How to Differentiate Your Startup in a Red Ocean Industry

27 March 2019
Comments Off on How to Differentiate Your Startup in a Red Ocean Industry

The OP is about tech startups, but PG was interested to see the parallels between authors in the indie book business who are working to stand out from the crowd of competitors and startups in the tech businesses.

From ReadWrite:

We all dream of coming up with the next ingenious idea that redefines [an] industry, or creates one from scratch. (PG note: Industry could also mean a genre or sub-genre)

. . . .

[B]lue ocean opportunities, as defined by the popular book Blue Ocean Strategy by professors W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne. In case you aren’t familiar, they posit that there are two types of market opportunities when you create a startup from scratch.

There are red oceans, which are filled with blood from fierce competition. These oceans, representing mature industries in a free market, are incredibly difficult to enter—at least without paying a price, either in more aggressive marketing and advertising costs or by settling for a smaller market share.

Blue oceans, by contrast, are all but free from competition, giving you more flexibility, lower costs, and domination over nearly 100 percent of the market share.

. . . .

The Truth About “Red Oceans”

If we’re following the ocean analogy here, then we need to address the true nature of the competition. These red waters aren’t uniformly infested, nor are they infested in every corner. Instead, there are pockets of blue ocean to be found within those red oceans. In more literal terms, even mature industries, filled to the brim with competition, have untapped market segments and new opportunities for those willing to look.

For example:

Specific product features. The product itself may not change, but you can certainly add something to it. New product features may be enough to differentiate the product, and enter a world free from competition, even within a competitive industry. For example, the fast food industry is currently saturated with burger joints, but McDonald’s has introduced and maintained the Big Mac, a unique burger that can’t be replicated without violating copyright laws; if you want this specific taste, you can’t simply go somewhere else.

Target demographics. You can also target a different demographic, or capitalize on consumer preferences that aren’t being met by the leading competitors. For example, in the past few years, Dollar Shave Club practically took over the subscription razor industry, and giants like Bic and Gillette quickly followed suit. Yet in the razor battle, was able to enter the mature shaving industry and make a name for itself by focusing on the smaller niche of wet shavers who prefer straight razors and safety razors.

Price points. One of the more obvious points of differentiation is price. If all your competitors are selling something around the same price, you could easily capitalize on their existing audience, or target a new audience by offering it cheaper. You could also capitalize on a luxury market by charging more (assuming you can offer a higher-quality product).

. . . .

Peripheral services. It’s also possible to stand apart from the competition by offering services that aren’t available from mainstream competitors. For example, the Home Depot initially stood out as a competitor to traditional lumber yards because they offered a wider variety of products in one location, as well as classes to help DIYers.

. . . .

The Role of Brand Differentiation

The secret to finding success in a mature industry is twofold; first, you need to find a way to differentiate yourself, and second, you need to make that differential element evident to the people you’re trying to persuade. That often means adjusting your brand values, your core products, or your overall marketing strategy for these key benefits:

Competition reduction. Pursuing a path of your own instantly reduces the number and ferocity of competitors you’ll face. Fewer competitors means you won’t have to worry about someone else poaching customers from you, and you’ll probably spend less on marketing and advertising.

Increased visibility. Being different immediately helps you stand out. Capitalizing on what makes you different from the major players in a mature industry is a strategy certain to attract attention naturally, aiding you in your marketing and advertising efforts.

Niche exploration. Exploring a specific niche within the mature industry can help you cultivate and nurture a sub-industry. The more you learn about these customers and the more you cater to them, the more loyal they’ll become—especially if they never had an options like yours before.

. . . .

Define your differentiators (or make new ones). The most obvious answer here is to play up what makes you different in your advertising strategy. A simple message, like “sick of paying high prices for ____?” can be a good start (though you’ll want something a little more original). Are you cheaper? Higher-quality? More convenient? Targeted to someone different? Make this clear in your ads from the get-go, and try to include at least one brand element that encapsulates this, like a company name or tagline.

