Purpose and Positioning: When B2B Brands Overreach

Purpose and Positioning: When B2B Brands Overreach – The Fundamental Group

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Purpose Purpose Purpose. For the past 5 years, it’s been the buzzword for management types, brand guru’s, HR leaders, enlightened CEO’s. It was an easy way to get a biz book published or a webinar filled. Understanding and executing on your Purpose can sharpen communications, energize your employees, and drive better performance. It’s meaningful and basic and no business worth a damn should be without it. It’s why you exist and alludes to the positive impact you’ll have on society and your customer’s lives. It can even help you to get sober. Unfortunately, when an important concept becomes marketing fodder, authenticity gets mugged, and the concept suffers acute bloviation. All too often, Purpose loses its purpose.

Everything's Not Awesome

Not satisfied with what they really do or deliver, many companies decide that their Purpose must be nothing short of awesome, so that when the Founder stands in front of a sold-out conference, the audience will swoon at the slide holding their company’s Purpose statement. Instead, it can incite ridicule and outrage because the brand has committed the cardinal sin of overreach.

One infamous example was WeWork’s declaring their purpose was to “Elevate the world’s consciousness.” Really? Don’t you rent office spaces and such? How did that translate into elevating consciousness? We’ve worked in some amazing offices, but we don’t believe it helped us reach transcendence. Ever. Even with free wifi and a never-empty bowl of cheddar goldfish. And we are two very transcendent guys.


“We’ve worked in some amazing offices, but we don’t believe it helped us reach transcendence. Ever. Even with free wifi and a never-empty bowl of cheddar goldfish.”

There are lots of examples of Brand Overreach, particularly in the B2B world. It sometimes reveals itself in the more tactical positioning for brands, instead of the larger purpose. Turns out identifying the value proposition your brand delivers for buyers and decision makers can be difficult. It requires digging deep and seeing the world through their eyes, rather than through the eyes of your company or bottom line. When B2B companies can’t clearly articulate the value they deliver for buyers, they have a tendency to leapfrog to the value they create for people other than the buyer, and that’s a mistake. 

For example, one of our clients offers software that enables fast integrations with various email and calendar apps. They were focusing a lot of their messaging on making things easier and faster for developers, which they knew developers would love. And while that was true, it wasn’t what drove the purchase decision. VP’s of Product, who were the decision makers, certainly weren’t OPPOSED to making things easier on their developers, but making things easier for developers didn’t necessarily drive better results for the company. If it did, they would just give each developer one of those transcendent WeWork offices and staff them with concierges and foot masseuses. Easier life for developers didn’t solve any problems for the buyer. The real reason those VP’s needed the software was to allow developers to focus their energy on the bigger, juicier, more challenging product features. When developers weren’t bogged down doing email integrations, they could concentrate on the features that would differentiate their product and make their customers happy. Delivering on the big features was what the buyer wanted. Having happier developers was a secondary benefit, not the reason to purchase.  

Reaching Beyond Your Customer

An even more common manifestation of Brand Overreach is the “Customer’s Customer” positioning. In this scenario, the message focuses not on the buyer or their team, but instead on the buyer’s customers. This is common in the healthcare sector. Software companies that serve this industry will leapfrog their buyers’ needs to talk about how they are making patients healtheir. Talk about overreach. A company that makes billing software for the medical industry doesn’t heal patients. They don’t get well because doctors bill more accurately and quickly. When a brand makes this kind of claim, they look ridiculous.

“A company that makes billing software for the medical industry doesn’t heal patients. They don’t get well because doctors bill more accurately and quickly. When a brand makes this kind of claim, they look ridiculous.”

You're Not Batman

We sometimes refer to this as Batman Syndrome. Marketers are so invested in making their brands important they try to take credit for being the hero even if they aren’t. B2B brands want to be Batman, the hero that gets the spotlight and adoration. The truth is, B2B brands are Alfred. They are the behind-the-scenes helper who lets Batman be Batman. Your customer is Batman. Make Batman be great. Don’t position in a way that steals their thunder. Your purpose and positioning should tell Batman how much better he’ll be with you toiling away, in obscurity down in the Bat Cave. 


Start With Your Decision Maker

B2B businesses have to prioritize THEIR BUYERS FIRST when thinking about their Purpose and Positioning. How does your product positively impact your buyer’s life? Until you can show how your product helps them DIRECTLY – how it impacts their world for the better –  all the marketing about how you help their customers won’t get your foot in the door and will not close a deal. 

The reality is buyers are time-pressed and have lots of competing priorities. They get tens or even hundreds of vendors hitting them up every month with some sort of B2B solution. You’ve got one shot to pique their curiosity and capture their attention. At the end of the day, they want to be successful. You’ve got to appeal to their selfish interests first. Your Purpose can encompass the great big world of your buyer and the category they seek to impact, but make sure it applies to their betterment above all else.

When you bypass your buyer and overreach, you’re not just undermining results, you’re damaging your brand. If your billing software tries to take credit for healing a doctor’s patients, that Doc’s ego will be outraged. They will resent you and dismiss you and remember that you tried to steal their thunder for a LONG TIME.  An overblown purpose or position is stuffed with hubris and claxoning horns. It’s ripe for cynicism and ridicule. It doesn’t inspire your employees because they have highly developed bullshit detectors. It’s so inauthentic and so marketing-speaky that it alienates them. They’re embarrassed by it, and it turns them off to the possibility of a meaningful purpose in the future. 

So, as we move forward, let’s be careful out there. Have a meaningful process to discover and communicate your Purpose. And stop convincing yourself it has to be awesome. It just has to be human.

What’s the most egregious Brand Overreach you’ve seen? Let us know in the comments!

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