Product Positioning Statements – The Good, The Bad, and the Cranky

The Cranky Product Manager has decided to start a vendetta against the Marketing Cryptospeak that is so freakin’ common in the software industry. You know… those meaningless, boilerplate-ish, hyper-generic, jargon-oozing, designed-by-committee, ridiculously cryptic descriptions of what a product (or company) supposedly does? Those nonsense-filled sentences that leave  readers so confused about what type of product this actually is (is it a toaster? a really cool foam hand? or project management software?) that they simultaneously hold their noses and reach for the dictionary?

Examples:

Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 is an integrated suite of server capabilities that can help improve organizational effectiveness by providing comprehensive content management and enterprise search, accelerating shared business processes, and facilitating information-sharing across boundaries for better business insight. Additionally, this collaboration and content management server provides IT professionals and developers with the platform and tools they need for server administration, application extensibility, and interoperability.

Oracle Fusion Applications leverage industry standards and technologies to transform organizations into next-generation enterprises. Oracle Fusion Applications are service-enabled, enterprise applications that can be easily integrated into a service-oriented architecture and made available as software as a service.

Contrast these to this  Good Description that clearly states what the product is, what it does, and the benefits — all free of jargon and blah-blah:

Trusted by millions, Basecamp is the leading web-based project collaboration tool. Share files, meet deadlines, assign tasks, centralize feedback, make clients smile.

Alas, Crypto-Descriptions are much more common than Good Descriptions. Thing is, no doubt the Marketing Weenies for these companies think these Crypto-Descriptions are Good Descriptions – just with even MORE Wicked Awesome!  After all, the Crypto-Descriptions probably took weeks, if not months, to concoct, and were born from some kind of all-inclusive, cross-functional, meeting-laden “product positioning” process.  And some Crypto-Descriptions even appear to follow that Geoffrey-Moore-approved Positioning Statement format (which, by the way, was never intended for external communication, but the CPM digresses).

So, in theory, these Crypto-Descriptions should Rock the Casbah.  But they stink.  Even the Cranky Kid can smell their foulness, and his/her nose has no nerve endings left after spending years in diapers.

So what’s the issue?  How did this happen?

Lack of Courage, that’s how.  Too many companies are afraid to clearly state “we do ” when is the hot, new thing all the prospects are asking for and all the Gardener/Forrest Ranger ho-bags are writing about. These spineless companies think that if they slap on a wig, lipstick, and a prissy dress on their tired old pig of a product, that everyone will be fooled, the product will rank in the “leader quadrant” (or whatever), and money will just start rolling in the door.

As if.

In effect, to attract the minuscule “Stupid Buyer” segment who are 1) dazzled by bright, shiny objects,  2) write big checks on whims, and 3) need drool cups,  these companies opt to ALIENATE their core target market — those buyers that actually HAVE the problem this product solves — by *obfuscating *what the product actually does and is good at. What a great strategy.

Please join the Cranky Product Manager in her Vendetta against Crypto-Descriptions and start a “Crypto-Description Hall of Shame.”  Her first nominees are the two above examples, from Microsoft and Oracle.  Join her and nominate others for entry into the Hall of Shame!

33 comments

  1. Anon

    How about this one:

    “Xenos is the market-leading provider of high-performance software solutions that deliver a superior Return on Information™ by Streamlining Enterprise Information Supply Chains™”

    Lots of trademarks, i guess…

  2. Roger

    Being wordy certainly seems to be a marketing function. The most accurate description is usually “This version is pretty much the same as the previous one with bug fixes and tweaks we desperately hope you’ll pay for. If not, here are lots of words …”

    I did manage once to turn a four page marketing brochure into one page by removing duplication and converting it into English. They were rather annoyed at me removing a claim of “breakthrough performance” on the grounds that no one could explain what it actually meant and this new version of the product was at most one to two percent faster.

  3. April

    I did a blog post on this topic once and the 2 I picked on were:
    Adobe – Revolutionizes how the world engages and interacts with ideas and information. (there’s just something super fantastic about saying that you are starting a world revolution isn’t there?)
    Sun Microsystems – Innovative products and services that power the network economy. (and we all know how great the economy is right now right?)
    April

      • Cranky Product Manager

        Rian, alas, the Cranky Product Manager does not agree with you about that HTC ad. While that ad is a visual masterpiece, largely jargon-free, and full of hot people of all ages, the Cranky PM didn’t find it any less cryptic. In fact, she was bewildered, wondering WTF are they trying to say? “You are different than You??” huh? Sorry, the Cranky Product Manager does not understand what is so different about these phones than every other mobile phone.

        This type of advertising is more appropriate for brands and products that have already well-established themselves in the hearts and minds of the consumer (Coca Cola, Budweiser, …), where you’re trying to get the customer to truly identify on an emotional level with the brand. It does NOT work when the consumer does not already reflexively understand what the core product and benefits are. You have to work up the pyramid…. Sorry, don’t think HTC has reached this level of awareness yet. They are too new and need to get people to understand what they do and how they are different.

        Compare this to Apple’s ads and Google’s recent Superbowl ad, which the Cranky Product Manager thinks are a lot more effective. Both are well-known brands that everyone understands what the products do, and they could potentially pull off ads that focus on brand emotion rather than the nuts and bolts of what they do. But they do not. Instead they choose to focus on what the products do and the benefits. Granted, the Google one also added a layer of emotion on top, which is what makes it a particularly good ad.