Leverage untapped channels and outlets. There are invariably marketing and advertising strategies that your main competitors aren’t currently using. That could be because the strategies are new and unfamiliar, or because these channels haven’t historically worked for the industry. But because your company is different, it may be able to leverage these channels more efficiently. For example, if your competitors are all over Facebook but you’re differentiating yourself by targeting a more professional, older audience, you could turn to LinkedIn for your needs.

Exploit key differences. Chances are, what makes you different from your existing competitors is a pain point for their current audience. You can use this to your advantage by portraying these unpleasant experiences or perceptions.

. . . .

Piggyback on existing brand value. As long as you aren’t lying about your competitors, you can mention them directly in your marketing and advertising campaigns, as a way to capitalize on the brand value they’ve already established. You can do this with a side-by-side comparison, or with a catchy tagline, such as “like COMPETITOR, but ________.”

Link to the rest at ReadWrite

Everyone’s a Copywriter. Right?

25 March 2019

From Medium:

There’s a joke in the creative industry that “everyone is a designer”, making light of how infuriating it is to have someone (without a visual background) tell a designer how things should look.

It’s a huge and common problem, caused by a “client is always right” attitude — something we’ve all experienced, and all must endure. There is a point where you can actually see the lights go off in a designer’s eyes as their soul tries to escape their body — and that point is usually the 10th round of amends.

. . . .

Less talked about is the “everyone is a copywriter” problem. Today, we’re going to address that and dissect some of the things your copywriter is thinking when you decide that you’re also a midweight copywriter… but probably won’t say.

. . . .

Grammar “rules” are guidelines, not rules.

This will split the sea like Moses, but let us go ahead and say it anyway.

Much like design, copy is subject to the tastes, preferences and aims of the reader. Every now and then, you (as the copywriter) will come up against a self-professed “grammar nazi”.

It could be your client. It could be your co-worker. Heck, it could even be legal. Sometimes they’re right, sometimes they’re wrong, but most of the time…

They’re an idiot.

You know how the saying goes that the ‘wisest people know that they in fact know nothing’? The same applies to grammar.

Language changes every year and in turn, so does grammar. The only time we ever really hear about it is when something controversial is added to the dictionary, like ‘lol’ or an alternative definition for ‘mug’… but it happens far more often than we realise.

There are often two (correct) spellings of every word and three (correct) executions of a punctuation rule. The rules change due to the rest of the words in a sentence, the academic style it’s written in, the context and even the medium. Therefore, unless someone has been studying the dictionary nightly since they were eight years old… the confidence of a grammar nazi is usually just drastically misplaced naivety, or the outward evidence of some deep-rooted childhood trauma. Whatever way you want to look at it. I’m not putting words in your mouth.

There are two types of grammar users.

The chances are, you (the copywriter) are a descriptivist grammar user and whoever is challenging you is a prescriptivist grammar user.

There is no reasoning with a prescriptivist. They’re lunatics.

Prescriptivist grammar users were not made for creative writing. They were born for legal and medical professions, where the grammar use is so intense that sentences no longer make sense whatsoever. Prescriptivist grammar users often desperately hang on to the “rules” taught to them in school till their dying day, killing any sense of fun or creativity by creating adverts that read like a terms and conditions section.

Descriptivist grammar users are generally the creative ones. They know the rules of grammar, but also how and when to play with them. They don’t particularly care when the rules are violated if it enhances understanding or clarity. As long as the message is communicated clearly (and doesn’t read like it was written by a child, your Mum trying to text, or someone who lurks in the Daily Mail comments section), then it’s good to go.

. . . .

Like authors, creative copywriters have a license to do whatever the hell they want with grammar. They’re well within their rights to spell things wrong if it makes a point, abandon grammar altogether when necessary, and even make the grammar worse for the sake of a catchy line.

. . . .

Apple’s “Think Different” should, by prescriptivist ruling, say: “Think Differently”… Yep, punchy.

If a prescriptivist had gotten hold of “Got Milk?” before it was published, it would read: “… Do You Have Any Milk?”

