Designing Simple Products

Read this article over the weekend from Bump co-founder David Lieb and had to share.  

Lieb talks about why most company’s struggle with designing simple products and makes two suggestions that I loved on how to know if you’ve succeeded:

1) Test it out on the young, old … and the drunk (not kidding)

2) Ask your users/customers to repeat what your product does and how it works.

His first point is funny – but you can see why it would be effective when you really think about it.  But the second point is what really resonated with me.  Let people use your product and then ask them to tell you what it is.  This could go a long way in really nailing your value prop.

Here’s a link to the full post:




Why Content Marketing Works

Content Marketing is the latest buzzword in marketing (I say buzzword because it’s one of those things that everyone is talking about but few people are actually doing).

Fred Wilson had a post yesterday about the growing market for content marketing.  He’s a VC so he’s writing about it because of the potential market opportunity in the space, but I think while doing so, he nailed the definition in a simple and straight forward way:

“I like to think of [of content marketing] as moving the message from a banner to your brand and changing the engagement from a view to a conversation.”

The future of online marketing is not impressions, its conversations.  Consumers are more likely to buy from the brands they have relationships with  (link here with some research we did at Constant Contact to back this up).  That’s where content marketing comes in.

Here’s a real-life example:

I have a friend Josh.

There’s this software company.

They post a ton of interesting content that Josh gets through a subscription to their blog, Twitter and Facebook.  Josh is a big fan of their content and looks forward to getting it every day.

The company makes marketing software, Josh is a marketer, and he looks at this company as a thought leader in the space.  They tell him what’s important, and they help him be a better marketer – but at the time, Josh had no reason to buy their product.

After a few months Josh transitioned to a new role, and as part of a new initiative, Josh and his team were looking for a software vendor to help out with some landing pages, sign-up forms and a few other things.

When it came time to pick a vendor, the decision was pretty easy.  This company was able to stay top of mind with Josh without hammering him with advertisements or phone calls from pesky sales reps.  They used content to reel him in – before he was truly even a prospect – and kept him interested until he was ready to make a purchase.

That’s how content should be used, and when it’s explained this way, I think it’s easy to see how it can be used for any business, big or small, to acquire new customers.

Think Your Customers Aren’t on Mobile?

mobile is everywhereStill think people aren’t viewing your website on mobile? Or reading your emails on mobile?  This picture from the Vatican last week is pretty telling. Everyone is on mobile, and that means they are looking at your website there and reading your emails there.  You can’t afford to miss a business opportunity because your content is not mobile-friendly.

Good Writing is Like Golf – Don’t Over Think It

There is so much written about how to be a better writer, and often times I think people over complicate it.

If you are looking to improve your writing, focus on addressing these three key questions:

  1. Who am I writing for? (Audience)
  2. Why should they care? (Benefit)
  3. What do I want them to do? (Call-to-Action)

Good writing is like golf – don’t over think it.    

If You Are Selling Your Product, Stop

Just a quick post based on this article from Jim Keenan that really resonated with me.

Some of the best sales advice that I’ve read recently (and sales doesn’t have to be limited to selling an actual product/service – it  can even be pitching an idea to your boss, your teammates, an investor, or even a significant other):

If you are selling your product, stop!  It’s not what you customers want.

Find out what your customers want. Then show them how your product can get them there. And even as you are doing that remember, they aren’t buying your product, so stay on task.


A Simple Framework for Writing Positioning

I’ve had the privilege of working with a lot of smart marketers and communicators, and the one thing I’ve noticed is that everyone has a different format for creating positioning and messaging.

There’s no right or wrong way to do it as long as it’s working.  A successful positioning document should serve as something that everyone in your organization can look at to help guide the way you talk about your products and services, and really ensures that you are speaking with one, consistent voice to the market.

Here’s a basic framework I’ve pulled together from some of the good ones.  Whether you’re doing marketing for a huge company with thousands of employees or a two-person startup, these are the things that every positioning document should have:

Section 1: Positioning Statement

This is your positioning statement/value proposition.  At a very basic level, it should answer these questions: Who’s it for? What does it do? How is it different from anything else?

One way to develop your positioning statement is to follow this formula:

  • For ___ (Target Audience)
  • Who want __(Key benefit/reason to buy)
  • Product name + description (What does your product do?)
  • Key differentiator (Unlike other solutions..)

