"Not Boring" Isn't a POV and the Issues with "Pick an Enemy" Positioning
Updated: Mar 10
And how to actually not be boring – in marketing and in life.
Table of Contents:
How to actually not be boring – in marketing and in life
The push for less boring marketing within B2B has produced a breed of companies who have decided to make “not boring” their entire personality.
This “not boring” stance is an indirect byproduct of the “pick an enemy” positioning tactic.
This is a lazy and unsustainable, and therefore dangerous, one for B2B SaaS. I’ll explain why below.
To clarify, I’m speaking specifically to messaging and copy, not content. There are a handful talented B2B SaaS content creators who speak to boringness in B2B but actually do something about it.
But first, some context.
I have both SaaS and non-tech B2B clients. (That’s right, SaaS, I'm sorry to tell you that you don’t own B2B. You’re actually the rookies here that just realized that you’re marketing to humans. Few other B2B industries need that sad reminder.)
I read through dozens of B2B websites every month to find clients’ positioning and messaging and to learn the industry.
This is the only time anyone should ever be looking at the competition. If your eyes are on the competition, it means they’re not on your customers.
The biggest culprits of what I’ll refer to as “not X” positioning from now on, are fintech SaaS, recruiting, and marketing agencies.
Here are some real-life examples:
No more dirty work (i.e. not tedious)
Spend management software done right (i.e. not done wrong?)
Banking basics that just work (i.e. not broken)
No bullsh*t – just delivery (i.e. I actually have no idea)
…marketing wisdom you can actually use (i.e. not fluff)
The “Uber of X” is actually included in this group by way of positioning one’s self in relation to something else and not existing in one’s own right.
Why "not boring" isn't a POV
“Boring” is subjective and unclear. Therefore, positioning yourself as “not boring” means you’re just as subjective and unclear.
The purpose of one’s POV and positioning is to plant a stake deeply in solid ground. “Not boring” is an attempt to plant a stake in a mudslide.
More importantly, the issue with corporate-ness isn’t stiffness.
It's lack of clarity and lack of specificity. (Until I publish my series titled In Defense of Corporate Jargon, you can read more about the issues with the misguided battle against corporate jargon in this post and this post.)
In short, “not boring-ers” are just as guilty as the companies they claim to be against.
Why "not X" positioning in general doesn't work
For starters, it's lazy. You’re leaning on something else or another company to handle your positioning.
"Instead of telling you what we do, we're going to force you to make a connection in your mind."
You think you’re doing them a favor but it’s really just a guise for indolence and an inability to clearly state the value you provide.
Second, fighting against something isn’t sustainable.
1. Your enemy can cease to exist. When you center your positioning against something else, you’re requiring that thing to remain the same. You have no control over this.
The same thing applies if your positioning is centered around you being the only one who does something.
Give it six months and the competition or a bootstrapped startup with no bureaucratic barriers or VC overlords to please will roll out something even better.
2. Fighting is exhausting. You’ll tire yourself out for the real war. Many of you will win the brand awareness battle with your "pick an enemy" positioning. But you won’t realize you’ve been victorious.
You’ll then enter the brand relevance war. Except you’ll continue to blame stalled growth on people not knowing you exist.
People know you exist. They just don’t care.
You refuse to give them a reason to.
You refuse to do the uncomfortable work of getting clear on what you do, who you do it for, and who you don’t do it for. You continue to think your TAM for your niche software is everyone with a pulse over the age of 25.
You’ll have an “identity crisis.” Then you’ll reposition yourself with a stance and messaging that your CEO and investors love (fist pump).
Then you’ll go through this sisyphean cycle again. Unlike Sisyphus, however, your company may very well die.
Because you got too tired fighting a battle you had already won because you wouldn't look the real enemy – or your audience – in the eye.
Companies, of any age, if you cannot:
1. Establish yourself so that you exist in your own right, not in relation to something else
2. Clearly explain what you do and for whom with your messaging and copy in a clear, engaging, and relevant to your target audience
You will not make it.
How to actually not be boring – in marketing and in life
What’s interesting is that so many B2B companies and marketers picking a fight with "boring" want to be like Apple, Nike, etc.
Only, those companies don’t complain. They just show you a better way.
Apple didn’t trash the walkman, they just gave you the iPod. Nike didn’t say New Balances were lame, they just gave you AirMax 90s.
This is the best way to make people problem aware because it automatically shows them how awful the previous way was.
Just like you don’t fight corporate-ness with simplicity but with specificity, you don’t fight boring by complaining about it.
You combat boring – in life and in marketing – by simply being interesting.
You don’t talk about it. You just do it.
Engaging marketing. Conversion copywriting. Growth marketing.
What else would your marketing or copywriting be or do? These are all redundant statements that show just how far marketing has fallen.
And none of these SaaS companies even realize it.
That’s the worst part.
All these new SaaS companies think they’re superior to older, stodgier ones.
Yet they all look and sound the same with their chubby illustrations, way too casual of copy given the complexity and price of their product, and their “I’m a cool mom, not a regular mom” positioning.
I can assure you, these stodgy corporate companies sleep just fine at night.
Why? Because they’re crushing it.
Why? Because they know their customers. They know their customers just want a problem solved (and well), they don’t need to be delighted at every turn.
Do not confuse this with me condoning a poor user experience. I live for clever micro copy. But unless your product works perfectly (many of yours don’t), it’s incredibly annoying.
“Entertaining” marketing is simply one tactic, one of many, that can be effective.
In order for it to be effective, you need rock solid positioning and messaging and a deep understanding of your customers.
Many of you have neither. You’re trying to run before you can walk and you’re going to trip.
What is this focus on “boring” marketing really about?
I have two theories on why B2B marketers focus so much on “boring marketing.”
First, if they keep the focus on “boring marketing” as the cause of their woes, maybe they can distract from the fact that they just spent the last twenty years pouring their budget down the drain.
Secondly, if they keep the focus on "boring marketing," they can deflect from the fact that they’re actually quite boring themselves.
Only boring people get bored. Only boring people and people who aren’t good at what they do.
Say what you want about the Tiger Mom philosophy. But there are certain things that aren’t fun until you’re good at them – marketing is one of them.
“Devaluing your own industry to elevate your brand,” as one of my clients so eloquently put it, isn’t a point of view or positioning. It’s devaluing your own industry to elevate your brand.
No other industry makes fun of itself – jargon or otherwise – quite like B2B SaaS.
Finance, private equity, and real estate have a million times more acronyms. You don’t hear them complain about them ever. Why is that?
Because anything involving money isn’t fun when you’re not making it.
B2B SaaS companies and founders: a lot of you are more concerned with looking cool to people outside your target audience and the opinions of B2B marketers who have no idea who your target audience is than you are with getting or keeping customers.
Your customers don’t care that your marketing is boring. They care that it’s bad.
They care that you can’t clearly state what you do, who your product is a fit for, who your product isn’t a fit for, and how much your product costs.
They care that your content is generic trash written for search engines that you attempted to repurpose on other channels with no regard that different channels have different intent.
They care that you assume you know them, when you actually have no idea who they are.
They care that you make it impossible to buy from you when they’re ready to because they did their own research because contrary to what you may believe, customers run the show now.
B2B marketers and copywriters on the Internet and their opinions never have never mattered (including my own), and they never will.