Finding Your Place in the Market — Messaging and Differentiation with Peep Laja
Over the last ten years, the number of SaaS players in the market has increased exponentially. However, if you look at any business category, you’ll see that the top tools offer the same services with precisely the same features.
While the SaaS industry keeps growing, SaaS marketing is getting more difficult by the minute due to market saturation. In this scenario, taking a differentiated position is key to making businesses stand out from the competition and acquire more customers.
Helping B2B companies get their messaging and positioning right is exactly what Peep Laja set out to do with his latest entrepreneurial venture — Wynter — after successful stints founding Speero and CXL.
In the latest episode of Ungated Marketing, Peep Laja tells us why he’s shifted his attention to messaging and everything that goes with it.
From Messaging Problem to Opportunity
As an entrepreneur and business founder, Peep Laja launched two very successful yet distinct companies.
There’s Speero, a conversion optimization and consulting agency, and CXL, an e-learning platform focussed on marketing.
Despite their success, there were also problems to solve that ultimately led Peep to found Wynter. He tells the story: “At CXL, we have 60-70 product pages. And you know, there's a bunch of SEO traffic and some PPC traffic landing on those product pages and selling. Obviously, I want to increase the conversion rate on those pages, get more people to buy. And so I was wondering if my ideal customer lands on one of the product pages and they read the sales page, are they like, ‘Wow, this is so interesting,’ or are they like, ‘This is boring,’ or which parts are interesting, which parts are boring, what's relevant, what's irrelevant, and so on, and so forth. If I would know this information, I could only talk about things that are interesting, and not talk about things that are boring, right?”
In his search for a tool that would help him answer these questions, he found there wasn’t one. What he did find were more people facing the exact same problem in their lines of business. Being the entrepreneurial guy that he is, he saw this as an opportunity.
“It's not very often that you stumble upon a big problem that hasn't been solved yet. All the easy problems have been solved already, only hard problems are left. And this is a hard problem.”
And thus, Wynter was born, first as a message testing service, and now being about buyer intelligence altogether.
Who Are You Selling To?
Before diving deep into messaging and positioning, businesses need to understand and know quite a bit about who they’re selling to.
In B2B, Peep explains, “every company is selling to a title at a type of company — CMO at a SaaS company with 100 employees or VP of HR at an e-commerce company with 10,000 employees.” So for him, the way to craft messaging that will appeal to that person is to ask certain questions about them. “Who is that person? What are their pains, like the top three pains that relate to generating more leads? What other pains do they want to avoid right now? What are their jobs to be done? What metrics are they measured on at work, and so on. If you know all these things, you can craft messaging that talks to those pains.”
For him, the thing most companies get wrong about messaging is thinking they’re the only ones with a certain product or service offering and ignoring the market and customer aspects entirely.
When it comes to the market, businesses know who their competitors are, and should strive to stand out from them instead of communicating in vague terms. Peep gives the example: “This is especially prevalent [in email marketing] where email marketing companies say, in different wording, ‘Send beautiful email newsletters.’ I mean, every single email marketing company does that. I would never choose a tool based on that.”
From a customer perspective, if they are shopping for an expensive solution, they are going to consider different options before settling for one, so this sort of messaging is not enough to capture their attention.
At Wynter, Peep has had customers who were able to significantly increase their pricing simply by finding a more valuable way to talk about themselves. But that can only happen if you know what buyers want and “you can give it to them through words.”
Finding Your Differentiated Place in the Market
There’s no denying that words can have a powerful impact on who reads them and play a big part in the buying process. However, they are the final piece in a much bigger puzzle.
The first, broader element of it is finding a strategic narrative, which, as Peep puts it, is “a story about the world around us, not about the company.”
To make the concept clear, let’s look at Wynter’s practical example.
“The story that I tell which is actually happening is that in SaaS, comparing 2011 to 2021, the number of SaaS companies has increased 50 times. And if you look at any mature existing category — marketing, automation, CRM — if you look at the top 20 tools, what they do is exactly the same, like everybody has every feature. And if you look at their website, everybody says exactly the same things. [...] So while SaaS in general, the market it keeps on growing [...] selling SaaS, marketing SaaS is getting harder because of the saturation in the market. And the saturation is not slowing down.”
Peep’s company’s strategic narrative revolves around the state of the SaaS market and that the solution for their customers, in turn, to stand out from the competition is to take “a fundamentally differentiated position in the market and saying different things.”
You can think of strategic narrative as a reaction to a change in the world that then creates the context for why that business, product, or service is needed.
Then, there’s positioning, which is about finding your place in the market and finding the target customers for your product.