McDonald’s ‘I’m lovin’ it” should read: “I am loving it.”

. . . .

Each and every day, your copywriter will have to evaluate your full stops (or lack thereof). Your quotation marks (or lack thereof). Tone down someone’s excessive use of the exclamation mark. Prune unnecessary semi-colons from someone trying to look clever. Remove a misplaced ellipsis that has taken the headline from hilarious to cheesy in five seconds flat (or worse, borderline funny to outright creepy).

Everyone has a tone of voice, whether they realise it or not. Accents aren’t limited to the spoken word. Everyone has subtle habits, preferences and tendencies that they project onto the written word. It’s the copywriters job to wade through those tendencies and deem whether they’re acceptable or not.

Link to the rest at Medium

Many years ago, when spam telegrams were still a thing, PG worked for a very large advertising agency.

He was an account executive, which meant that he was responsible for the business, communications, etc., connections between the client and the agency. Part of the reason for that role was to save the agency’s creatives from insanity and to translate responses to criticisms from the client and responses from the creatives to those criticisms into accurate, but far more palatable language.

Client: “Why did your creative director want to show a chihuahua eating our dog food instead of a German Shepard or Great Dane? Doesn’t he/she know that only pansies own chihuahuas plus chihuahuas don’t eat enough dog food to keep this company afloat. We want to sell dog food, not win awards for cute television commercials.”

PG to Creative: The client thinks most dog owners won’t understand the humor behind a commercial that shows a chihuahua growing to the size of a horse after eating the client’s product. Maybe we can split the difference and use something a little larger, like a beagle and get to the same place.”

Per the OP, PG would also field copies of letters the client had received from The Deadwood Gulch Society of English Teachers and Librarians objecting to the lack of a period at the end of a sentence in a dogfood ad.

Yesterday’s post by Kris Rusch is also relevant to the OP.

Patreon Introduces New Tiers for Creators. Can It Avoid Another “Fiasco”?

19 March 2019

From Fast Company:

In 2017, Patreon rolled out a new fee structure. Today’s it’s known internally at the company as “the fiasco.” A revolt from creators and patrons prompted it to retreat almost immediately.

Today, Patreon, which is valued at a reported $450 million, is trying again. It is announcing Patreon Lite, Pro, and Premium as a means to tailor fit its services to the needs of the platforms’ 100,000-plus creators. “We wanted to make sure and do right by the creator base that’s been with us for all these years,” says Wyatt Jenkins, SVP of product at Patreon. “I’ll talk to a painter with 50 patrons and then later in the afternoon, I’ll talk to a media company with 25 employees that makes over $1 million a year. So it’s pretty clear that [Patreon is] not one product anymore.”

Every creator with an existing Patreon account will automatically be grandfathered into the Pro tier with no changes being made to their account. Essentially, this new system is giving creators the option to pare down with Lite (which is meant to be the easiest onboarding option for creators who just want a page with no tiered benefits for patrons) or upgrade with Premium (which charges an additional $300 per month charge in exchange for services like team accounts and a dedicated partner manager). Patreon’s cut–5% in Pro and 9% in Premium, respectively–will also be locked in for existing accounts but will increase to 8% and 12% for new ones created after these membership plans officially launch in May.

. . . .

In addition to the tiered membership, Patreon also announced changes to its processing fee structures: Pledges over $3 will be charged 2.9% plus 30¢ per payment. Anything below $3 will be charged 5% plus 10¢ per payment–the latter being a direct response to 2017’s “fiasco.”

Patreon’s 2017 changes to its fee structure were met with instant backlash because the processing fee was heaped onto the patrons instead of being taken out of the creator’s account (with no ability to opt in or opt out). In addition, the proposed fee of 2.9% plus 35¢ disproportionately affected anyone pledging between $1 and $3. As TPR Jones accurately summed it up in his tweet at the time: “Pledging $100 to one creator will now cost $103.25, which is reasonable. Pledging $1 each to 100 creators will now cost $138, which is not reasonable.”

. . . .

