How Dropbox and Jive Nailed Their B2B Messaging

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:

  1. You understand the problem they have
  2. You’ve built a solution that addresses this problem
  3. What the experience of using this solution looks like
  4. 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?

Take a look at VoIP software, a category that’s been around since the early 2000’s. Here’s the product video for Jive Software, a leader in this space according to G2Growd and Capterra:

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.

Dropbox B2B messaging now focuses on energy
Dropbox’s B2B messaging now focuses on product attributes and on owning the “energy” position in the now-crowded file sharing space.

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.

Why Internal Evangelism Is More Important Than Ever

Ask a marketer, what comes to mind when you think of branding? I bet you’ll think of phrases like “logo design,” “website building” and “advertising campaigns.” Indeed, marketers typically invest most of their time in the outward-facing elements of their brand.

However, there is another, often overlooked aspect of branding that marketers don’t think about enough. It’s called internal evangelism, and without it, your company is more likely to underperform.

Read moreWhy Internal Evangelism Is More Important Than Ever

Does a Great Brand Name Even Matter?

What does every (good) marketer do to develop a new brand? They spend time (and lots of it) trying to come up with a brilliant and unforgettable brand name. But despite all that hard work, great brands often die. Meanwhile, some brands that eschewed the traditional naming process manage to last decades. Is that fair? Not really.

But it raises an important question: Why are some brands so successful even though they didn’t go through a rigorous naming process?

Read moreDoes a Great Brand Name Even Matter?

If Your Startup Isn’t Growing, Here May Be The Reason Why

If growth at your startup has stagnated, not knowing the cause can be enormously frustrating. The good news is that there’s probably a good reason your startup isn’t growing. In this post, I’m going break down three of the most common roadblocks so you know where to begin.

The 3 Reasons Your Startup Isn’t Growing

OK, there aren’t only three reasons a startup isn’t growing. Poor culture, legal issues, regulatory changes, and other factors can all contribute equally. But here, we’re going to focus on the three most common reasons related to product and marketing.

Reason #1 – Bad Product: Let’s face it… you can only get so far before people realize your product isn’t great. If you’re reading this and aren’t aware if your own product is good or bad, I’ll just assume that (a) you’re brand new at your job; or (b) you already know deep down inside and you’re hoping that this article will let you off the hook.

Reason #2 – Bad Marketing: Your product is fine. Maybe it’s even great. And people seem to buy it. But they’re not responding to your marketing, because, well… it’s lame. If you’re a marketer, you probably don’t want this to be the reason. But better you find out yourself then someone else (your boss?) be the one to break you the news.

Reason #3 – Bad Market: Trying to sell the world’s best yoga mat to your local Harley-Davidson club? Life insurance to a 17-year old? This weird, cucumber-flavored Pepsi to someone who doesn’t live in Japan? You get the idea. You’ll always hit a brick wall if they’re selling a great product to the wrong market.

So which one of these is the main culprit? Keep reading and we’ll find out…

It’s 3rd Grade All Over Again, And I’m Giving You a Worksheet To Do For Homework

At least I won’t be grading you on the results. And this assignment will only take about 5 minutes. Here’s what you need to do:

  1. First, download and print this PDF.
  2. Grab a #2 pencil (or go really crazy and make it a #4)
  3. Below is a list of 10 areas you’ll evaluate your company on. Read them now and then return here.
  4. Go through each line on your worksheet and rate your company as weak, average, or strong. Don’t spend more than 30 seconds on each.
  5. At the bottom of this post you’ll find what results look like for a company with a bad product, bad marketing, or a bad market. Don’t peek! Whatever result your worksheet most closely resembles will point you to the real reason your startup isn’t growing.

Finally, at the end of this post, I’ll provide a bit more commentary on each result. 3-2-1-Go!

Click here to download your worksheet

Rating Your Company On These Areas Will Help You Find The Real Reason Your Startup Isn’t Growing

Again, on your worksheet, you’ll find these ten areas listed. Which of these your company is weak or strong in will indicate where your problem lies.

PPC/SEM Marketing – anywhere you spend money to drive leads, clicks, etc. Evaluate the ads themselves, not the entire conversion funnel (here are some good benchmarks to reference). Why this matters: if your ads themselves perform well but you’re not growing, it probably indicates a product- or market-related problem.

Search traffic for your product/company – what’s the search volume for the name of your company or if applicable, your own products? Nonexistent? Moderate? Growing? Why this matters: if people are searching for you, they’ve probably heard about you from someone else. That’s a usually good thing!

Search traffic for related terms – this is the search volume for terms that are related to what you do, like “landing page software”, “energy efficient lightbulbs”, or “books on how to find a girlfriend”. Why this matters: if there’s high search volume for things related to what you do, that’s a good sign that there’s a market for what you’re selling.

PR coverage – are other sites interested in writing about you? Or does your local newspaper turn you down so they have space to cover that local fashion show for seniors? Why this matters: if you can’t get any PR, chances are your product isn’t interesting or valuable enough to be worth writing about.

Direct/referral traffic – having plenty of these visitors means people are (a) bookmarking your site, (b) heading there directly, or (c) coming to your site from articles written about you. Why this matters: it means you’re doing something right – people love you enough to visit you often to tell others.

Website Conversion Rate – you might generate lots of “top of the funnel” interest from a paid ad campaign, but once visitors actually learn what you do on your website, are they still interested? Why this matters: a low-performing site means your product just isn’t compelling, or that you haven’t described it clearly.

Sales Close Rate – do leads show up for calls, and are they closing at a healthy rate? Or do you resort to discounts just to get a few closes? Why this matters: a really good marketing team can get people interested, but if the product is weak and/or the market is wrong, then sales won’t get very far.

