Tag Archives: Apple

Taking the “mess” out of Messaging (part 3)

Continuing this series (click the links for part 1 and part 2), let’s look at the following question:

  • How can we get out of this mess?

Given the problems cited in part 2 – laziness, review committees, truthiness – it’s not easy. There are many other reasons of course, and the combination of them makes it difficult to change the behaviour of an entire industry.

Differentiate yourself

It takes effort, skill and planning to create great messaging. Like many other things, it’s difficult to describe what makes great messaging, but you know it when you see it (or read it, or hear it)!

Messaging should be a weapon of differentiation for companies. Tied very closely to positioning, messaging can impact audiences in ways that no technical achievement can. The now famous 1000 songs in your pocket message for the original iPod was simply brilliant.

Why? It was completely focused on the value to the customer. It spoke directly to them, was conscise, appealing and spoke about the iPod in a way completely different from any of it’s competitors.

Watch the video, and observe the story it tells.

The “dude” is sitting behind his Macintosh, listening to his music and clearly enjoying it. He then transfers it to his iPod, puts on the earphones, selects a song on the iPod with the thumbwheel, and within seconds is enjoying the song again. He then tucks the iPod in his pocket and dances out the door. The voiceover comes on and in only 6 brief words, speaks volumes to the audience:

iPod. 1000 songs in your pocket.

In 1 minute, Apple demonstrated how easy it was to enjoy music on their portable player, and focused the audience on the 1 thing they wanted the audience to remember. It worked amazingly.

Now, someone else — not as savvy as Apple and their advertising agency — would probably have promoted the iPod as follows:

  • Comes in 2 models with 5 GB and 10 GB hard drives
  • Capable of holding 1000 or 2000 songs respectively (in 160Kbps MP3 format)
  • Patented thumbwheel interface
  • 2-in backlit LCD display
  • 60-mW high output amplifier
  • Battery life of 10 hours (your mileage may vary)
  • Firewire port with 400 Mbs transfer speed
  • 3.5 mm headphone jack

In fact, if you looked at how other competing music players were advertised, they actually were marketing technical specs. Instead of benefits, they actually spoke about things like the amount of RAM they provided or the audio formats they supported.

It amazes me that in the 25 years (yes it’s been about that long) since the original commercial that introduced the Macintosh to the world, very few technology companies have been able to match the simplicity, clarity and effectiveness of Apple’s messaging.

And the obvious question is, yet again, why?

Rules for getting it right

It takes culture, commitment and command in the craft of communication for a company to create consistently compelling commuiques like those of Apple.  For the rest of us mere mortals, we can try something a little more mundane to mend our messages. 🙂

For whatever reason, people seem to think that in business writing, all the rules they learned in school are no longer needed. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. Follow these rules (created by none other than George Orwell himself) and see what a difference they make:

  1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
  3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  4. Never use the passive voice where you can use the active.
  5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

If you want more detail on any of these, check out this article.

And here’s the original essay where he first wrote these rules (way back in 1946).

For business writing, one other rule is needed.

Apply the “So what?” test to everything you write. If what you’ve written doesn’t provide a good answer the question “So what?”, rewrite it, and ask the question again.

I’ll stop there. 🙂

In the next part, I’ll discuss whether the industry can ever fix the messaging problem for good.



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Guest Post: Awareness, Persuasion and Shelf Life

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NOTE: The following is a guest post by Gopal Shenoy, author of the blog Product Management Tips.  If you feel inspired to write a guest post of your own, click here to find out how to submit it to us.

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Products (or services) succeed when they solve a relevant, widely prevalent problem in the market. The three hurdles every product faces before it hits or misses are what I call:

  1. Awareness
  2. Persuasion
  3. Shelf Life

It is very simple. First of all, you’ve got to create awareness of your product amongst your target audience.

Second, once they become aware and come to you (online or offline) you need to persuade them that your product is the best in solving their pain point(s).

