My startup is growing. We need some really simple collaboration tools for tracking projects, logging bugs, and sharing documents. I started to look at some of the products in this space like 37Signal’s Basecamp, Box.net, etc. The positioning of these products struck me. Here are a few products I checked out and the word associations I quickly formed for each:
- 37 Signals Basecamp: Simplicity
- Box.net: SharePoint sucks
- FogBuz: Great for Geeks
Without ever using Basecamp or FogBuz I developed a mental picture of these products. For Box.net all I know about their product is that they think SharePoint is a crappy product. That tells me absolutely nothing about their product. In fact, Box.net has done a phenomenal job of telling the world that SharePoint sucks – especially if you live in the SF Bay Area and travel on 101.
This is classic negative advertising – politicians have mastered it. For companies this hard hitting negative advertising is a poor way of communicating. It doesn’t tell the consumer anything about the product.
If you are going to take some shots at your competitor (which is fair) it also needs communicate your value to the consumer. Here are some recent clever marketing tactics that did both.
Netflix: “No Late Fees”
They are clearly going after Blockbuster but don’t have to explicitly mention it. If I explained the Netflix product to a friend I would say something like “they deliver movies by mail and I never have to worry about late fees like I did with Blockbuster.” They reenforce one of their core differentiators in contrast to their competitor.
Apple: “I am a Mac”
This ad campaign clearly took some shots at Windows but at the same time establishes the Mac as a fast, no-virus, easy-to-use alternative to Windows. The clever part of this ad is that they don’t slam Windows in a mean spirited kind of way, yet they also successfully tell you you why the Mac is better.
Salesforce.com: “No Software”
As a pay-as-you-go web-hosted service the “No Software” slogan squarely takes aim at the license fee client-server based application vendors like Oracle, Siebel (now Oracle), and SAP. Back in 2000 delivering enterprise software via the web as a monthly service was novel – now not so much – and the “No Software” made that point clear without using words like “application hosted software.”
Disclosures: I have never worked for Microsoft. I am not an investor in any private software collaboration company.