Can You Stand Up as a Platform Company?

Stop me if you’ve read this description before: “We are the world’s leading platform that.... ” All the world's a platformHad Shakespeare lived in the Bay Area in 2013, he might have written that "All the world's a platform."  There are great successful modern companies that are indeed platforms, and therefore are exemplary aspirational models for budding entrepreneurs. Facebook. Amazon. Salesforce.  A platform position gives entrepreneurs the opportunity to say that they have a massive addressable market, not to mention a grand vision. No wonder so many entrepreneurs are working "platform" into their elevator pitches and positioning statements. Some even have good credibility and justification for doing so.

So what’s the problem? The problem is that all the world is not a platform.  Saying that you are a platform company, when in fact you're not, will create a host of negative side effects for your company, likely outweighing any benefits you might get by using the claim.  Here are two reasons to consider striking "platform" from your positioning vocabulary, at least for now:

  1. If you are positioning yourself as a platform and you are today a point solution, not only are you confusing your audience, you are losing credibility. You need to communicate why you matter today, which often is substantially different than what you would say when you can truly deliver on the platform promise.  Consider Amazon.  As it grew initially into a commerce powerhouse, leadership positioned the company as "the leading online retailer of books."   Consider Facebook.  It began as a way to connect people socially.  Say that Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg knew all along that they would eventually be corporate giants with powerful platforms.  You wouldn't have heard a peep about it in their positioning during their initial rise to fame. Instead, they positioned themselves to connect to their audience about the specific point solution they provided.  Flawless ecommerce.  Social connection. Their platform plays were communicated later.
  2.  Companies often underestimate what it means to be a platform, and what is required for the claim to be true. To be a platform, you must have multiple partners who are eager to connect into what you've built. There must be developers who are motivated to build on yours, instead of on any of their myriad options.  Partners, developers, buyers:  They must have motivation to want to plug in to your platform. Are you prepared to market and sell this way? Are you prepared to have a dedicated developer relations team? Do you have the right developer onboarding process and collateral that allows developers to get started quickly and easily? Have you thought through your customers' platform alternatives and credibly answered why yours is a superior and sufficient option?

Amazon's, Facebook's, and Salesforce's visions did not get realized overnight. Neither will yours. Just because you want to be the world’s leading platform in your industry doesn’t mean you should position yourself that way out of the gate. The incredible application and its associated value proposition you’ve worked so hard to develop is only the first of many steps on this journey. So don’t dismiss the opportunity to tell the world about your role and relevance today, based on the need you exist to solve now. 

Bring Your Innovation to Market in 2013 - Let's Talk

After decades of running PR and marketing communications firms and helping to bring some of today's most household-name innovations to market, Andy Cunningham had a vision.  She was seeing too many brilliant engineers, scientists, and finance leaders struggling to reach their deserved tipping points because they were misdiagnosing their marketing problems as "PR problems" or "Web site problems," when in fact they faced fundamental strategi marketing problems. She knew there was a better way to scale these promising CEOs with the right strategic marketing focus. In 2012 she transformed her vision into a new kind of marketing consultancy -- one that marries the rigor and leadership of management consulting with the strategic marketing function of technology companies.  Meet SeriesC.  Our team of veteran technology marketing strategists helps companies bring their innovations to market through experienced leadership in business strategy, positioning, product strategy, customer development, market segmentation, go-to-market planning, and more.

Get in touch with us to talk about how SeriesC can help get your innovation to its deserved tipping point.

SeriesC in 2012

For a Fortune 500 company, we reorganized the worldwide marketing department, helped hire the right CMO, simplified a large and diverse brand naming architecture, and helped build a market feedback loop into the product development process.

For a growing multinational consumer internet company, we crafted new positioning to prepare for international expansion, and led misaligned executives into alignment around a new strategy for international growth.

For a start-up technology platform, we led development and launch of a critical developer program, educating leadership on best practices for building the program and developer community.

For a start-up consumer software application company with four years and four products launching, we counseled on product launch and made introductions to right-fit launch partners to fuel growth.

For an early start-up, we authored a business plan that resulted in $5M in venture capital financing.

For a stealth start-up with a disruptive big-data technology, we developed detailed product use cases, and crafted a simplified positioning architecture and a relatable narrative of the value proposition.

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The Company You Keep: Choosing Your Category

You are here If you're bringing an innovation to market and wondering, "what category are we in?", you're hardly alone.  We see entrepreneurs within start-ups and mature organizations grappling with this question all the time.

What's the best three-words-or-less description of what we do?

Who are we in league with?

When Gartner ranks us on a Magic Quadrant, which one should it be?

The choice is an important one.  Your category is core to your business strategy, and instrumental to how you articulate your role and relevance to the market.

