Episode’s topic: How to Revamp your Bland B2B Messaging
In this episode, host Shahin Hoda chats with Peep Laja, CEO of Wynter and CXL about how B2B Marketers can revamp their messaging to compete in today's highly competitive environment where "everyone" is selling "everything."
Peep highlights the differences between differentiation and distinctiveness. He advises B2B marketers to focus on their brands rather than product features or services. Peep also talks about positioning and why awareness can be more important than differentiation.
This episode’s guest:
Peep Laja, is the founder and CEO of CXL, Speero & Wynter. At CXL, he has been enabling marketers to improve their skills to become the absolute top 1% in their industry. His second venture Speero, helps mid-to-large scale enterprises optimise their customer experience. Peep’s third venture Wynter, has been an innovator in the B2B marketing space focusing on improving product messaging.
Connect with him on LinkedIn
Conversation segments on this episode:
- [01:50] Defining Differentiation – How do you stand out from all the competitors?
- [02:21] Why is the unique selling proposition outdated?
- [03:09] Differentiating on one thing is technically possible but practically not.
- [04:32] The strategy of owning an attribute in customers' mind.
- [07:23] Forget about differentiation, you have got to be visually distinctive.
- [11:17] Understand your identity first, to come up with differentiation and distinctiveness.
- [13:41] Focus on brand – for long term differentiation.
- [20:50] Using your story as a strategy to compete.
- [22:51] Stop competing in features and look at competitors to evaluate your strength.
- [23:15] Awareness is more critical than differentiation.
- [25:28] One advice for B2B marketers from Peep.
Resources mentioned on this episode:
- About Wynter
- About CXL
- About xGrowth
- 7 Powers – Book recommended by Peep
- The Greatest Sales Deck I've Ever Seen
- The B2B institute research
- Who not How – Book recommended by Peep
- Dave Gerhart – Influencer followed by Peep
- Byron Sharp – Influencer quoted by Shahin in the podcast.
- Andy Raskin – Influencer quoted by Shahin and Peep in the podcast
- Jason Lemkin – Influencer named by Peep in the podcast
- Ben Horowitz – Influencer followed by Peep
About the Growth Colony Podcast
On this podcast, you'll be hearing from B2B founders, CMOs, marketing & sales leaders about their successes, failures, what is working for them today in the B2B marketing world and everything in between.
Get in touch!
We would love to get your questions, ideas and feedback about Growth Colony, email firstname.lastname@example.org
Episode Full Transcript:
[00:16] Shahin Hoda Hello, everyone. Welcome to another episode. I'm Shahin Hoda with xGrowth, and today I'm talking to Peep Laja, Founder and CEO at CXL, Speero, and Wynter, about how B2B brands and companies can break out of the bland messaging and branding cycle and truly distinguish themselves in the eyes of their customers and prospects. Now, this is a pretty special episode for me, because Pep has a tremendous amount of experience when it comes to creating companies and brands that really stand out.
[00:42] Shahin Hoda I mean, he's done this multiple times for his own companies. When you look at CXL, for example, you think of the best destination for marketers to upscale. Or when you look at his agency, it's known as one of the best conversion, optimisations, and now customer experience optimisation agencies out there. And more recently, with Wynter, he's focusing on messaging optimisation for B2B companies. Now, not only has he had all this experience, but he's also been a mentor to me early on when he probably didn't even know it himself. And later on when we started working together, and I've learned a great deal of things from him. So this is a super special episode. Let's dive in. Pep, thanks for joining us.
[01:24] Peep Laja Oh, thank you so much. Thank you for the kind words.
[01:27] Shahin Hoda That's my pleasure. It's my pleasure. It's great to have you over here. Let's get started with differentiation. Let's first of all, I'd love to define differentiation and talk about what you know, I feel like there are a lot of definitions out there. When you're thinking of different differentiation. How do you define?
[01:47] Peep Laja Well, I have a very simple definition. It is how you stand out from the noise. And by noise, I mean, other companies in your category, how you stand out from all other options and giving people a reason to choose you over all these other businesses that you're competing with.
