problem is now solvable.
In A Crowded B2B Space, Jive Talks About It Product
If a “problem-based” approach to B2B messaging works best when introducing a new category, does that mean that a “product-based” approach is ideal when competing in an existing category?
Jive doesn’t devote much time to explaining the problem itself.
And that’s exactly what they should be doing.
Since most buyers already know that phone systems are a thing that exist, Jive doesn’t need to dwell on that topic.
Their competitors, like RingCentral, 8×8, and Dialpad, and Vonage, do the same.
But Wait, There’s One Caveat About Product-Focused B2B Messaging
As I discussed in this post about B2B messaging in a crowded space, simply touting product features is a short-lived benefit. You have to go a step further and position your brand in a unique way.
Jive has started to do this by talking about being “easy, efficient, and cost-effective”, which are positioning attributes rather than product features. Their competitors would benefit by trying to own other positions.
And if you look at Dropbox’s current messaging, you’ll see something similar.
While product-related messaging has become more prominent on Dropbox’s website, elsewhere the brand is trying to associate itself with the “energy” position.
Contrast this to Box, who’s more focused on security and efficiency.
The Penalty of Emphasizing Product To Soon
In case you’re not convinced that B2B messaging in emerging categories needs “problem-first” approach, I’ll leave you with this story.
A founder I recently met started a B2B company that used natural language processing (NLP) in its software.
When I listened to the guy explain what his company did, all I heard was NLP, NLP, NLP.
The founder and his team were really smart guys.
But honestly, I didn’t care about natural-language processing at that point because he couldn’t convey what problem he was trying to solve.
Like many founders and early-stage employees, he had gotten so wrapped up in the “what” of his product that he forgot about addressing the “why”?
His company lasted less than a year.
Start With Empathy for Your Audience
Getting your messaging right is key to the growth of any B2B company.
But acknowledging whether you’re developing an existing category or competing in an established one can provide a lot of clarity in knowing what to say.
But the most important thing is to use empathy to understand the needs of your audience.
Whether your potential customers are searching for the best solution in a crowded category or still learning what your solution is all about, putting yourself in their shoes will go a long way to help you create B2B messaging that resonates.