The term ‘value proposition’ may sound like yet another corporate buzzword. But whether you’re a marketing professional or not, it’s worth knowing what a value proposition is. Consisting of a few clear, concise and well-chosen sentences, a value proposition communicates what a business does and – most importantly – how it benefits its clients. And these sentences do a disproportionate amount of heavy lifting, forming the basis of the company’s external and internal communications, marketing and sales outreach.
This makes a value proposition one of the most valuable tools in a company’s communications arsenal. It empowers stakeholders to speak accurately and confidently about the company, and ensures that communications materials and marketing campaigns are aligned with each other and the overall brand tone.
But although a value proposition itself is meant to be simple and straightforward, it can be challenging to craft one. After all, it means distilling everything a company does and the values it stands for into just a few words, making it a more philosophical exercise than your typical corporate undertaking. And getting it wrong can prove costly: when stakeholders misunderstand or disagree on how the company actually benefits its clients, it could lead to mismatched expectations and lost business.
It's been our experience that while most corporates realise the merits of a value proposition, the process can stymie most efforts to get it right. So, in a two-part series, we’ll endeavour to make the task less daunting. This article will suggest possible solutions to the most common challenges that crop up in the process of defining value. There are four main obstacles you’re likely to encounter.
1. Being too close to the details
It can be tempting to try to cram everything the company does into the value proposition, because it all seems equally important, and you don’t want to leave anything out. This can result in a bloated, unfocused chunk of text that includes details that are neither relevant nor interesting to clients. Worse, you run the risk of obscuring the really important bits in a bid to cover everything. It’s important to step back from the day-to-day tasks to think about and capture the big-picture reason why the company exists and, ultimately, for whose benefit.
2. Internal disagreements
Since value is so subjective, people within the company are likely to disagree on aspects of it. Or they may have different views – more aligned to their respective functions or their place in the organisation – of what the company stands for. These inevitable conflicts can create unproductive debates that prevent progress. But they can also serve as an opportunity to uncover new perspectives and think differently. It can help to recap why everyone is there in the first place so that disagreements become less personal and more about achieving a shared goal.
3. Changes over time
Although every company is founded with a certain set of intentions and goals, the healthiest (and most successful) ones will adapt to market needs and make strategic adjustments in order to stay relevant. This also means refreshing the value proposition to accurately reflect the changes – typically a more challenging endeavour than framing a new one, because it means those who knew the company best, and longest, must come around to accepting the need for an overhaul and changing long-held convictions.
Instead of being intimidated by the task, it can help to have an open, honest discussion on how the company has changed and most importantly, why. The answer to ‘why’ will be a starting point for the new value proposition. Ultimately, you’ll end up with a more accurate present-day picture of the company, reflecting the value it actually currently offers, rather than the value it was founded with.
4. Gaps in perception
Company leaders and employees may see the company differently from the way it is perceived in the market, or by certain client segments. This can make the resulting value proposition seem disingenuous to clients, even if it seems perfectly accurate to internal stakeholders. Focus groups and client surveys can help align how the company and consumers perceive the benefits of the product or service. Listening carefully and being open to unexpected insights can ultimately produce a value proposition that feels true to purpose and resonates with clients.
While embarking on a value proposition exercise is not easy, the rewards are worth it – and despite the challenges of navigating internal disagreements, can often be found in the obstacles themselves. To reduce the pressure, it can help to see a value proposition as a dynamic set of statements rather than something set in stone. Since the company will inevitably change over time, crafting a value proposition is not a one-time exercise but an iterative process. Allow for it to be periodically revisited and updated – and get the entire team involved, to gain the benefit of multiple perspectives.
In Part 2 of this series, we’ll share five questions as an effective starting point to defining your organisation’s value.
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