Referrals – what portion of your does your growth come from referrals? If your not sure what a good benchmark is, look at this article from FriendBuy. Why this matters: if you’re getting little growth from referrals, that’s a sign that people aren’t passionate enough about your product to tell others.

Retention/Repeat Purchases – do your customers buy from you again? And if you’re selling a subscription-based product, do they stick around for long? Why this matters: low retention or a low repeat purchase rate is a major red flag that your product doesn’t fit with the market.

Reviews/Net Promoter Score – either one will tell you what people really think about your product. If you don’t know how to measure NPS, here’s how to do it. Why this matters: low ratings on either metric are a sign that your product is weak. But if you have high ratings and still aren’t growing, that points to a marketing issue.

Which Type of Problem Are You Facing?

With your worksheet complete, compare it to the three examples below. Chances are it will line up with one more closely than others. If you find a match, read that section to find out the real reason your startup isn’t growing.

Can’t find a match? Read each section a few times, and you’ll probably start to see one that sounds mostly like you. And if you’re still not sure, there’s probably a combination of reasons your startup isn’t growing. More commentary on that at the end.

What A Bad Product Looks Like

This is the easiest to diagnose, so we’ll start here. Your product gets few referrals, weak reviews, and customers don’t stick around for long.

when your startup isn't growing because of bad product

When your startup has a bad product, you might be able to get people to buy it, but as soon as they find out what it’s like, your referrals, retention, and reviews will suffer.

You might get away with decent performance in your paid ad campaigns, perhaps because you’re still addressing a need that your target market actually has. And perhaps your sales team or website can even do a decent job of generating new customers. But as soon as people find out what your product is really like, the truth becomes evident.

How is this different from a bad market? These two problems are most easily confused, so let’s look at that one next…

What A Bad Market Looks Like

The tricky thing about having a bad market is that you’re also likely to see mediocre reviews, a poor net promotor score, and weak referrals – just like you do with a bad product.

But there’s a key difference.

When you’re trying to sell to the wrong market, nearly everything is a challenge. There’s not a lot of search traffic in your product category, so you can’t rely on SEO. Since your paid ads aren’t really addressing a need that your market has (or understands) they’re never going to work well.

when your startup isn't growing because of bad market

Selling to the wrong market is the toughest battle to face – nearly nothing works!

You might have pockets of people who “get” how valuable your product is. But if you’re finding that potential customers just don’t understand the problem you’re trying to solve (regardless of how well you describe it), then you’re probably selling to the wrong market.

This can be a particularly thorny problem if you’ve sold most of the “early adopters” in your market but haven’t established enough credibility to sell to the “early majority.” The book Crossing the Chasm, by Geoffrey A. Moore, provides some great insights here. If you were growing quickly early on but now your startup isn’t growing at all, it’s definitely worth a read.

What Bad Marketing Looks Like

If a bad marketing strategy is your main issue, then your company’s growth is mainly limited by your success with referrals, PR coverage, and search traffic.

when your startup isn't growing because of bad marketing

If you have a great product, some people will still buy it despite your poor marketing. You’re lucky – this is actually the best problem to have, as it’s the easiest to fix.

When customers have great things to say about you, when the press loves writing about how wonderful you are, and when more and more people search for you online, then you know that that product and the market are solid. So if these things are happening but your startup isn’t growing, it’s probably because: (1) you haven’t found the right marketing channel; (2) your ad campaigns themselves aren’t messaged properly; or (3) you haven’t figured out how to convert paid traffic into revenue.

While no one gets joy in learning that their marketing needs improvement, this is actually this best scenario to find yourself in. If you have a great product and are selling it to the right market, then marketing is really there to serve an accelerator for growth – not the only thing keeping your company alive!

The World Is Messy, And The Real Answer Might Be A Combination Of The Above

Of course, there’s probably more than one reason your startup isn’t growing. So which problem do you fix first? Here’s a quick rule of thumb:

  • Great marketing can only do so much to offset a bad product. If you’re dealing with bad marketing and a bad product, then improve the product first. Focusing marketing will only get you short-term gains. But you can actually build a business on a great product.
  • Likewise, a great product cannot account for a bad market. If you’re facing both of these issues, find the right market to sell to first. The right market will tell you what problems they need addressed (if you ask), and will lead you to the right product and the right way to market to them.
  • In other words, focus on fixing your marketing last. This may sound counter-intuitive coming from a blog that’s focused on marketing, but if you deal with the underlying issues of bad product and bad market first, you’re marketing will be much more effective.

Have you dealt with this conundrum at your own company? If so, what was the underlying issue – and how did you solve it? Let me know if the comments.


This post was originally published on Flag and Frontier, my marketing consulting business for B2B technology companies.

Should You Hire a Marketing Agency For Your Startup?

One of the defining characteristics of a startup is that you never seem to have enough people to get everything done. Marketing is no exception. The desire for extra marketing help is always going to be there, whether you’re a team of one or one hundred. While recognizing that you need to add manpower is simple, deciding whether to hire more employees or bring on a marketing agency isn’t so straightforward. There’s no answer that works for everyone.

I recently went through this dilemma myself. And to help you learn from my experience, I wanted to share why I decided to consider a marketing agency and what questions I asked myself to make the decision.

Read moreShould You Hire a Marketing Agency For Your Startup?

Your Growth Will Fall Short Without A Brand Promise. Here’s Why.

“Come on,” my dad quipped, pretending not to notice the look of sheer horror pasted on my face. “It’ll be fun. I promise.

I was just a 9-year old kid, getting ready to ride a roller coaster called the Loch Ness Monster: 3,240 feet of bright yellow steel tubing wrapped around itself like a two contortionists playing a game of Twister in the middle of tornado. I nearly crapped my pants when I saw it.

Read moreYour Growth Will Fall Short Without A Brand Promise. Here’s Why.