Messaging & Positioning

In technology marketing, language matters. Especially in startup messaging. Words shape perceptions, drive decisions, and ultimately determine success. But what happens when practitioners’ and marketers’ language diverge? Enter the case of “Shift Left” in the security and cybersecurity fields—a classic example of messaging mishaps.

The concept of “Shift Left” refers to moving security processes earlier in the software development lifecycle. On paper, it makes sense. The earlier you address security, the fewer vulnerabilities you’ll face down the line.

But here’s the catch: while analysts and marketers have latched onto the phrase, the actual practitioners—those in the trenches of software development—rarely, if ever, use it. This disconnect between marketing language and real-world use cases creates problems for technology vendors.

The Language Barrier in Startup Messaging

Imagine you’re a software developer or a security professional. Your day is filled with writing code, debugging, and managing security protocols. You’re constantly on the lookout for practical, actionable advice to improve your workflow. Then you come across a blog or whitepaper filled with buzzwords like “Shift Left.” Does it resonate? Probably not. Instead, it feels like another layer of jargon, another marketing ploy, rather than a genuine solution to your problems.

This misalignment in language means that your content—no matter how insightful or valuable—may go unread by the very people you’re trying to reach. Practitioners are looking for concrete terms they use daily. They want to hear about integrating security into their CI/CD pipelines, automating vulnerability scanning, or improving threat detection. When the terminology doesn’t match their reality, they move on.

I’ve never met a developer who had their compensation tied to the amount they were able to shift left. Have you?

The Cost of Miscommunication

This isn’t just a minor inconvenience. It’s a significant problem that can undermine the effectiveness of your marketing efforts. When practitioners feel that content is disconnected from their day-to-day experiences, they lose trust in the source. This erosion of trust means they’re less likely to engage with future content, attend webinars, or explore your solutions further.

When marketing ideas don’t align with actual language and use cases, it creates a gap between what your product promises and what it delivers. This gap can lead to dissatisfaction, increased churn rates, and ultimately, lost revenue.

Creating a Category: The Allure and the Pitfalls

The idea of creating a category is alluring. It promises differentiation, market leadership, and a chance to define the narrative. But creating a new category is expensive, challenging, and rarely successful. It requires not only a groundbreaking product but also a seismic shift in market perception. Most importantly, it demands a deep understanding of the language and needs of your target audience.

Consider the case of “Shift Left.” The term aimed to create a new category within the security space, emphasizing proactive measures over reactive ones. However, the term failed to gain traction among practitioners. Why? Because it didn’t reflect their daily experiences or the language they used. Instead of creating a new category, it created confusion and disengagement.

The Power of Listening

How can technology vendors avoid these pitfalls? The answer lies in listening—truly listening—to their audience. This means going beyond surface-level interactions and engaging deeply with practitioners. Attend industry conferences, participate in forums, conduct user interviews, and immerse yourself in the communities you serve.

Pay attention to the language practitioners use. What terms do they prefer? What challenges do they face? How do they describe their workflows? Use this language in your marketing materials. When your messaging aligns with the real-world experiences of your audience, it resonates more powerfully.

Practical Tips for Aligning Marketing with Practitioners

Follow these 5 key practices, and you are going to see a measurable difference in the level of engagement, and platform adoption:

  • Engage with Practitioners Regularly: Create advisory boards or user groups to gather continuous feedback, conduct focus groups to delve deeper into their challenges, or organize regular meetups to foster direct interactions. This direct line to your audience ensures your messaging remains relevant and grounded.
  • Test Your Messaging: Before launching a new term or campaign, test it with a subset of your audience through A/B testing or surveys. Gather feedback, analyze engagement metrics, and be willing to iterate based on the results.
  • Invest in Practitioner-Led Content: Encourage practitioners to write guest blogs, speak at your events, contribute to case studies, or co-create webinars. Their insights and language will lend authenticity and credibility to your content.
  • Simplify Your Language: Avoid jargon and buzzwords by using everyday language that resonates with your audience. Focus on clear, concise language that communicates value in practical terms, ensuring your message is easily understood.
  • Measure Engagement: Track the performance of your content among different segments of your audience using analytics tools. Use this data to refine your messaging strategy continuously and conduct A/B testing to optimize engagement metrics further.

These may sound simple. The amount of startup messaging mishaps we see every day tells us that they aren’t as simple as you’d think.

Don’t Create a Category; Create a Connection

It’s tempting to create new categories and introduce buzzwords when trying to differentiate yourself. But as the case of “Shift Left” shows, this strategy can have mixed results if it doesn’t align with the language and experiences of practitioners.

Listen to your audience, use their language, and focus on real-world use cases. If you do these things consistently, you can create marketing that resonates, builds trust, and drives engagement. In the end, it’s not about shifting left or right—it’s about shifting closer to your audience’s reality. And that’s where true success is found.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Post comment