Positioning Product Marketing

Emotional enemies and economic incentives in your startup narrative

At Kayako, we wanted to burn down the existing concept of customer service software that was focused on ‘tickets’ and ‘departments’ using the all-too-often emotional experience of being treated like a ticket number, and getting passed around from pillar to post between teams.

We all know what that feels like, and we used this emotional enemy – a concept that our audience had experienced, could believe, and can rally against – to our advantage. 

At the same time, we talked about how better customer service is not just a nice concept, but it’s good for business: improving your service builds loyalty, leading to repeat orders, and more word of mouth referrals that grow your business. This is the economic pull that aligned with our audience: raising customer service from a cost-center to a profit-center.

Hubspot popularized inbound marketing. Display advertising, PPC, and tradeshows weren’t working as well as they did, but deep down, in our hearts, it’s not the way we want to win customers. We want customers to find our company organically and to like us so much they buy our product or service – we don’t want to spam them with hard sale messages or trick them into a purchase. The “old way” was an emotional enemy that passionate marketers and CEOs wanted to kill.

The incentive – growing your business with more traffic and more leads that drive more sales with this new inbound marketing concept – is the economic pull. Who’s going to say no to more sales?

Drift has a similar story: forms suck! Why on earth are we gating content, when we want people to actually read it? There’s emotion – we’ve all closed a page that asks us to complete a ten-field form before getting a one-page PDF. Is that the way we really want to treat our potential customers? Is that how we would want to be treated?

The pull? “Connect your sales teams to future customers, now.” It aligns with their audience of marketers, sales leads, and CEO on the economic level against their incentives: more conversations equals more opportunities, which leads to higher (and faster!) revenue growth.

You can also use it to your advantage in employer branding and culture building. At Kayako, we had all experienced the bad side of customer service (emotional) and we were incentivized – economically, through stock options – to work hard and push ourselves. We were ridding the world of the enemy, and creating economic wealth for the business and ourselves too.

This isn’t a new concept; the use of an enemy in company narrative has been popularized by Andy Raskin in his posts like this one, with this great nugget of advice:

One of the most powerful ways to turn prospects into aspiring heroes is to pit them against an antagonist. … Naming your customer’s enemy differentiates you — not directly in relation to competitors (which comes off as “salesy”), but in relation to the old world that your competitors represent. 

Sales conversations no longer stall on ‘what and how’, but move faster because the ‘why’ is more personal at both economic and emotional levels. Assigning an emotional enemy creates positive affinity and removes objections, while the economic pull creates urgency and helps build a rational business case.

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