Section 2: Value Proposition

Your value proposition is the promise that you make to your customers about your product/service.  Dump the jargon and buzz words here.  We can do without the “Company XYZ is the leading, innovative provider of best-in-breed ____.”  Get right to the benefit that your potential customers will receive.  Think about creating a one line and a three-five line version (one liner might be the hero message on your website; five liner might be your boilerplate/about us).

Section 3: Key Messages

Messaging is the way you creatively articulate your positioning.  It’s the vehicle that brings your positioning to the market  (think about how they would appear on your website, display ads, PPC etc.)

What are the three or four key messages that you want to get across?

Section 5: Key Stats/Proof Points

Just because you said so in your messaging doesn’t make it true.  Prove everything you’ve just said with data.  Don’t have any compelling data? What about a customer example or a case study? Those work well too.

Section 6: Competitive Overview

Who are you competing with? List them out and provide a quick statement on why you are better.

That’s the basic framework for a positioning document.  Think of this as a worksheet.  Fill it out, spread it across your organization and you will go a long way with making sure your messages are consistent and you are going to market with one voice.  But remember – positioning and messaging isn’t the end all be all.  It’s just meant to open the door and start a conversation with a potential buyer.

5 Do It Yourself PR Tips for Startups

A little while back, investor Chris Dixon (Foursquare, Kickstarter and Skype, to name a few) wrote a blog post about the best ways for entrepreneurs to interact with the press.  Dixon also talks about hiring a PR firm, and in short, his advice for entrepreneurs is simply: don’t.

PR can be one of the best (and most cost efficient) ways for a startup to gain traction—you just need to do it yourself.  Sound difficult? It’s not.  Especially because you know your business better than any PR person (agency or in-house) ever will.  Here are five simple things you can do to help get media coverage and build some buzz:

1).  Follow all of the publications and reporters that are important to you on Twitter.  As an entrepreneur, you are probably always reading about trends/news in your space.  Go follow those outlets and the reporters writing the stories you are reading.

First, you’ll see what is important to that outlet and can start thinking of ways your company might fit into a story (i.e. “Hey they just wrote about company XYZ. We do that thing they talked about much better.  I should totally send a note to that reporter to pitch him on our business and get on his radar”).

Second, by following individual reporters, you’ll get to know their interests on a personal level.  Imagine how much easier it might be to pitch a reporter if you found out you both were equally as frustrated with the Red Sox?  Pitching is kind of like sales.  It’s much easier to cold call someone if you know you have some shared interests before you reach out.  Also, many reporters now look for sources and story ideas by asking their Twitter followers. Even if you don’t have a story to offer or your company isn’t a fit, someone in your network might be.  Helping a reporter find a source for a story goes a long way—even if that source isn’t you.

2).  Comment on blogs.  So remember all of those outlets you are following and articles you are now reading?  Go comment on them.  It doesn’t take much additional time—you are probably already sending these articles with commentary around the office or to your peers in the industry.  Take two minutes and share you thoughts with the author in the comment section.  No links, no specific product mentions.  Just your thoughts follow by your name and Twitter handle.  This is one of the best ways to build visibility and awareness as a thought leader with reporters (the goal here is for them to see you as a great, smart source on a topic and reach out to you in the future).

 3). Sign up for HARO.  HARO (Help a Reporter Out) is a service created by Peter Shankman that helps connect journalists with sources.  HARO sends out daily digests of queries right to your inbox and allows you to share your expertise and respond directly to the reporter or blogger.  You can sign up for free here:  You’ll be surprised at how many queries that you could respond to and pitch your business.

 4).  Set aside one hour each month to write.  You can easily crank out two articles a month that can be pitched as bylines to the media.   You know the industry. You know about the trends people are interested in. You have these conversations on a daily basis. Write about them!  Media outlets are always looking for thought leadership articles from CEOs and founders.  Pitching a byline can be one of the easiest ways to get coverage.  It just comes down to whether you have some time to get a good article written (and it’s not a whitepaper! This should be a high-level tips, tricks or trends themed piece in the 300-500 word range).

5).  Be human.  Whether your are interacting with a reporter on Twitter, replying to a HARO query or working on a byline, the best thing you can do is be human.  More on that here.

What’s the one tip you would give to a startup looking to get some PR?