Product Positioning Statements - The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly

I wish I could start a vendetta against the Marketing Cryptospeak that is so prevalent in the software industry. You know... those meaningless, boilerplate-ish, hyper-generic, jargon-oozing, designed-by-committee, ridiculously cryptic descriptions of what a product (or company) supposedly does? Those nonsense-filled sentences that leave  readers so confused about what type of product this actually is (is it a toaster? a really cool foam hand? or project management software?) that they simultaneously hold their noses and reach for the dictionary?

Examples:

Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 is an integrated suite of server capabilities that can help improve organizational effectiveness by providing comprehensive content management and enterprise search, accelerating shared business processes, and facilitating information-sharing across boundaries for better business insight. Additionally, this collaboration and content management server provides IT professionals and developers with the platform and tools they need for server administration, application extensibility, and interoperability.

Huh? I don't get it.

Or what about this one?

Oracle Fusion Applications leverage industry standards and technologies to transform organizations into next-generation enterprises. Oracle Fusion Applications are service-enabled, enterprise applications that can be easily integrated into a service-oriented architecture and made available as software as a service.

Let me get this straight, if I integrate these Fusion applications into my service-oriented-architecture, my company will transform into a "next-generation enterprise." ???? WHAT. DOES. THAT. EVEN. MEAN?

Contrast these Crypto-Descriptions with the following Good Description that clearly states what the product is, what it does, and the benefits -- all free of jargon and blah-blah:

Trusted by millions, Basecamp is the leading web-based project collaboration tool. Share files, meet deadlines, assign tasks, centralize feedback, make clients smile.

Alas, Crypto-Descriptions are much more common than Good Descriptions. Thing is, no doubt the Marketing folks for these companies think these Crypto-Descriptions are as close to "Good Descriptions" as they can make them, given their company's internal politics.  It probably wasn't for lack of trying; in fact aach of these Crypto-Descriptions probably took weeks, if not months, to create, and were born from some kind of all-inclusive, cross-functional, meeting-laden "product positioning" process.  And some Crypto-Descriptions even appear to follow that Geoffrey-Moore-approved Positioning Statement format (which, by the way, was never intended for external communication, but I digresses).

So, in theory, these Crypto-Descriptions should rock -- they were designed collaboratively and follow the structure of the industry "gold standard" for positioning statements.  But they stink.  Even I can smell their foulness, and my nose has no nerve endings left after years of changing diapers.

So what's the issue?  How did this happen?

Lack of Courage at the top, that's how.  At too many companies, the leaders are afraid to clearly state "we do X" when "Y" is the hot, new thing all the prospects are asking for and Gartner/Forrester is writing about. The leadership of these companies mistakenly think that if they slap on a wig, lipstick, and a nice dress on their tired old pig of a product that everyone will be fooled, the product will rank in the "leader quadrant", and money will just start rolling in the door.

As if.

In effect, to attract the minuscule "Stupid Buyer" segment who are 1) dazzled by bright, shiny objects,  2) write big checks on whims, and 3) need drool cups,  these leaders of these companies opt to ALIENATE their core target market -- those buyers that actually HAVE the problem this product solves -- by obfuscating what the product actually does and is good at.

Sounds like a great marketing strategy.

Sue Raisty

Product management geek, born-again engineer, adoptive mother of boys, coach & mentor, mountain trail runner, tinkerer, no-bull communicator, wannabe writer, room mother & compulsive researcher.

Silicon Valley, California http://blog.sueraisty.com