Years ago, I was working for a promotional supply company and tasked with sourcing keychain versions of an oddly-shaped mini computer (it was a computer kind of in the shape of an “X”). This was a little before the computer actually came out and about two years before “big” manufacturers started pushing micro PCs.
It should have been a big hit.
Unfortunately, this story doesn’t have a happy ending.
There were some red flags about the company right from the beginning. For example, they had the sales rep sign an NDA promising not to ever reveal the shape of the device to unauthorized parties.
Even at the time, I wondered, “Why would we need to keep this secret? It’s not like someone’s going to race to market with a similarly-shaped micro computer.” If this were the days of Apple’s crazy iMac computers, then there might have been a risk the design would have been cribbed. But this wasn’t 1998 (or even 2005). This was 2011.
Fast-forward about two years. The company announces a partnership with Valve and a low-powered, over-priced gaming PC. Unsurprisingly, journalists pan the device and gamers don’t care to overpay for a mediocre not-console.
When I saw this, I brought it up with the company’s marketing director. I said, “No one really understands your product and where it fits. Your messaging needs to be improved.”
The marketing director became visibly angry. “The journalists simply don’t get it,” he said. “They don’t know what they’re talking about.”
Here’s the truth, though: if no one understands your product, it’s your fault, not theirs.
It’s easy to have an idea you love and think, “Everyone’s going to be thrilled when they find out!”
When you feel that excitement: STOP! This is the point where you need to take a step back and ask, “How c can I communicate how awesome this is in a way everyone else will understand?”
Assuming a great idea will catch fire is one of the most danger “strategies” for any business.
Want proof? That computer company from earlier made a lowball employment offer to me, which I turned down. Which was a big mistake on their end – I had clear, actionable copy suggestions for their products that would have clarified their muddled messaging and maybe given their marketing a fighting chance.
But since no self-respecting, talented, experienced copywriter would work for $16/hour, the company shot itself in the foot.
Valve publicly distanced themselves from the company shortly after. I think their enterprise contracts are what’s keeping the company afloat, but I can’t imagine they’ll be around for much longer now that we’ve got some heavy hitters in the micro PC field.
In fact, I know so – as a recent Glassdoor review pointed out, “If the company is around for another year I would be very surprised.” Another person said, “Surprised they lasted this long.”
Don’t make the same mistake and assume your product or service is infallible. No business is irreplaceable – not Apple, not Google, and certainly not yours.
Clear messaging is your responsibility, not your customers’.