“Creators don’t want somebody in between them and their fans,” says Jenkins. “What I learned and what Jack learned and the way we’re doing this new rollout out is the business relationship is between us and creators. We are a membership platform that empowers a strong relationship between creators and their fans.”

. . . .

The primary complaint comes down to a lack of flexibility in even this three-tiered offering. Qaadir Howard started his Patreon account about two years ago in response to YouTube’s exorbitant cuts in their payouts and its demonetization of non-family-friendly content. In reviewing Patreon’s new offerings, Howard isn’t particularly moved to upgrade his account to Premium, even though he, like many other creators, could benefit greatly from the services offered with it.

“I don’t know if I’d be willing to pay $300 for it–that’s a car note,” Howard says. “I think they should have it where it’s more à la carte: Let me pay for the thing that I want instead of it just being a flat $300, and maybe I need only one thing.”

Link to the rest at Fast Company

Facebook Axes Age, Gender and Other Targeting for Some Sensitive Ads

19 March 2019

From The Wall Street Journal:

Facebook Inc. is removing age, gender and ZIP Code targeting for housing, employment and credit-related ads as part of a settlement with advocacy groups and other plaintiffs.

The new actions—and just under $5 million in payments—settle five discrimination lawsuits filed by the National Fair Housing Alliance, the Communications Workers of America and others, the company said.

“There is a long history of discrimination in the areas of housing, employment, and credit, and this harmful behavior should not happen through Facebook ads,” Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg said in a blog post that will be published on Tuesday afternoon, according to a spokesman.

Facebook has faced pressure on targeting around such ads for years, sparked by a 2016 report from investigative-news site ProPublica, which said it had been able to buy ads targeted to house hunters that excluded certain groups based on ethnicity. While Facebook didn’t allow targeting specifically by race, it lets advertisers seek consumers by criteria it calls “ethnic affinity.”

Soon after that report, Facebook said it would no longer let marketers target housing, employment and credit-related ads by ethnic affinity.

The company will now add further restrictions on targeting such ads to U.S. consumers. Geographic targets, for example, will have a minimum 15-mile radius from any specific address or city center, according to Facebook. And the “Lookalike Audience” tool, which lets advertisers try to find Facebook users who resemble the customers they already know, won’t incorporate factors such as age, religious views or Facebook Group membership when targeting these ads.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

PG will note that placing an advertisement in The Wall Street Journal will guarantee reaching a specific type audience that will be overrepresented in certain personal and household characteristics, including housing type, employment, income and creditworthiness and that advertisement will not reach many members of groups that do not share such attributes.

Ditto for television commercials shown on Meet the Press and Wall Street Week (now Maria Bartiromo’s Wall Street). On the other hand, an advertisement placed in Successful Farming, Sports Illustrated or American Rifleman magazines will reach entirely different audiences with different demographic profiles.

Is ethnicity verboten when trying to deliver a message to a particular group for which it may be valuable? If that is the case, where should The Chicago Defender, Essence, HelloBeautifulHyphenThe Brazilians and Khaas Baat be classed? Can these publications ethically try to find people who resemble the customers they already know?

When Brands, Brand Equity and Status “Break Bad”

18 March 2019

From The IPKat:

Can there be another notion in the IP lexicon that has taken on more faces that “brand”? One starts with the fact that “brand” is not a statutory  term, but a descriptive term of art that has become part and parcel of the trademark discussion. On this basis, a useful definition has been offered by Jeffrey Belson, who described a brand in his article, “Brand Protection in the Age of the Internet,” thusly—

[A] brand is the resultant of the attributes of a product and the way it is advertised, its name, packaging, price, history and reputation, all of which act together to generate affect in consumers.

Key to understanding a brand is that it creates an emotional connection between the mark identifying the brand and the consumers for whom the brand is intended. David Aaker extended the notion to “brand equity”, which includes the following features: (i) brand loyalty; (ii) brand awareness; (iii) perceived brand quality: and (iv) brand associations. Taking these notions together, connecting to a brand means creating an emotional bond with what the brand is believed to embody.