[02:05] Shahin Hoda Okay. All right. So that's interesting because let me ask you this question, you hate the term unique selling proposition?
[02:168] Peep Laja I don't hate it. I just think it's outdated. Because, you know, if it goes back to the roots, where does the USP originate from, and it's basically made for TV advertising in the 1940s in the United States. And back then, there was so little competition, that by saying my toothpaste is, you know, whitens your teeth, and that's your unique selling proposition right there. And nobody else, you know, everybody else was like cavities or fresh breath, and they all have their unique thing. Now, every single toothpaste is whitening, you know. And, you know, fixes the cavities and breath, and everybody does everything. So, the world has dramatically changed. You cannot own a single idea. And just we do that nobody else does that, that's gone.
[03:03] Shahin Hoda Right. So that's why you don't think that people should focus on unique value propositions anymore.
[03:09] Peep Laja It's just really not doable. You can't have a single statement that will set you apart. I mean, it's technically possible, but practically not, you know. In theory, could be like Wynter for now actually has a unique selling proposition because we literally have no other company right now, that does this because it's so new, it's innovative. However, fast forward two years from now, I'm sure we'll have multiple competitors doing the exact same thing. And then me saying that we do this, it's not unique anymore. So we need other things.
[03:42] Shahin Hoda So what do you think companies should focus on? I mean, if, I mean, we've been ingrained, the US fee model has been ingrained in the business school and the way people think and marketers, even salespeople or business owners. So what is the alternative? What are you suggesting, as an alternative?
[04:02] Peep Laja I think it's just gotten more complicated. You just need more things now, like, you cannot differentiate or on a single thing. So you're thinking it could be, I mean, there are many ways to differentiate and we can go, you know, overall of these options that are out there. It's harder to compete on a single attribute. It's like of course, with positioning is not real, it happens in the mind of the customer. So you can own an attribute in the customers' mind while others think also doing that. So an example of that is like this web hosting company called WP Engine. So WordPress hosting company. So now they're a giant company in ginormous billions.
[04:47] Peep Laja So when this started maybe 10 years ago or something, then they say, oh, it's fast WordPress hosting. It's super fast. It's like, I can't believe how fast it is. And people were like, oh, yeah, great. Then they started signing up and that was they own that attribute. If you want fast hosting, it's WP Engine. Today, obviously, there are like 10s of WordPress hosting companies competing on speed. And I don't even know if factually WP Engine is the fastest. It might not be. Maybe it's like, you know, the top 10. But they own that attribute in the mind of the customer. So that's one of those things like, they were the first position in the mind of the customer. So that's called attribute leadership type of differentiation.
[05:28] Peep Laja So that is still possible. However, now, if you go up against if you're in the same web hosting category, go up against WP Engine, you cannot compete in speed, it's taken, it's gone. So, yes, you need feature parity, you also need to be fast, and possibly actually, in reality, faster, but you need to compete with something else, you know. There needs to be another dimension to you. Because awareness that you exist is everything because it's the trusted choice, the safe choice, all that stuff. And if I already have, let's say, I'm on WP Engine right now, and you say, hey, switch over, it's fast, I already have one of those. I don't need it, you know. And so I also am not looking for you.
[06:13] Peep Laja So I will never find out that you even exist. And if you come across, if your message is the same as your category leaders messaging, you will never get anywhere. Like if you build a new MailChimp in email marketing. And you do oh, we send beautiful newsletters, you know, marketing automation, and you know, oh, our you have all those things, you know.
[06:39] Peep Laja Any email marketing tool does those things. So there's no reason for me to choose you. Because I already have something that I know I trust. Switching is, you know, inconvenient. So if you have a need for something, a single parameter that you can compete on, go for it. But it's just I'm saying it's just too hard. The bunch of stuff that's going on that you need to take into account.
[07:04] Shahin Hoda Interesting. What are your thoughts about, I mean, there's another school of thought, right, that talks about distinctiveness and they talk about hey, it's not, forget about differentiation? And that's, you know, probably Byron Sharp talks about this quite a bit.
