Using the Marketing Fundamental Tension Quadrant to Map Your Demandgen and Communications Strategy
Years ago I wrote a post on what I call the fundamental tension in marketing: the gap between what we want to say and what our audience wants to hear.
For example, let’s say we’re a supply chain software company. Our founders are super excited about our AI/ML-based algorithms for demand prediction. Our audience, on the other hand, barely understands AI/ML  and wants to hear about reducing the cost of carrying inventory and matching marketing programs to inventory levels .
How then should we market our supply chain software? Let’s use the following quadrant to help.
Let’s map AI/ML as a marketing message onto this framework. Do we care about it? Yes, a lot. Does our audience? No. We’re in Box 4: we care and they don’t, so we conclude that must therefore educate (as we might dangerously consider them) the unwashed in order to make them care about AI/ML. We can write a white paper entitled, The Importance of AI/ML in Supply Chain Systems. We can run a webinar with the same title. By the way, should we expect a lot of people to attend that webinar? No. Why? Because no one cares.
Market education is hard. That’s not to say you shouldn’t do it, but realize that you are trying, in a world of competing priorities, to add one to the list and move it up to the top. It can be done: digital transformation is widely viewed as business priorities today. But that took an enormous amount of work from almost the entire software industry. Your one startup isn’t going to change the VP of Supply Chain’s priorities overnight.
Every good demandgen leader knows it’s far easier to start with things the audience already cares about and then bridge to things your company wants to talk about. Using the movie theatre metaphor of the prior post, you put “Reduce Inventory Costs” on the marquee and you feature “AI/ML” in a lead role in the movie.
How do you determine those priorities? I’ll scream it: MARKET RESEARCH. You find existing and/or run proprietary market studies targeting your business buyers, asking about their priorities. Then you create marketing campaigns that bridge from buyer priorities to your messages. If you’re lucky, you’re in Box 2 and everything aligns without the bridge. But most software marketers should spend the majority of their time in Box 1, bridging between what’s important to the audience and what’s important to the company.
If you fail to build the bridge in Box 1 you’ll have a webinar full of people of who won’t buy anything. If you put all your investment into Box 4 you’ll run a lot of empty webinars.
The number one mistake startup marketers make is that they try educate the market on too many things. You need to care about AI/ML. And reporting. And, oh by the way, analytics. And CuteName. And features 5, 6, and 7. And, no, no we’re not feature-driven marketing because we remember to mention benefits somewhere. We are evangelists. We are storytellers!
But you’re telling stories that people don’t want to hear.
My rule is simple: every startup should have one — and only one — Box 4 message and supporting campaigns. Sticking with our example:
- We should have a superb white paper on the importance of AI/ML in supply chain systems.
- We should make claims in our PR boilerplate and About Us page related to our pioneering AI/ML in supply chain systems.
- We should run a strong analyst relations (AR) program to get thought leaders on board with the importance of AI/ML in supply chain.
- We should commit to this message for, by marketing standards, an extraordinarily long time; it’s literally a decade-long commitment. So choose it wisely.
To blast through 30 years of personal industry history: for Oracle it was row-level locking; for BusinessObjects, the semantic layer; for Endeca, the MDEX engine; for MongoDB, NoSQL ; for Salesforce, SaaS (branded as No Software); for Anaplan, the hypercube; for GainSight, customer success; and for Alation, the data catalog .
To net out the art of enterprise software marketing, it’s:
- Stay out of Box 3
- If you’re lucky, you’re in your Box 2 . Talk about what you want to say because it’s what they want to hear.
- Spend most of your time in Box 1, bridging from what they want to hear to what you want to say. This keeps butts in seats at programs and primes them towards your selling agenda.
- Make one and only one bet in Box 4, use AR to help evangelize it, and produce a small number of very high quality deliverables to tell the story.
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 Much as I barely understand a MacPherson strut, despite having been subjected to hearing about it by years of feature-driven automotive marketing.
 In other words, “sell what’s on the truck.” An old example, but likely still true: the shirt color worn by the model in a catalog typically gets 5x the orders of any other color; so why not do color selection driven by inventory levels instead of graphic design preferences?
 Or, as I always preferred, MyNoSQL, simultaneously implying both cheap and easy (MySQL) and document-oriented (NoSQL). By the way, this claim is somewhat less clear to me than the proceeding two.
 The more the company is the sole pioneer of a category, the more the evangelization is about the category itself. The more the company emerges as the leader in a competitive market, the more the evangelization is about the special sauce. For example, I can’t even name a GainSight competitor so their message was almost purely category evangelical. Alation, by comparison, was close to but not quite a sole pioneer so I wrestled with saying “machine-learning data catalog” (which embeds the special sauce), but settled on data catalog because they were, in my estimation, the lead category pioneer. See my FAQ for disclaimers as I have relationships past or present with many of the companies mentioned.
 Any space-pioneering application is probably in Box 2. Any technology platform is almost always in Box 3 or 4. Any competitive emerging space probably places you in Box 1 — i.e., needing to do a lot of bridging from more generic buyer needs to your special sauce for meeting them.