Friday, January 7, 2011

B2B Marketing: Bringing Clarity To Your Complex Value Propositions

It’s All In The Message: Bringing Clarity To Your Complex Value Propositions
Your marketing strategy is watertight. Your go-to-market plans are honed to precision.  Even your budget (for once) is to die for.
And then horror of horrors your campaign bombs. ROI: Negligible. Embarrassment factor: High. Marketing’s reputation: Well and truly tarnished.
The fact is, if your value proposition isn’t rock solid compelling, the rest is just plain pointless.
Whether it’s a brand, product or service proposition, getting it right matters. But it’s also hugely tricky. And we B2B marketers, don’t seem to do ourselves any favours. As one CIO recently told me (a chap with a multi-million dollar budget under his charge at that): “Most of what I see is just plain confused and confusing.”
So where do we all go wrong and what can we do about it? Here are some Earnest rules for creating B2B value propositions that really pack a punch:
Rule 1: Never lose sight of your audience

Grandmother. Eggs. Suck. You may scoff but many a B2B proposition has rolled off the corporate production lines without any genuine thought for who it’s aimed at. And any marketer that tells you ‘everyone’, shouldn’t be in their job. There’s nothing worse than propositions that are developed in dark rooms under the misplaced assumption that you know what’s best for the customer (okay, one concession it worked in part for Apple).
Before you get to the matter of crafting your value proposition, you need to thoroughly get to grips with your audience. Whether you’re into the latest fad for creating buyer personas or not, getting under the skin of the people you want to engage is key. Define who they are, their role in the organisation and their drivers. What do they need from a solution? What do you want them to know, think and feel? Can’t answer some of these questions: go and ask them for yourself. A few choice interviews with potential buyers and influencers can prove hugely enlightening.
Rule 2: Never stop looking over your shoulder

Whilst there are some companies that obsess about what the competition is saying and doing – there are others that are strangely ignorant of the messages being thrown by competitors at their target audience. We think it’s essential to understand rival propositions vying for customer affections, as it’s key to building a differentiated message. However, there’s a definite case of handle with care. We’ve seen too many vendors think they need to match the competition word for word – and then add some more. The thinking is, if they’re saying that, we’ve got to say it too. But what can result is uniform blandness. The same buzz words regurgitated albeit in a different order. Here’s a simple test: check out the list Adam Sherk compiled on his blog on the most overused buzzwords and marketing speak. Take any one of your value propositions. At a guess,  I’ll bet you’ve got a direct match in there somewhere. ‘Transform’ anyone? Or should that be every one?
Map out the competition by all means. See what they’re championing in their propositions and who they’re targeting. Identify where you can carve out a real point of difference. But bear in mind, being better than your competitors at one thing is meaningless if your potential buyers don’t place value on it. Finally, don’t think once your proposition is created that’s it. Your competitors are likely to soon be fine-tuning their story in response. Today’s battle may well be won, but tomorrow is another day.
Rule 3: It’s not about what you do, it’s about the advantage it delivers

A capability in itself does not a value proposition make. By all means be clear on what your offering is – but articulate the value it brings. Ideally be as tangible as possible. Now we admit, that can be pretty darn hard when it comes to the provision of business or IT services – and when push comes to shove, companies tend to shy away from giving performance guarantees (take Accenture, funny it’s “High performance delivered” and not the eminently more compelling “High performance guaranteed”). But if the good folk at IDC would have you believe, tangibility matters now more than ever. Frugalnomics reigns: “Buyers now seek a quantifiable proof of bottom-line impact, significant ROI, fast payback and superior value from each purchase.” Disregard this at your peril. Make a claim and ensure you’ve got the proof to back it up.
Rule 4: Keep it simple, but not too simple stupid

We’re all for simplicity. If you want to surround your proposition in hyperbole and undecipherable technical nonsense, your audience just won’t give it the time of day. Think less is more. This is where value proposition development is a real art, knowing which parts of the story actually don’t need telling. Take this simple analogy: throw five balls to someone, what’s the chance of them catching them all? The same goes with your messages. Too many and they’ll fall by the wayside. Better to have one compelling message to lead on that hooks the audience in – and when you’ve got their attention then you can get down to the nitty gritty.
But a word of caution. Simple is one thing. Dumbing it down is a mighty big mistake. Respect the intelligence of your audience – chances are many are experienced practitioners at what they do. Talk their language and you’re more likely to make a lasting impression. Pitch it too low and they’ll think your proposition is just too lightweight.
Rule 5: Bring it to life – make it interesting and they’re more likely to be interested

We’re all human beings - with hopes, dreams, ambitions – however faded and jaded. As much as your proposition is about appealing to the rational business buyer, it’s also about making it as compelling as possible to the person underneath – trying to make an emotional connection. Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM and all that. Story telling can play a major part. Translating your dry, one dimensional proposition into a story or scenario that communicates – or better still – amplifies the value you can offer them. Rich media is a great vehicle for doing this. There are examples all over the web. Check out SAP Real Real Computing. See iRed's simple but effective animations. Or even Common Craft’s engaging product explanations. Great for telling the story without boring the pants off your audience – and a fine asset to spread your digital wings all over the web.
Bear in mind these rules and give your value propositions the head start in life they really deserve. As one fine thinker once put it, keep it distinct, make it desirable and ensure it’s defensible – and you’ll go a long way.
This exclusive guest post was written by Paul Hewerdine who is the Partner & Planning Director of Earnest Agency. For more information, you can follow his blogs on, follow him on twitter at or also visit his company’s site
Image Courtesy: christiem

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