[07:21] Peep Laja Yeah.
[07:22] Shahin Hoda And they talk about, hey, forget about differentiation. You have to be distinctive. What are your thoughts on that?
[07:29] Peep Laja Totally? Well, his argument stems from the same thing that he's saying basically, it's not impossible, sorry, it's not possible to differentiate anymore. That's what he's saying. So instead, you got to be distinctive. So you know, DHL owns the colour orange, and like, there are certain things. So I think he's on point that, yes, you definitely don't want to look like exactly everybody else. Because like, we have this zeitgeist like all SaaS sites look the same.
[08:04] Shahin Hoda They're blue. And yeah.
[08:05] Peep Laja And the doodles were the cartoon guys. And like, the Intercom is one of those, you know. Like, they have this, there's this trend. I don't know how these trends start. But there's a zeitgeist. And if you look like anybody else, you're not visually distinct. And also if you're not, you know, it's visual distinctiveness. And there's also then messaging. So the world that we live in actually has a massive sameness problem. And that is why distinctiveness is so important. So the way I define sameness is that it's the combined effect of companies being too similar in their offers, like we do marketing automation, in their branding that looked like any other website, and also indistinct in their communication, because it's all like vanilla, too afraid to take a stance, they always use the corporate polite language.
[08:58] Peep Laja I'm not saying you have to be impolite, but like if you just sound like everybody else, again, like I will not notice you. Because if you were a category leader, you don't care about differentiation at all. Amazon, does Amazon say what they are and like, explain, don't care. Shopify doesn't need to care. MailChimp doesn't need to care about it at all. It's all this all in one platform. You know, like, there's no like, what is they even about, but the fact that we know they exist is everything. Or Salesforce, the Salesforce, like what kind of a CRM is it? I don't know. It's like everything CRM, right?
[09:34] Peep Laja And so if I'm a challenger brand, and challenger brands need differentiation. Now I need to explain how I am different from the category leader like the reason to choose me, you know. An obvious choice, some for some reason, like, just be cheaper, just like them but cheaper. And that doesn't go anywhere. It's like a short term thing. I mean, sure, you should be a little bit cheaper, potentially, but it's not a sustainable competitive advantage unless you actually do have some sort of structural advantage.
[10:06] Peep Laja But if others are able to offer it at the same price or lower, I mean, it's insanity to compete on price, and then down the line, your expenses start to go up as you hire more staff. And if you start getting bigger, and then you quickly realise it's just not sustainable, you need to increase prices to scale your business. So I wouldn't recommend competing on price and lists, you can really cut the price compared to the, you know, traditional options somehow.
[10:33] Shahin Hoda Okay. So I think that's a good dovetail talk about, where do I start? I mean, you know, I would, I would imagine a lot of people who are listening are not from some of those category leaders to Salesforce, you know, all that. So, where should I start if I want to really, especially in the B2B space, just because you said that the corporate veil and you know, that politeness and all that stuff, dull everything in that space? Where should I start? Where is, you know, I could be a business owner, I could be head of marketing, it could be directors, CMO, where should I start with distinctiveness and differentiation?
[11:13] Peep Laja Right? Well, I think a good starting point is that first of all, you need to understand your identity. Like what am I, what are we really about? That helps you there's like a guide to making decisions. And then you also have to realise, what are the things you can practically compete on and how you can be actually different? So you need to know how, what is Salesforce about whatever category, and if your email marketing, what is MailChimp about? And, and let's say top two, three in your category. So you map out what are they competing in? Which attributes they own in the mind of the customer? Once you've mapped out like, what are they doing? And what do they look like, and how do they speak, you will now know like, that's not what we're gonna do.
[11:59] Peep Laja And then you also have to realise that if you're a software company, you cannot compete on features like that you have these features that others don't. Because that is a, it might be a transient advantage, meaning that for a short period of time. But anything you do that is successful, they will copy it, or say we're looking for agencies, or we offer this cool new service that nobody offers. Well, if people were the market wanted, everybody would offer it, they're like, it cannot be that we do CRO or we do SEO, you know, like if I would start a new SEO agency now and I would say we do SEO, I'd get laughed out of the room. Like why would anybody like they already have an SEO company like there are million?
