As part of the process of selling a big idea – whether it is a product or service to a customer, or a message to internal stakeholders- we need a value proposition to help make it understandable by those we share it with.
However, too many value propositions presented fall flat, with the customer either thinking – or saying out loud “So What?”. Too many value propositions offer no value, fall flat or are simply uninspiring.
A great value proposition is meaningful, contains rich value for the customer and provides them with a compelling reason to change. If we are selling something, we are wanting the customer to change from not purchasing to purchasing. If we are sharing a big idea, we are asking our audience to change their minds and adopt the idea as their own.
Either way, the value proposition has to overcome the status quo of what they are currently doing and encourage them to take the risk of doing (or thinking) something else.
Creating the value proposition is a key step in the process of developing marketing strategy. It is how we connect the behavioural change implied in the marketing plan to the targeted customer. As we deeply understand and serve the customer, the proposition that we share with customer becomes clearer.
As we align to their bigger purpose, and we begin to understand the things that motivate both their current status quo and their desire to change, we can build a message which taps into these drivers and addresses the compelling needs and wants of our customer.
Too often, a value proposition is developed with reference to the product or the supplier. Something like ‘we are your trusted partner’, or ‘ the best barnacle scraper available’. Not very compelling, are they? These types of non-value propositions are often developed by committee, or by people looking for the safe option. When we focus only upon our own needs or wants instead of focusing on the customer, we end up with propositions that offer no value.
In a category, we often have a range of products that all have essentially the same (or heavily overlapping) value propositions. In this case, there is no reason for your customer to value your offering over any other. Your proposition isn’t compelling, its commoditising.
Think of your own value proposition. Is it compelling?
Working with marketers, I often ask them if their value proposition passes the ‘so what’ test. If you shared your value proposition with a motivated client, could they just say “So What!” If so, your value proposition is not valuable, tactful or relevant to them. If your value proposition is something like: ‘We are the biggest suppliers of Bungee in the northern hemisphere’ (so what!); or ‘we are your ‘trusted partner’’ (so what!). These are not value propositions, only self-appreciations. These do not inspire change.
A great value proposition must be customer centric. Or, more importantly, ‘customer purpose centric’. That is, our focus is not on the customer, but on what they are concerned about. When what you offer helps the customer achieve their purpose, we start being valuable and compelling.
Using algorithmic marketing practices (understanding the customer’s journey and using data to help predict future behaviours), highly specific value propositions can be delivered to individual customers to address their specific wants and needs.
Sales representatives, working face to face with customers, have always been able to do this. By asking great questions, they get to uncover what would be of value to the customer and help shape the value proposition.
If we think of the value proposition as “the answer to a compelling question that the customer has”, then our job in making the value proposition truly valuable is to sell TO it, not FROM it. That is, we elicit insights from our interaction, and create questions in the mind of the customer, to which our value proposition becomes a compelling answer. If we start at the value proposition, the next response, so often “So What?” means that we have lost the opportunity to make it that answer that they are searching for.
Even something like “We are the biggest seller of Bungee in the district” might become compelling, if the insight that other suppliers are often out of stock, can’t cover the full geography, or consistently provide the wrong products through lack of understanding. Now the fact that we are the ‘biggest supplier’ might mean that we can help them avoid all of the problems they have been having with small suppliers.
Now with online purchasing, we are seeing the ‘value propositions’ customised to customers as they interact with portals and websites. A great example of this are the ‘recommendations’ that Amazon will make to you based upon your search or purchase behaviour. The recommendation is a ‘value proposition’ – proposing something that you may value. Your searches and purchases have suggested what might be compelling to you, or a need or want that you would like fulfilled, and their recommendation becomes a valuable proposition to you. With over 30% of sales coming from such recommendation processes, the power of the correct value proposition becomes clear.
This is a concept we can integrate into our own messaging strategies – understand the client journey and present a value proposition which is meaningful to them where they are in that journey, so that it passes the ‘so what’ test and answers a question regarding their purpose in a compelling way.
Consistency is key.
As marketers develop value propositions for their offerings, it is critical that they are consistent and reflect the brand value. Particularly in a world where we have so many channels through which we receive messages, inconsistency in value propositions or brand values catches our attention- in the wrong way. It triggers uncertainty, which does not support the person having comfort in making change.
Consider the value proposition for a brand like Red Bull. Through advertising, sponsorships, activities and social media, there is a deep consistency in brand value and value proposition. When we deeply understand our core customer constituency and what they want to achieve, this is possible.
Trying to be all things to all people, or having different messages pass through different channels, only confuses people. In a world where social media is the new norm, every customer, every experience they have, every staff member, every interaction becomes part of the value proposition.
Consider the way people use TripAdvisor and other review websites. In a way, they are seeking consistency of message- does your stated value proposition match the value proposition experienced by people like you? Notice how not every review needs to be positive, but the people like you need to experience the same ‘value’ that you seek.
Further, when your staff are tweeting things about your brand or organisation, are they consistent with the values you propose to offer through other channels? The way to do this is not to control what people tweet or share on facebook, but instead live the values that you propose to customers, be consistent in what you communicate and what you do, so that the reality that they share with their friends is consistent with the reality you want to be associated with your proposition.
Sometimes value propositions need to be customised to different sub segments of your market, particularly in cultural or social situations. For example, how do you think the value proposition would need to change for the oral contraceptive in different markets, like Saudi Arabia, Romania, Russia, the USA or Italy? At a deeper level, the brand value proposition has to remain completely consistent – however the frame or the way it is communicated needs to change to be relevant and compelling for those customers.
I have been to international conferences where companies got this horribly wrong – customers would leave sessions scratching their heads about what they had heard about the brand, or they would not even recognise the exhibition stand for the product as the brand, colors and core messages had all been completely changed.
So how does this tie in with the need to speak to each individual customer as we aim to do with algorithmic marketing approaches? The key is that the ‘core message’ remains entirely consistent, but how we make the message relevant depends upon the circumstances of the individual. To do this, we can consider three important questions:
What makes the customer safe?
What makes them successful?
What makes them happy?
These questions allow us to make our value proposition relevant to their specific needs. Depending upon the circumstances, the customer may need something which offers them ‘safety’ (removal of risk), ‘success’ (positive and comparative advancement), or ‘happiness’ (positive emotional response). Targeting the specific purpose that the customer is trying to serve allows us to make our proposition intensely valuable.
So as you think about your value propositions, perhaps you could ask yourself:
• Do they pass the ‘So What’ test?
• Are the compelling answers to questions your customers have (or you can help them have?)
• Are they compelling or commoditising?
• Are the consistent at their core, but made relevant to the individual customer journey?