Startup Marketing: Does the Competition Matter?

Editor’s note: This is a guest post by serial entrepreneur and marketing executive April Dunford who is currently the head of Enterprise Market Strategy for Huawei. April specializes in brining new products to market including messaging, positioning, market strategy, go-to-market planning and lead generation. She is one of the leading B2B/enterprise marketers in the world and we’re really lucky to be able to share here content with you. Follow her on Twitter @aprildunford or RocketWatcher.com. This post was originally published in April 12, 2012 on RocketWatcher.com.

CC-BY-20 Some rights reserved by Paolo Camera
Attribution Some rights reserved by Paolo Camera

I have heard people make the argument that startups shouldn’t think about their competitors. I agree that many spend too much time worrying about how their feature set stacks up against another offering’s feature set. On the other hand, prospects are evaluating your solution against alternatives (which may not be products) and communicating how you are better than those alternatives is a key part of great startup marketing. Simply put – you should care about competitive alternatives if your prospects do.

Startups are not Big Companies

I very rarely see useful competitive analysis done by startup marketers, mainly because they are trying to do it like big companies do it. The big companies I’ve worked for have had departments dedicated to creating large detailed check mark matrices that showed how our feature set compared to competitive offerings. These matrices almost never included any feedback from customers. Needless to say, the products and their markets were very mature.

This approach completely falls apart within the context of a startup. Your competitors, from a customer point of view are almost never so easily defined. For startups, your offering is often competing with “do nothing”, “hire someone to do it”, use spreadsheets/documents/paper, or some other solution that might be completely unsuited to the task but is free/easy/what has always been used. Comparing features of one of these alternatives to your startup’s offering to makes absolutely no sense in this context.

A More Customer-Centric Approach

In the context of a startup the only competitive analysis that makes sense is the one that is happening in side the heads of your prospects. The more you understand about that, the more you can use that knowledge to improve your marketing.

Instead of the traditional competitive comparison matrix, a more useful competitive alternatives snapshot for a startup would look at what customers perceive to be the major benefits of the alternative, what risks they see that might stop them from choosing your solution and how you might address these issues in your messaging.

An Example

Here’s an example for CRMster, a fictional solution aimed at mid-sized consulting businesses to help them manage their customer information. The points here are just to give you some ideas about how this might look:

Competitive Alternative Benefit customers perceive Risk in selecting your offering Value of your offering Proof points
Do nothing – we don’t use a CRM tool and that’s fine by us Free
Zero effort required
Budget spent on this will mean less money for other thingsConsultants will have to learn the tool and record data they don’t today More accurately predict future workloads so you can budget/staff accordingly and increase your profitability.Gives consultants access to more complete customer information making it easier to do their jobs. 3rdparty data: Research shows companies using CRM are X% more profitable.Customer data: CRMster customers have x% average increase in revenue/profitabilityEnd user quote “CRMster makes collaborating easy. I want to marry it! ”Customer case studies
Manage customer data in spreadsheets FreeEveryone knows how to use a spreadsheet Budget spent on this will mean less money for other thingsConsultants will have to learn the tool Eliminate the need to consolidate spreadsheets – a process that is time consuming and introduces errorsEasier, more effective team collaboration means projects are delivered on time, on budget. Customer quote: “Consolidating spreadheets was a pain and our data stank. CRMster lets us accurately forecast our business.”Customer quote: “CRMster got our teams working together better so we could deliver projects on budget”End user quote: “So fun to use I gave up playing Angry Birds at work!”Analyst opinion: “Folks using spreadsheets are big losers”
Use CRMFree, a free CRM tool Free Budget spent on this will mean less money for other things Expert customer supportProvides features for consulting companies that generic CRM tools don’t have. Analyst data: X% of CRM deployments fail because end-users don’t get good support.Customer quote: “Their support is so great we send them chocolates on valentine’s day”Press quote: “If you are a consulting company you are an idiot if you buy anything else”Customer logos, case studies
Use BigWig CRM, a CRM tool for mid-sized businesses of any type A safe bet: an established brand CRMster might go out of businessThe software might be unproven, buggy crap CRMster is way cheaper.Provides features for consulting companies that generic CRM tools don’t have. Pricing and guarantees.Screen shots, product demosTeam bios – emphasizing successes and background in this market.Investor profiles, investment announcementsCustomer logos, case studies

For this example, only the last couple of rows get into any discussion of product features and even there those aren’t the only considerations. The other thing to notice is that the feature discussion can happen as part of a higher-level theme (we’re better because we are cheaper, more targeted to this market, or a more elegant solution) rather than a checklist of niggley esoteric features like you would for mature products in a mature market. If you are going head to head with an established player in the market you’re doing it because you have something radically different.

The Output: Better Messaging

The next step is to look at the themes and develop key messages that highlight your differentiated value while addressing the potential big concerns. I’ve written about messaginghere and here and I’ll talk more about how you would take the next step and construct messaging upcoming post.

Editor’s note: This is a guest post by serial entrepreneur and marketing executive April Dunford who is currently the head of Enterprise Market Strategy for Huawei. April specializes in brining new products to market including messaging, positioning, market strategy, go-to-market planning and lead generation. She is one of the leading B2B/enterprise marketers in the world and we’re really lucky to be able to share here content with you. Follow her on Twitter @aprildunford or RocketWatcher.com. This post was originally published in April 12, 2012 on RocketWatcher.com.

About April Dunford

April is a marketing executive with a broad range of experience at technology companies. She specializes in bringing new solutions to to market including messaging and positioning, market strategy,go to market planning and lead generation. April has a technical background (Systems Design Engineering) and deep practical experience in marketing, product marketing and sales.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Ed-Ward/815495203 Ed Ward

    Can we help you develop your great work and other simple ones that can solve humanitarian problems eg location based problems using your software? ALSO what funding do you need for what equity? We can help with funding and also using the http://www.TRAIDmark.org business model and develop your website eg http://www.WEBiversity.org & http://www.TRUSTlibrary.org We can pay but need tech development:) Ed http://www.WHYMANdesign.com

  • http://www.best-in-class.com/CompetitiveIntelligence Competitive

    The history of competition law reaches back to the Roman Empire. The business practices of market traders,
    guilds and governments have always been subject to scrutiny, and
    sometimes severe sanctions. Since the 20th century, competition law has
    become global.