[12:38] Peep Laja So you cannot be by features or like your service offering is not what you do unless you're an innovator. That is the only way like, as I mentioned earlier the Wynter, nobody else does what we do. We're kind of an innovator for now. But the copycats will be coming. So it's only a matter of time. So it's a transient advantage that we have. So if you understand that features are not what you can compete on, then like what is it and small subtle differences, not enough. So if it's some people say, oh, we're also an AV testing tool, but you know, with us, you can set up ABCD tests, you can do that with any other tool also, like if you go along with that, I don't know if they care about it, though, where you might have some like, oh, in our WYSIWYG editor, we have this other cool thing.
[13:29] Peep Laja They're like, this is like small subtle details that most people don't care about like you can't differentiate on that. And so what can you differentiate on? So I think there is the long term the best way is your brand. And your brand stands for a set of values. You stand for something, and you know a brand is not who you say you are, a brand is what they say you are. So the real question to answer is like, what does it say about the buyer? When they buy me? Like who am I? What does it say about me if I drive a Range Rover, you know? Well, I mean, probably got money. Maybe I like adventure. Maybe I'm posh, maybe I'm self-important. I don't like there might be like this. We're making these assumptions, right? Or if I buy Patagonia clothing, like what does it say about me? I mean, I might be a VC bro with my Patagonia vest.
[14:28] Peep Laja But it also might mean that I believe in sustainability. I care about the world. I hate Trump in all these things. Whereas some other brands might have the opposite meaning. So it's like a self-identity thing. And in B2B that's increasingly true as well. So like in email marketing, let's look at ConvertKit. ConvertKit, in many ways, looks to me as a product and I've signed up then used it then deleted my account because I was disappointed with the feature set, yet they're very successful growing like crazy because they have an appealing brand identity messaging therefore creators. So if you identify with that, and I'm a creator and you know.
[15:10] Peep Laja And they probably want a feature set level, also they understand that demographic I was kind of like turned off by, I was underwhelmed to say, and I guess I'm not a creator. I mean great shit, but I'm not like that type of person, whatever they say. And so the brand is like a set of values. So like, a good example is, in the United States, there's this coffee company called Black Rifle Coffee. They sell coffee beans. Coffee beans are a commodity. Everybody sells coffee beans. And competition is super tough, right? Because like you can say, ah, like it's freshly roasted well, so is everybody else. We like, ship it out the same day as we roasted. Many companies say that, but like 20-30 companies do that. So there's a kind of compete and freshness everybody is the freshest.
[16:00] Peep Laja But they say well, we're pro-gun and pro-military and you know, all those things. We serve people who love America, which I think it's a closet racist hint. To certain white men are very, you know, appealing, find that messaging appealing and buy their coffee beans, you know. Not because the beans are any better. Beans are just a show, they buy the value, who am I? I love American guns, I buy this coffee, you know. So that's what you want to think about. And your competition, they can copy anything overnight, like your features, whatever you do, your processes, not your brand. Cannot compete with your brand.
[16:40] Peep Laja There are of course other modes that are there that, you know, network effects. And then you know, like all kinds of, there's a really great book called Seven Powers, which are like the seven types of modes you can have. Amazing, highly recommend that one. So what let's talk about then some of them so once you've figured out your brand and competing brands. So there's being the first to do something where the original, like real thing Coca Cola, original first to market, right? So even if I buy a cheaper cola or whatever, my local Cola, I know it's not the original, you know.
[17:12] Peep Laja So that the idea of original goes a long way. Of course, I don't know, in B2B SaaS, which since it's less traditional. It's more future forward-facing, like, I don't know if their original CRM. Like do you care about probably not, probably don't care about that? So you need to also calculate, like, what makes sense? You know, like, some companies do compete for heritage, or we've been having this vineyard for, you know, five generations and my grandpa, you can have a great story. But again, in tech, heritage, I don't know probably not as much as appealing.