But over time, the notion of a “brand” extended beyond the commercial context and become a synonym for virtually any sign that creates an emotional connection between it and some real or imagined good or service. How far this process has gone can be seen with respect to the well-publicized scandal over alleged criminal actions in the U.S. college admissions process.

. . . .

OK Kat, but what does this have to do with IP? The answer is in what appears to have been the major motivation for the alleged illicit actions taken by these parents, namely, how far some are willing to go to pay for the status connected with being identified with such coveted educational brands. The feel-good narrative about the U.S. system of higher education is that it enables the bright and ambitious to climb the ladder of meritocracy and enjoy the fruits of financial success that follow.

. . . .

[F]or students from the lower and middle class, admission to an elite university is significantly correlated with enhanced earnings potential over their lifetime.

But students from these rungs of the social ladder are less likely to attend these elite universities than do the sons and daughters of the (much) better-off financially. However, for them, the prime motivation has less to do with enhancing one’s earnings potential, and much more with being associated with an elite university “brand”.

. . . .

Seen in this way, the scandal is perhaps the low point of how aspirational brand goods and services can corrupt and corrode. An aspirational brand can be defined thusly: [A] large segment of its exposure audience wishes to own it, but for economic reasons cannot. An aspirational product implies certain positive characteristics to the user, but the supply appears limited due to limited production quantities.

Link to the rest at The IPKat

While some publishers have developed a consumer brand (Harlequin, for example), most brands in the book world are based upon the author.

James Patterson (a former advertising executive) has paid a great deal of attention to his author brand. When a reader purchases a James Patterson novel, he/she has an expectation of a particular type of story and reading experience. Indeed, at least for PG, the titles of Patterson’s novels after the first couple of books blur together. To the best of PG’s recollection, the covers of Patterson novels always feature the author’s name in a prominent position.

Patterson’s name has become quite valuable. If he published the exact same book under his own name and also under a different name, it seems almost certain that the Patterson-branded book would sell far more copies than the book without the brand.

If Mr. Patterson decided he wanted to write Regency romances, he might be advised to use a pen name, perhaps a female name. Doing so would preserve the brand equity of the James Patterson name in his original market segment. PG suspects many of Mr. Patterson’s current fans would be disappointed to buy a book with his name on the cover and find themselves at Pemberley with Fitzwilliam Darcy.

This is not to say that an established author who has developed a following for a particular type of book should never write for a different audience using the same name. The value of the author’s brand may be important for the success of the book intended for a new type of market.

However, PG suggests an author should be mindful of both the benefits and potential detriments of such a marketing strategy and make certain she does not burn her brand bridges to her former readers as she pursues a different audience.

Is the new book a brand extension of the author’s previous books? Coke and Diet Coke? That doesn’t sound too dangerous.

Is the new book a substitute for the prior books? Regency romance and Victorian romance?

Or is the author trying to transfer existing readers to a new type of book, a story that her readers will expect the author should be able to write well and result in a book her existing readers will enjoy? Regency romance to clean contemporary romance?


Ideas for Book Covers

28 February 2019

Covers are a recurring topic for indie authors.

Perhaps the most important means of stopping a reader browsing on Amazon and persuading them to look more closely at a book is the cover.

PG has noted that in some genres, many of the covers look the same.

There can be a perfectly good reason for this. Nothing says Zombie! like a decaying hand.


or someone enjoying a light snack.


However, it can be easy to get into a visual rut.

In PG’s experience, many people don’t know that Adobe has a website to help people who use its software show their accomplishments to the world.

PG searched Bēhance for book covers and discovered far more original cover designs than he ever sees on Amazon.

Following is a small sample. Click on the image for a larger version.

You can all of the images are subject to the artist’s copyright.

PG has inserted a link to the artist’s page on Bēhance above each image.


. . . .







Link to the rest at Bēhance

Facebook Custom Audiences

23 February 2019

PG hadn’t heard of Facebook Custom List Audiences before. Here’s a simple description from Facebook:

A Custom Audience from a customer list is a type of audience you can create made up of your existing customers. You can target ads to the audience you’ve created on Facebook, Instagram, and Audience Network.