        Weirdly, this ad seemed to be saying that HTC gets how different you are than everyone else, and that you need your own special little phone, but then they show that EVERYONE else is also different and needs the same phones. Confusing message. Am I different or not.

        • Rian

          The Cranky Product Manager, in addition to her interesting habit of talking about herself in the third person, also makes some good points here, and Rian thanks her for it. Not willing to give up the fight yet, please allow me to respond…

          Mobile phones have become extremely emotional products. Extensions of ourselves. iPhone ads show us that the phone can be an extension of ourselves, it can do anything. The Palm Pre ads show us that… well, I don’t know what they show us, actually. They’re just weird.

          What I think the HTC ad does well, is tap into the emotional zeitgeist of a younger generation (can we call them the pre-iPhone crowd?). I think it understands the generation’s desire to be different without standing out, to be unique without being too weird. And it sells the idea that this phone, with its endless customization, allows you to do that (whether that idea is the truth or not is another matter altogether – this is marketing after all).

          At the very least, the ad connects at an emotional level, it gets real about moments of joy and happiness, and I for one am drawn to that kind of authenticity.

          Now the Google ad is another matter altogether. Sheer brilliance. That rare ad that shows functionality and also connects deeply on an emotional level. I was amazed by it.

          I do agree with you though — the HTC ad is light on features. But it used language that I understood and connected with. And isn’t the product secondary when marketing is able to give you good feelings about the brand?

          I don’t know, just rambling here. Good discussion though…

          • Cranky Product Manager

            Alas, the Cranky PM still disagrees with you, Rian. The Cranky Product Manager firmly believes that emotional “brand-building” ads are wasted unless the ad viewers already intrinsically understand WHAT problems your company/product solve, how you solve them, and how your company is different. This type of awareness has to be deep in the audience’s sub-conscious, either from years of feature/benefit advertising (think automakers, Apple, Verizon), or from the product being so pervasive that pretty much everyone has tried it and understands it (McDonalds, Google, Coke, Doritos, USPS, …).

            Only after this level of feature/benefit/differentiation awareness is well established with the target audience can a brand really go after the higher-order emotional tie-in.

            HTC is just not well-known enough to go for this type of advertising at this time. Very, very few brands achieve the level of awareness where this type of emotion-laden, benefit-free ad would work and not be a complete waste of money — especially when your target market is extremely broad (which is why you’d be using TV).

            So, while I can admire HTC’s ad on its artistic merit, I really doubt it did much to increase product sales.

    • Rian

      Woah – Steven, I just bought your book! I’m scared of the finance section, but other than that it’s really good so far :)

  4. Mustafa

    I think it matters a lot when the description comes from a product manager versus somebody else (mostly marketing people). Different roles have different perspectives which isn’t always the right one. Yes, I agree that a little spice on top of a well described product/company is the way to go but sometimes it sounds no better than those local commercials on your TV (the ones that are not high definition and distorted picture and sound). Software product definition should be better than just that, this is not car sales.

  5. Dave

    After 5 minutes, I still don’t know what this company does…

    http://www.appirio.com/

    Appirio, a cloud solution provider, offers both products and professional services that help enterprises accelerate their adoption of the cloud. With over 2500 customers, Appirio has a proven track record of implementing mission-critical solutions and developing innovative products on cloud platforms such as salesforce.com, Google Apps, and Amazon Web Services. From offices in the U.S. and Japan, Appirio serves a wide range of companies including Avago, Hamilton Beach, Japan Post Network, Ltd, Pfizer and Qualcomm. Appirio was founded in 2006, is the fastest growing partner of salesforce.com and Google, and is backed by Sequoia Capital and GGV Capital.
    learn more

  6. Linda Merrick

    What’s even sadder is that many companies pay *extra* for those garbled descriptions by hiring an outside agency, and then not taking the time to background and manage them! PdMs need to build the bridge from features to benefits that the target audience cares about.

    • Cranky Product Manager

      The above crap-ola description for Exchange is full of “benefits” that anyone with a brain would care about (Improve organizational effectiveness! better business insight! Blah blah blah!). The problem? It doesn’t clearly say what Exchange actually does.

  7. software developer

    Hello!
    Reading all the critics about product description I have to note that some software companies pay much attention to description of their services and products trying to make pleasure for the search engines, not customers. But the issue that the company provider of the services could attract customers via detailed case studies, but company that engaged in development of software products requires some other ways of promotion like product branding.

  8. Pingback: A Prototype for the Worst Positioning Statement Ever | The Cranky Product Manager
  9. J_PM

    Came across this one, not even sure what this does.

    (TSIM) is a pre-configured B2B solution that integrates, controls, and monitors internal and external processes, from start to finish, across the entire automotive value chain. Based on an open platform augmented with industry-specific processes, workflows, and specialized services, TSIM streamlines complex production and delivery processes for highest flexibility, efficiency, and quality.

  10. Nara

    Guys, love the feedback on our company description. Would it help if we said “products and professional services to help companies successfully adopt cloud-based applications and platforms”.

    • richard

      @Nara -> “We help companies take advantage of cloud computing for (insert benefit here).” What is your value proposition?

      @software developer -> I agree. All this focus on SEO is so much hocus-pocus if the basic content sucks. Customers want value in their communications as much as the products/services they acquire. Companies that provide more value and less smoke and mirrors will generate more interest/traffic/sales and satisfaction.