Let’s cut to the chase, this is one of the most important topics for any business and yet paradoxically despite being central to our business life- most of us find it difficult to articulate an answer powerfully and succinctly. It’s worth having a quick go at your own answer right now, privately. Tricky?
As marketeers this should feel like a home fixture; we made the customer journey studies, built segmentation models, agonised over websites, and landed award winning 360 advertising campaigns. So how can such a simple question put us on the spot, in a way that most of us find uncomfortable? As a small experiment, it’s worth asking a handful of colleagues the why should a customer buy from us question. How tightly grouped are their responses?
The greater the spread of answers, the less the business is focused and aligned. Often this will manifest itself with a growing number of strategic priorities and special projects, which sit above the day job. That’s a recipe for burn out and mediocre performance.
A value proposition (VP) can be a good way to address and correct these common pain points- It’s a very important area for marketers to work on. However, the term is widely misused to the point that it’s fallen into the lexicon of business babble. An opportunity for marketing to roll its sleeves up and lead.
The term value proposition first appeared in a McKinsey & Co. research paper in 1988.
“A value proposition is a concise statement of the benefits that a company is delivering to customers who buy its products or services. It serves as a declaration of intent, both inside the company and in the marketplace”.
It’s important to absorb the part about being a declaration of intent inside an organisation as well as within the marketplace. I believe this is why a VP has such a role to play in terms of organisational clarity. The VP is a customer centric way to guide choices and trade-offs- or put bluntly to help prevent endless proliferation of disparate priorities.
Kaplan & Norton (Strategy Maps, HBS press, 2004.) assert:
“Strategy is based on a differentiated customer value proposition. Clarity of this value proposition is the single most important dimension of strategy.”
Making trade-offs is often problematic. Ambitious high performers typically find it easier to say yes to a new initiative, despite the increased workload, and much harder to push for things to stop- to divert energy and resources to genuine priorities.
So how can we craft winning VPs that focus resources internally and set up far clearer communication into the market?
The answer lies fundamentally in having a clear process. One that takes a customer lens to what they value and how differentiated an offer is. By crystalising the working parts of an offer, it’s possible to work out which combinations add more customer (and P&L) value than others. Explore the possibility of re-directing focus and resources in different combinations. Consider these combinations against competitors. Actively choose some aspects of the offer not to have, or to deliver at the level of “good enough”- in order to become outstanding in some other areas. A winning VP will be an ownable combination-which plays to the strengths of your business and makes strong choices to focus resources against aspects of the offer which delight target customers. Make these strong customer driven choices and it will become much easier to explain why customers choose you. Roll this clarity through the organisation and you have a powerfully aligned business.
For help creating a winning value proposition, you can visit the-value-factory.com
Jim Coates is a partner at the Value Factory, an experienced senior marketing & commercial director having worked previously at Asda, Whyte & Mackay and VELUX. Jim is a Harvard Business School Alumni and always enjoys leveraging his toolkit to find new solutions to difficult sales and marketing challenges.
Better, simpler strategy. A value based guide to exceptional performance. F. Oberholzer-Gee, HBS Press, 2021
Creating & delivering your value proposition. Managing customer experience for profit. C Barnes, H Blake, D Pinder, Kogan page 2009.
Malcom McDonald on value propositions, M McDonald & G Oliver, Kogan Page, 2019
Strategy Maps, R Kaplan and D Norton, HBS Press, 2004
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