Third, you need to make sure that your product has a long shelf life – not from a perishable sense – but from a market defensibility perspective.  How long can your product maintain its uniqueness or its differentiation before it is subject to attack from competition? Success breeds wannabes – the question is how long do you have before the wannabes arrive?

So how do you figure all of this out? In my opinion, product managers have a big role in helping figure this out for the following reasons:


Product managers typically best understand the pain points of the target audience that are worth solving. They are chartered to do the deep dive to understand the pain points, to understand the terminology used by the target audience, to understand where the target audience hangs out to gather information etc.  Given this, product managers need to be heavily involved in determining how to create awareness of the product among the target audience.

This is where many marketing departments in companies fail – they take all the upfront market research that has been done and believe that they know better and end up putting the marketing lipstick on it. The end result is what customers have learned to hate – marketing literature that is full of fluff that does not resonate with the audience – the “scalable”, “reliable”, “revolutionary”, market leading”, “customer centric”, “new generation” kind.

They then spend a ton of money spreading the word around in places where the target audience is not present. Would you buy a full page Wall Street Journal ad if you sell “malpractice” insurance to doctors or spend time sponsoring a session at the next Medical Convention in town? If your company rents private jets to corporations (oops, a touchy subject these days!) would you be better off buying a banner at the Boston Symphony Orchestra concert or a full page ad on the Wall Street Journal? Sounds silly, but it still amazes me as to how marketing departments squander money by targeting wrong marketing channels.


Once you have created awareness, the best way to persuade an audience is focusing on the business benefits of using your product as opposed to engaging in discussing features. You need to persuade your target customers on how they can improve their bottom line using your product.

For example, 3D CAD modeling software helped Boeing create the first airplane that was 100-percent digitally designed and preassembled on computer – the Boeing 777. The discussion likely did not revolve around individual features in the CAD software. Instead, the shared vision to take airplane design to a new level that reduced manufacturing costs by eliminating physical prototypes, likely sealed the deal.

While trying to persuade your audience, feature wars are a futile exercise – your product will have features that competitors don’t have and they will have features that you don’t have. Instead companies that focus the customer’s attention and time on how they can provide the greatest value for the customer that will result in tangible business benefits will end up being the winners.

Shelf Life

You could create all the awareness of your compelling product among the target audience, but you still need to figure out how you will defend your position and for how long. If the barrier to entry for your product is low, then your success could be short lived.

There are many ways companies lock up shelf life:

Solving a known, widely prevalent problem in a very disruptive way – for example, Apple’s iPod succeeded because it was the first product that did three things in a very superior way

  • Extremely simple user interface
  • Outstanding integration between the player, computer and the software that connects the two
  • Focus on doing just one thing right – listening to music.

Though Apple was not the first company to launch an MP3 player, it quickly established a leadership position in a very competitive and overly crowded market. As you all know, its leadership position is untouched to this day.

Locking a service delivery model – If you are able to lock in a service delivery model via exclusivity, you have bought yourselves shelf life for the duration of exclusivity. For example, AT&T was able to buy a long shelf life via its exclusive agreement with Apple. Apple’s iPhone success left AT&T’s competitors scrambling to find other ways to defend their positions.

Protecting the intellectual property via patents – for example, Nutrasweet had a monopoly for decades in the aspartame market until its patents ran out. I am all for patents, but not many small companies have the wherewithal to bet their businesses on their ability to successfully defend their patents.

I believe that companies need to do all of these three things – awareness, persuasion and shelf life – extremely well to have a successful and sustainable business. And believe it or not, a lot of this will stem from the information gathered by product managers. Don’t stop using that information just for building that product. Use it for creating awareness and persuasion.

Gopal Shenoy is a product manager with over 13 years of experience in the software industry at companies such as SolidWorks, RSA Security, Salary.com and OnForce. Currently, he is a Senior Product Manager at OnForce, Inc (www.onforce.com). He is a passionate blogger on product management topics at www.productmanagementtips.com