[00:16] Shahin Hoda Not as much appealing, yeah. It probably even, like, you know, it is a bit negative in tech.
[17:55] Peep Laja It could be
[17:56] Shahin Hoda It could be like old school.
[17:58] Peep Laja If we look at like, yeah, like Drift, you know, like, whether to do like, what kind of conversation marketing and bots like form sucks, forms are old you know, and now they come in, of course, the automated support bots is even worse than forms. But hey, it's been great, you know,
[18:14] Shahin Hoda But it's new, it's the new thing, right?
[8:17] Peep Laja It's the new thing. Although there is the classic hype cycle, I think. Oh, yes, bots, live chatbots. Everybody's on chatbot conferences, and then people are slowly starting to realise they're like pieces of shit. We were over-promised. Its kind of like, the segway was supposed to revolutionise transportation, and then was like, what the fuck is this thing? We don't want this thing.
[18:38] Shahin Hoda That didn't happen.
[18:40] Peep Laja Yeah, it didn't happen.
[18:40] Shahin Hoda But you know, you talk about heritage, and you touched on the story, right? You know, in today's when you sent. I woke up and read your newsletter this morning, and you had a quote from Ben Horowitz there, where he talked about, I'm paraphrasing here, but your story is to your advantage or something like that.
[18:58] Peep Laja It's your strategy.
[18:59] Shahin Hoda Your strategy. So what do you think he means by the story in that quote, because he's probably not talking about heritage, like what we talked about here? No, what do you think he's referring to when he talks about the story?
[19:10] Peep Laja Yeah, I can't really speak to what he exactly meant there. But the way I understand it, and the interpretation is that, and this is more about strategy, and less about the story, is that the drift is a great example here. It was like, you know, forms are just bad. And we have a better way to handle this because it's also what is happening that the world is real-time. We live in a real-time environment, like text messages, instant chat. You know, people are at conferences, they're all on their phones, and you know, doing whatever, whatever.
[19:43] Peep Laja And so the idea that you send, fill out a form and now wait for 24 hours for a response that time is gone. And now there's a new idea, there's a new way the world is changed, and to be irrelevant, and competitive. In this new world, you need to adjust to this, you know, and so that's why you need Drift. And that is the story. And the strategy is that there's a change with the story and that there's a change that has already happened. We're about to happen. Impending to dooms upon you unless you change and adapt, and you sell that story. So that's how I interpret it.
[20:26] Shahin Hoda That's interesting. I think there's a really good article on Medium the, I think it's titled The Best Sales Pitch Ever Saw.
[20:33] Peep Laja Oh Yeah, Andy Raskin, yeah,
[20:34] Shahin Hoda Yeah. Have you seen that?
[20:36] Peep Laja Yeah, I love all of his stuff.
[20:38] Shahin Hoda He talks about that, right? Talking about the big change that is coming and why you need to adapt to it.
[20:48] Peep Laja Exactly. Because like, most marketers, they lead with pain. So like, on my website is like, ah, like, you're losing money every single day, or like, or they do the, we deliver leads 30% faster, you know, like, there's like, one, like, we're better because of this feature. And that makes people sceptical or resistant. And they don't want to be sold. However, when you say there's a change happening, and then you just need to adapt to it. And then they're more likely to they're more receptive to the message.
[21:21] Peep Laja And then you're not competing against the same old features when you do the narrative design. But you're competing on a story or a narrative, you have a point of view that isn't the same as category creation. Most companies can't do category creation, because you know, requires millions of dollars. But we can all whip up a story. And what is this change that has happened? And multiple companies can use the same change, right? Like it's war or subscription economy in our agency Speero, customer experience agency, we use the story of the retention economy.
[22:02] Peep Laja If you look at what's all happening is like VCs value companies on retention, and then like, if you have higher retention, get a better valuation, and like, customers are not in the business, customers to the focus on the short term gain, actually lose out versus who has a long term view, and so on. So you need to adapt to this retention economy that we're already in. And so multiple companies can use the same story, and then you just explain the context of how, what you offer, where it fits in. So that's how a story is your strategy, and you can definitely compete, you know, on the story.
