Great product marketing requires negativity

Negativity and death is so underrated in brand, company, and product marketing strategy. B2B product companies love touting solutions and winning. It's like we are stuck in a 70s TV-sitcom zeitgeist. Laugh tracks. Predictable plots. Quick pain points rushing to a happy ending...

Great product marketing requires negativity

B2B product companies love touting solutions and winning. It's like we are stuck in a 70s TV-sitcom zeitgeist. Laugh tracks. Predictable plots. Quick pain points rushing to a happy ending. It’s a nightmare for differentiation. We all sound the same.

Nearly two years ago, I witnessed my beautiful father’s death. He was, and still is, my north. It was the worst moment of my life. The shock and horror is not something I’ll share about here. Forced to come to terms with the transformative power of his passing, I’ve discovered how we are all blustering our way through life as if we have an endless resource of time, refusing to face death and transformation. This is also true of our companies and products. I can see it now.

I  heard Jeff Bezos talk about Amazon’s death as something he expected constantly. It sounds wrong, but it's so right. It makes for decisive action. Urgency. Factfulness. It aids momentum and separates goals from distractions. Success is a resource management game, knowing what to focus on and what to sideline.

Every movie, every book, and every good story has a profoundly negative wrong that needs to be righted. This struggle defines the plot, drives the momentum, and unites those who are rallying behind the cause.

When it comes to company life, we shun negative power on three fronts; internally, at the product level, and externally.

Some examples of how we avoid death like the plague.

1. Internally.

- Organisational leaders that avoid negativity, often infantilise their workforce. Employees feel like they're excluded from the realities, which leads to disengagement. When CEOs or leaders only provide hype and good news, employees withdraw their best selves, because they are treated like children.

- When companies fail to shut down independent visions, time and money gets wasted by the quarter. This is why a clear vision and mission is not a luxury. Without this internal alignment, a vision vacuum births multiple, little visions. Many visions is not good. Many visions means teams work against other teams. Many visions is division. Often, this problem multiplies as companies go on a hiring spree. It requires bravery from leaders to shut down the little ideas, to rally everyone together towards a clear goal.

- When companies refuse to connect their results to organisational system design. “Every system is perfectly designed to get the result that it does.” This is a famous quote by Dr. W. Edwards Deming. He goes on to estimate that 94 percent of the problems in a business are created by systems that aren't functioning as needed, rather than individual actions.

2. Product.

- At the product level, it is easy to get too positive. More features. More use cases. More ideas. When product roadmaps lack data-driven, user-centricity, they succumb to internal narratives. The loudest voice in the company will set the direction. Most product teams would benefit from killing darling projects and some radical focus. For product managers to be good, they have to embrace death, kill distractions and say no to some features. This is productive negativity. Without this focus, features are started and abandoned, a consequence of too much positivity and too many tentative ideas.

3. Externally.

- Most B2B brands lack negativity. We don’t talk about villains and victims caused by the problem. No no. We rush to the hero story.

- Sometimes the pain points state the obvious. A reader may think, “yes, yes, that’s right”, but there's no provocation or deep connection. The reader doesn't resonate with the burdens of these problems.

A lot can be improved by adopting a death and transformation mindset.

1) Internally, by building a culture of trust where difficult subjects can be raised, problems can be understood, and transformation can be set in motion.

2) Product-wise, by killing too many ideas. By welcoming user data and user feedback, without spinning up narratives to explain away the uncomfortable.

3) Externally, B2B could learn from B2C. B2C marketers seem to do a better personalisation of pain points, by highlighting the personal problems caused by the problems. You feel it.

So much more can be said. Feel free to comment and add insights.