Coca-Cola is a soft drink – not a “liquid candy”

Rod Griffith

By Rod Griffith
November 23, 2015

Be careful not to over-differentiate your base-level descriptor

In an effort to rise above parity among competitors, technology companies will attempt to create sales messaging that is differentiated – and avoid common “me, too” language. In my 2013 white paper, “Six Common Technology Marketing Mistakes,” I showcase some of the typical, over-used (if not fully abused) nomenclature that is all too easy for content writers to rely on for their technology-focused messaging. This includes commonly used language such as:

  • Best-in-class
  • Leading-edge
  • Technology innovations
  • Powerful solutions
  • Best practices
  • Results-oriented
  • Thought leadership
  • Industry-leading
  • Fully-integrated
  • Highly-scalable 

On their own, there’s nothing inherently wrong with using some of this language if it’s the clearest and most concise means to communicate a more fully-developed set of differentiated messages. But when used too often, they can end up creating bland, “me, too” messaging statements that result in reduced impact and differentiation.

So we regularly advocate for the building of more truly differentiated messaging that helps technology companies rise above their competitors in a manner that has real impact on their target accounts.

The pendulum can swing too far

In their effort to create highly differentiated messaging, however, some companies can go too far. For example, a company that offers electronic health records (EHR) software may look to create a more unique description for their software by actively avoiding the more common “electronic health records” or “electronic medical records” language that is used liberally by their competitors. 
Their strategy is to come up with more unique messaging content to stand out from their competitors and avoid “me, too” language.

Continuing this example, the company will circumvent the use of the common “electronic health records” language that their competitors use – with a more unique and creative set of language such as “patient information repository.”

This alternative language is certainly more unique and stands out from their competitors – while helping their solution appear sophisticated and differentiated.

So what’s the problem?

Search engine optimization, for one. Let’s do a simple Google search on these language options.

Industry common term:

“Health Medical Records” = about 5,330,000 matches

Unique, differentiated term:

“Patient Information Repository” = about 8,220 matches

The massive difference in search results between the two sets of terminology means that the industry has not likely adopted this alternative language. So unless “Patient Information Repository” is an up-and-coming concept that is quickly gaining momentum, you could have a real uphill battle trying to gain traction for it on the Web.

It’s important to be careful about altering or replacing the base-level descriptor for your offering – especially if the industry has already adopted and accepted a common set of language for your offering. You may risk damaging your ability for potential customers to find you on the Web – or otherwise reduce their ability to quickly and accurately understand your primary offering.

Coca-Cola still refers to its main product offering as a “soft drink.” Even as the industry leader, you don’t see Coca-Cola trying to recast their base-level descriptor with a more differentiated, creative descriptor (“liquid candy,” anyone?). With all of the industry might they have, they still c the industry-accepted terminology.

Differentiate your value proposition – not your base-level descriptor

When defining the core, base-level descriptor for your product or service, it’s important to recognize and embrace the industry-accepted terminology to allow potential customers to find you and quickly understand your basic offering. Your base-level descriptor is the minimal language you need to define your offering -to a potential customer. In the earlier example, we would describe the base-level offering as “electronic health records software.” (A simple test is to ask yourself how you would answer a customer who asked “What does your company do?” In this case, you wouldn’t just say “software” – as that’s too broad.)

Using the common, industry-accepted language for your base-level descriptor does not mean you should abandon your efforts to differentiate your sales messaging. You can still differentiate your customer value proposition without altering your base-level descriptor. In fact, it’s vital to develop differentiation with your full customer value propositions and elevator pitches.

An effective customer value proposition will have these four elements:

1) Your base descriptor [What do you offer?]
2) Your target customer(s) [For whom do you do offer it?]
3) Your primary value benefit(s) [What value benefit will your customers gain?]
4) Your qualifier(s) [What makes you uniquely qualified to provide this value benefit better than the alternative choices?]

Only the first two elements (base descriptor and target customer) need to leverage industry-accepted terminology (where existing). There’s plenty of opportunity to differentiate your language in your discussions of primary value benefits and qualifiers.

The bottom line is: Differentiate your messaging, but don’t confuse your potential customers with an attempt to create unique language for your base-level descriptor. Focus your attempts to differentiate your company and its offerings from the competition through other elements of your customer value proposition.

Remember: Coca-Cola sells soft drinks – just like its competitors – not “liquid candy.”

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