[22:38] Shahin Hoda Yeah, I love it. Okay. All right. Look, now if our listeners could only take one thing from listening to this episode, what do you think that should be?
[22:49] Peep Laja The main thing is like, stop competing in features, look at the category leaders, the top three biggest companies in your category. What are they saying? And like are you obviously clearly different? Is there a reason to choose you? And the reason can be that you're more niche, which is also fine, because like you can expand out later, you know, dominate a niche first. And in the end, I would also want to say that awareness is more important than differentiation. So over the years, invest in your brand, and your awareness. The fact that people know that you exist, is everything.
[23:27] Shahin Hoda That's such good advice. And I feel like we lose track of that, especially in some of the marketing spaces where we're very focused on demand gen, we're very focused with an acquisition, we're very focused with tactics. And we're like, oh, I found this feature on LinkedIn that I can just get customers this quickly, or I found this hack here, where brand kind of gets pushed out. And I'm not saying they're not important to definitely important, but you know, it's
[23:55] Peep Laja Sure, we need a balance between the short and the long, you know, like, we need to short to immediately feed ourselves, and the long to also keep our, you know, feeding ourselves 10 years down the line. And there's been some really great research that's been done on this by...
[24:13] Shahin Hoda B2B Institute.Yeah, Les Binet.
[24:21] Peep Laja Yeah. They're saying for most companies, you want to put 60% of your money in brand advertising, like long and 40% in the direct response, or the performance marketing, and then obviously, it varies based on the stage that you're at, and all that stuff, but like 60/40
[24:40] Shahin Hoda Yeah, I mean, for yeah, I think for B2B, they're saying I mean, if we're gonna get really specific about it, I think it's 48 and like 52 ratios. But you're right like the brand ratio is a lot larger, and again, you go different categories and changes. Now, before we wrap up, I have a couple more questions that I want to ask you short answers. Let's go through them. Okay. So what is one resource, it could be a book, blog, podcast, a talk, whatever it is that fundamentally change the way that you work or live.
[25:12] Peep Laja Oh most recently, this last year I read, Who, Not, How the book, and it dramatically changed my paradigm of how I think and operate. I was always struggling with scaling myself. Not anymore.
[00:16] Shahin Hoda Okay. All right. Thanks for that. Question number two, if you could give one advice to B2B marketers will it be? Just one advice.
[25:34] Peep Laja Differentiate. All right.
[25:36] Shahin Hoda Done. Number three, what are the influencers that you follow in the marketing space or in general in the sales and marketing or growth space?
[25:46] Peep Laja Yeah, I don't think I have any creative names here. You know, Andy Raskin, we talked about him for messaging, follow him for B2B SaaS stuff, and Jason Lemkin. But you know, so does the whole world. I guess I've checked out what Dave Gerhart is up to. Yeah, I guess that's it.
[26:03] Shahin Hoda Sounds good. That's awesome. I mean, you are, you're quite heavily involved in the B2B space. I know some of the stuff that you do is in B2C, but when it comes to B2B, whether it's in your, you know, your own businesses, or some of the stuff that your companies are offering, what is something that excites you quite a lot these days about B2B?
[26:22] Peep Laja What excites me personally about B2B is message testing. So you know, like, we do all kinds of data, different stuff, and we have analytics and session replays, and you know, whatever, whatever. But the messaging that we put out there to try to attract our customer, we're not really testing it. We just put it out there and then hope for the best. So I'm really excited to just make message testing part of you know, a normal type of analytics work any marketer is doing.
[26:51] Shahin Hoda Yeah, and we'll definitely because Wynter is, as I told you, before, we kind of hit record, I'm definitely really looking forward to testing it. And we'll definitely leave a link to it in the show notes for people to check it out. Because it sounds awesome. I can't wait to give it a try. But thanks so much for joining us, man. I really appreciate it.
[27:12] Peep Laja Thank you for inviting me it was a good time
[27:15] Shahin Hoda Same over here.