Peep explains that positioning is only an internal understanding that clarifies where the company stands among its competition. It is also a piece of the differentiation puzzle that should be done on a product basis unless you are marketing a suite of products.
Peep exemplifies positioning by looking at one of your direct competitors and finding a piece of the market that’s of no interest to them. If that competitor is an established player in the market, Peep goes on, “you don’t want to overlap with [them.] If your target market is exactly the same, you’re going to get crushed because they have more money, a bigger brand, and so on. So in order to grow, you want to overlap with them either minimally or maybe even not at all.”
For instance, if that competitor is all about enterprise customers, that leaves the SMB market open. Positioning is recognizing that opportunity.
Messaging is the step after you’ve found your strategic narrative and positioning. It’s about sending out the key messages to the target market in a way that will resonate with them.
Considering that all these concepts should be thought about only after you understand who your audience is and what pains they’re trying to solve, then the messaging you choose needs to be related to those pains, speaking to them while presenting the solution.
In Peep’s own words, you need to “have a message market fit, so that whatever you say is aligned with [your audience’s] goals and priorities. It talks about the desired gain, it talks about the pains they want to avoid, it addresses the jobs to be done. So that when the target audience reads your messages, they’re like, ‘Oh, that’s great!’”
Copywriting, then, it’s how you phrase your messaging among the infinite possibilities you have to choose from.
However, effective copy is not about writing beautiful words. Not that being a good writer doesn’t help or that you shouldn’t assign that task to an in-house or freelance copywriter. But just the same as what leads up to it, copywriting should come from a place of market and customer understanding.
That’s why, if a company wants to start with copywriting and forego all previous work that needs to get done, that message probably isn’t going to land right.
Peep calls it a “hierarchy of things” in which “copywriting [on its own] doesn’t influence many things at all, whereas positioning and messaging are extremely strategic.”
Strategic Narrative as a Business Guideline
So, if strategic narrative lays the foundation for everything that comes next in terms of positioning and messaging, how should companies go about it?
For a startup that’s just getting its go on the market, it might be easier to build this process from scratch. What about businesses that have been around for a couple of years?
Peep clarifies that, in fact, companies who are currently developing their marketing strategies and messaging based on their strategic narrative are very big companies. They can afford and have the resources to do so, while startups initially might not.
Regardless of the growth stage, Peep stresses the importance of having a strategic narrative across all areas of business. “Without a coherent strategic narrative, it is harder for your sales to close deals, it is harder for your marketing to know what to say. It is harder, like in strategies, to know our winning aspiration, what are you trying to achieve, followed by where to play and how to win in that segment. And so without a strategic narrative, you don't have those guidelines.”
One thing Peep adds about strategic narrative is that it needs to stay current. Since its premise lies in telling a story about the world, then it needs to change as the world keeps changing. “If you created your strategic narrative in 2010, the world has evolved quite a bit. But unless there's a sudden event like the global pandemic, it evolves slowly. I want to say you should revisit it and adapt it and evolve it every 2 to 4 years.”
If at any strategic meeting you discuss your strategic narrative, evaluate it against the backdrop of a changing world, and notice it has become irrelevant, it’s time to adjust it.
Message Testing in B2B
Hand in hand with an evolving strategic narrative goes, naturally, a change in positioning and messaging.
Particularly in B2B, there’s been a big shift in the mindset of what constitutes the proper messaging. Peep explains that “there used to be the idea that B2B is more conservative, and you’re selling to old men in suits, which is not the case anymore. It’s not that you are a business [person] and then go home, and you’re now a home [person]. You’re the same [person], right?”
In addition to that mindset change, there’s also the fact that, to get messaging right, ideally, you need to test it. And to know how it’s resonating with customers, you need to talk to them.
Conducting customer interviews might be a daunting task that implies having the resources to do so, to be able to jump on 30 minutes calls with customers times the number of interviews you need to have relevant feedback on your messaging.
Here, Peep offers asynchronous communication as a solution. “Any piece of communication that is not about building a relationship should be asynchronous. So that the way to do research is essentially serving them and gathering their input in an asynchronous way that is easy and fast for everybody involved.”
As a result, you’ll be able to find out how your audience feels about the messages you’re sending out, and you can optimize them as well as your copy as you go along.
As the world keeps changing and the B2B SaaS industry continues to grow, a differentiated position in the market through messaging will remain key in standing out from the crowd.
To dive even further into Peep Laja’s thoughts on messaging as one of the most — if not the most — important pieces of marketing, listen to the full episode below or tune in on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or Google Podcasts.