Identifying the ideal category is an art worthy of deliberate, methodical effort.  But a few simple questions can help you get closer to the right answer:

Grab your list of top five candidates, and run them past these tests:

  •  Who are the current players in the category you're considering, including those who will soon move into it? (Hint: You can't have a category of one! Even if you're charting new terrain, there will be fast followers).
  • When you consider the list of competitors in the category with you, does it feel like the right list against which you want to be considered? Does it contain companies who don't do what you do, or is it missing some who absolutely do? If it's missing some, consider those competitors: What category(ies) do they call home?
  • Is your claim to presence in this category credible? If not, what needs to be true for you to achieve that credibility?  Are those changes feasible? Likely? Appropriate?

Align your leadership team around the answers to these questions, and you'll likely find yourself closer to understanding your category -- and the company you keep there.

Competition Beats a Vacuum, Any Day

I was sitting in a meeting just before the New Year with a client who was proud to say that he didn’t have a single competitor.  There was just no other company that had his vision, and certainly no company that could build the infrastructure. In his mind, no competition meant that no other companies were pitching to his customers, he could glean high margins, and easily raise his next round of VC funding.  This is the perfect place to be, right? This type of thinking, while intuitive, is wrong.  Entrepreneurs and young companies should intentionally position themselves against and alongside known companies.  Competition actually makes it easier to communicate, to sell, and to grow. Sales prospects will only give you a few minutes before they stop listening. Their minds naturally want to connect dots and draw analogies.  They have an existing knowledge base that it can help to tap into in those few precious first-impression moments.  Comparing and contrasting to other companies is an easy way to get understood, fast.

In fact, successful early-stage entrepreneurs -- even those in the greenest of fields and whitest of spaces, see their emerging companies as existing in complete ecosystems -- not vacuums.  Ecosystems are teeming with other companies.  Buyers of many kinds.  Competitors (today's and tomorrow's possible ones.)  Fast followers. Partners. Tangential companies who connect to solutions upstream and down.  Vacuums, on the other hand, are voids.  They don't do you any favors.


Once your audience is nodding their heads because they understand you within an ecosystem, then you can move on to selling about how greenfield and whitespace different you are.  Now you can explain why the barrier is high to duplicate what you've invented, or why your innovation is better, faster, cheaper, and about to change the world.  Get in with a simple comparison.  Then you can wow them with your grandiose vision and tell them of your engineering marvel.

Why Positioning Trumps Branding in High-Tech

by John Volkmann

Technology companies are admittedly some of the least marketing-oriented companies in the business world today.  Marketing is often an afterthought, to be considered only after the product is defined, the sales force has been staffed, and management has concluded “it’s time to show we can scale.”  Most entrepreneurs are not marketing experts, do not profess to be, and have learned what they know of marketing from prior experience or from well-intended but poorly worded advice from others.

If you've ever heard an entrepreneur tell you that marketing is identical to PR or "getting the word out," you've encountered this phenomenon up close.

As a result, marketing vocabulary can take on a life of its own, depending on the company, leadership team and or business they are trying to build.  It doesn’t help that much of today’s traditional wisdom in marketing has been developed for consumer packaged goods (CPG) like soda, beer and other ‘impulse’ purchases.   Applying popular marketing concepts to high-tech markets can be simultaneously humorous and dangerous.

"Brand" is a great example. Is the discipline of branding important in high-tech?  Yes.  Is it as important in high-tech as it is in consumer products?  Probably not … unless your high-tech product is more of an impulse purchase, where customer switching costs are low, and loyalty can be built on the same ethereal brand cues used to build loyalty for Pepsi and Budweiser.   Otherwise, focusing on branding at the expense of other, more important marketing decisions can be distracting or even dangerous.

At SeriesC, we have spent some time thinking about a new definition of branding for high-tech markets, specifically as it relates to positioning.

yinyangBranding and positioning are the “yin and yang” of marketing strategy in high-tech.  They are complementary, interdependent and - as a result - difficult to separate.

Positioning is rationalIt’s the expression of a company's strategy in precise phrases that convey competitive differentiation,  role and relevance.

Branding is emotional.  It is the expression of a company in tonality, color, design,    imagery and illustrations.

In high-tech, positioning is often more important than branding.

Why?  Because high-tech companies are often asking prospects and partners to make a commitment to something less than what today’s offering delivers.  Prospects are asked to buy into an upgrade stream, a continuum of capability, a solution only foreshadowed by today’s product and value proposition.  It’s risky and complicated.  If you are an IT decision-maker, you can lose your job if you choose wrong.  If you are a consumer, you may have blown one of the more expensive decisions of the year.   There’s safety in numbers.

Because of this, tech purchasers often seek numerous peer-level references before making a purchase decision.  The currency of these references is almost by definition the rational articulation of the company and its products.  The role you aspire to fill and your increasing relevance in the future.  Communicating these ideas is one of the most important jobs of the marketing team.  And the words are of superordinate importance.

So, is brand in high-tech unimportant?  Not at all.  Branding is an exploration of choices that are supportive of the positioning decision.  You still need to choose language, tonality, colors and images.  There’s a lot to decide.  Just try not to place undue emphasis on these as, in the long run, they are not likely to be as important as your precise articulation of your market position.