You upload, copy and paste or import your hashed customer list, then we use the hashed data from it to match the people on your list to people on Facebook.

Link to the rest at Facebook

PG hadn’t heard about Facebook Custom Audiences of any sort (there are a variety of different ones) before.

Basically, you send your customer list (or, maybe your email list, PG hasn’t checked to see what Facebook will accept) to Facebook (I know, I still don’t trust them either.)

Facebook identifies which people on Facebook and/or Instagram are also on your customer list and creates a one-of-a-kind advertising audience for your advertisements (for the book you just released, for example).

But wait, there’s more!

In the process of exploring Facebook Custom Audiences, PG discovered Facebook Engagement Custom Audiences as well. What are they?

An Engagement Custom Audience is a Custom Audience made up of people who have engaged with your content across the Facebook family of apps and services.

“Engagement” refers to actions like spending time viewing your videos or opening your lead form or Canvas. Using Engagement Custom Audiences, you can target ads to people who’ve taken these actions. You can also use it as a source for a Lookalike Audience, which will let you find people who are similar to those who’ve engaged with your Facebook content.

Here are the engagement types available, broken down Engagement Custom Audience type:

. . . .

 When you create an Engagement Custom Audience, you tell us how many days you want us to go back when collecting engagement. This means that if you tell us to look back 30 days and someone has engaged 29 days ago, that person will be in your audience. However, if they fail to engage in the next day, they will then be removed from it. Anyone new who engages within the time period you choose will be added to the audience. This means that the audience is constantly being refreshed, so you don’t need to edit or create a new Engagement Custom Audience unless you want to change the time period or the type of engagement.

PG didn’t look at the costs involved with advertising via custom audiences but expects it’s greater than zero and probably higher than just buying a Facebook ad.

PG understands why some authors might not trust Facebook with their mailing lists. He deleted his personal Facebook accounts several weeks ago in response to Facebook’s privacy shortcomings/failures/abuses.

Advertising on Facebook may fall into the Doing Business with the Devil category for some people. However, some people are willing to use the services of those whose values differ from theirs. PG is willing to walk into a store owned by people he wouldn’t invite into his home.

Has anyone used any of the Custom Audience features on Facebook?

If so, what was your experience and what were the costs?

Ai Learning Algorithms Find Your New Target Groups

23 February 2019

From ReadWrite:

Although artificial intelligence does not replace human marketing teams, it does support employees in controlling campaigns or even in content marketing. In the future, AI could increasingly displace a popular means of expressing branding: emotions.

The AI threat is becoming a different game. Companies have decided to restructure a number of processes to protect against this perceived menace.

One change will be to localize marketing measures, even more, pushing to make the distribution of content production decentralized; accompanying this action by an organic reduction in personnel. Eventually, however, algorithms will replace only part of the marketing efforts.

Although the news about AI has far less impact than previously thought, AI will dramatically change marketing. A recent McKinsey study shows that regarding the various business functions in companies, there is the most significant potential of AI in marketing. It is believed that there will be close to $6 trillion in value-added potential. Interestingly, at present, there’s a minimal number of successful AI applications in marketing.

. . . .

Intelligent support allows AI to analyze competitors, audiences, and trends automatically. Marketers can use these insights to develop or adapt their strategy. These insights enrich decision-making processes with relevant information. The actual decision is not automated and depends on the operator’s choice.

. . . .

Artificial intelligence can gather over about 10,000 data points on the Web about companies or consumers. Besides this massive amount of data, AI can determine and profile new target groups via deep learning algorithms.

In the B2C area, for example, this can be implemented well with Facebook custom audiences. AI is also playing an increasingly important role in content marketing. Algorithms help to semantic conceptualize content. For example, the word-to-vec algorithm automatically forms content as vectors that formalize the actual content abstractly. This representation is much more potent than the typical index of content. On this basis, automatically similar or complementary content can be found on an analytical level.

Link to the rest at ReadWrite

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