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What is Your Value Proposition?

creating your value propositionFrom time to time, you may have heard the phrase ‘value proposition.’ If you didn’t (or still don’t) know what that is, you aren’t alone; many business owners have a hard time nailing it down. Yet unless you accurately identify your company’s value prop, your promotional efforts will never be cohesive, nor as effective as they should be if you want the best return on your marketing investments.

Okay, enough dramatic buildup … so what is a value proposition? In simplest terms, it’s the main thing that distinguishes your company from others in your line of work. As practical definition, your value prop would be consistently referenced by knowledgeable consumers—who’ve patronized both your business and your strongest competitor—as their top reason for recommending you.

Hopefully, you’ve picked up on something important about a value prop—reality. It is what it is. You may fervently want customers to come to your store for another reason, and all your current advertising might be centered on another business attribute, but if people come to you because, say, you’re in a great location, you ought to go with that. (Note: Yes, you could change your value prop with hard work, considerable time, and lots of brand management, but you’ll need a good excuse.)

There are basically five categories of value propositions:

Price – if you offer the best prices of anyone around, congratulations! You’re always going to have a marketing advantage with a significant portion of the buying population. Example: Walmart – “Save Money. Live Better.”

Convenience – When you really need something (say, baby diapers at 1:00 a.m.), you know the appeal of ’convenience.’ Location, store hours, delivery service, wide selection … these are all things that can sustain a viable customer base. Example” Staples – “That Was Easy.”

Service – If you’ve ever been in a store where customer service is actually something to brag about, you know how rare—and powerful—it is as a marketing hook. Warning: Stay away from this unless you consistently back it up! Example: UPS – “What Can Brown Do for You?”

Identity –  Who doesn’t want to be made to feel special? If that’s your value prop, you may really have something. When we hear that we’re smarter, better looking, or more ‘hip’ than the hoi polloi, we’re often seen coming back for more. Example: Abercrombie & Fitch – “New York.” (‘Cuz New York is cool, get it? FYI, actual headquarters are in Albany, OH.)

Quality/Value – This is ‘price’ for the thinking person. Stressing quality will be a challenge because you’re usually going to have overcome a competitor’s lower initial price point and convince the customer they’re better off with you in the long-run. Still, if the underlying assertion is true, you can still have a powerful brand. Example: Target – Expect more. Pay less.”

You may notice that the preceding examples are mostly business-to-consumer (B2C) rather than business-to business (B2B). (Staples and UPS serve both markets.) These companies were cited because their brands are so commonly known; we’ve almost all visited those stores at some time or at least seen their ads. However, the value prop categories are applicable to B2B companies as well. For example, technology service providers may recognize SAP, a provider of business management software for companies of all sizes and the company’s solutions require significant investments in money and training. SAP stresses quality and value through production gains through greater operational efficiency, and ran a “Run Better” campaign to get the point across.

Another B2B example is ADP, a provider of payroll services for small businesses. By stressing the company’s expertise in all aspects of payroll management (time and attendance, time and tax, human resources), we essentially see the one-stop-shop appeal to Convenience. Yet another, highly professional company with a strong profile is Deloitte. The fact that this global network of accounting firms often run ads with little or no copy—just the company name and an image—gives the impression that Deloitte is the only name you need to know when you’re looking for the company’s exceptional expertise. This puts the Deloitte brand squarely under the Quality banner.

Obviously, every business could claim something worthwhile from just about any of these broad value-prop categories. And frankly, if your business is woefully lacking in any of these areas, you have a major problem. But remember, your true value prop is the one that stands head and shoulders above the rest. And when you make it central to your brand messaging, your marketing will ring true with customers and be all the more effective.

Putting Your Value Proposition to Work

As you can see, a value prop isn’t a slogan or a tagline; though you should certainly incorporate its essence into such phrases—as did our examples. Essentially, all your marketing communications should be a statement (sometimes blatant, sometimes subtle) in support of your value-prop assertion.

Let’s return to the idea that a company is successful because of the great location. This comes under the Convenience heading. An ad might lead with a headline that stresses location by saying something like “Hi, Neighbor!” Then you could follow that up with copy about how easy your business is to reach, your business hours, wide selection … or any other convenience-related feature.

Now you’re probably thinking that a constant focus on some narrow aspect of your value prop will get boring. It would, though perhaps not as quickly as you might imagine. To change things up, you could use some of your secondary value props to support the convenience message. Here are a few lines of mock copy to demonstrate:

We’re the right choice for people on the go!  Message: You’re an important, in-demand person who doesn’t have time to go traipsing all over creation in search of this or that. (Identity)

Getting here is easy, being here is great! Message: Once you come through our doors, we’re going to take good care of you. (Service)

What would you rather do with that hour you spent in traffic? Message: Time is money, or at least it could be spent in better ways than trying to reach your competitor’s remote location.  (Value)

See, you don’t have to ignore your secondary value props. Instead, you position them to support the overarching idea—like spokes in a wheel. You should do the same thing when introducing new products and/or services. After a while, people will stop thinking of our mythical company as a quick and easy stop on the way home from work. Instead, the brand identity will have been molded into a paragon of convenience and all that entails, simply because the marketing was based on the actual value proposition.

If you’re still trying to figure out what your value prop is, here’s a suggestion: ask people who are familiar with your business. Specifically, ask your customers. Whether through formal survey’s or casual conversation, elicit their opinions and take notes. Your own thoughts might be confirmed or you might be surprised, but either way, you need to know for sure.

Tampa Bay public relations

Building Client Centric Plots When Writing Content

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The book 20 Master Plots and How to Build Them came at the perfect time for us. Over the last couple of years, content writing has become more about the story and less about “keyword stuffing.” As we discussed in a previous article, during this time Google has learned how to read and distinguish between a well-written article with useful information and an article that is written solely for the purpose of capturing Google’s own attention. The reason Google does this is because it wants the user to find the most relevant content for the terms they are searching. A happy user is Google’s ultimate goal and should be yours as well. These are your prospective clients.

masterplotsFor this reason, content writing is about conveying pertinent, useful, interesting information to your readers. What better way to capture your current and prospective clients’ attention than by making them the heroes of your story? This is the direction we’ve taken in the last couple of years, and it’s working. We have seen firsthand that stories about people are more engaging and generate more traffic. Make the client the protagonist, tell a great story, and you captivate people. This is why 20 Master Plots and How to Build Them arrived on our bookshelf at the perfect time. We needed some solid story-telling background.

The essential point that Tobias makes in the book is that plot is not merely a skeleton or a framework that supports the story – it is an integral part of every single aspect of the story, such that it cannot be removed, lest the story disintegrate into nothing. There are two encompassing, general plots, which can then be broken down into many more, of which Tobias discusses twenty. The two plots are:

  • Force = power, strength, physicality = body = tragedy = forza = action
  • Fraud = wit, cleverness, mentality = mind = comedy = forda = mind

Of the 20 plots that Tobias discusses, we thought that two were most useful for content writing – action and adventure. If we apply these two plots to content writing for business, it will assist us in organizing our content into more compelling stories that draw readers (potential clients or referral sources) in and urge them to read more. Note that although we would love to be the hero, let’s face it, the client is always the hero, so move over and let them shine.

One of our personal favorites is the plot where the client has a lofty goal and while they are trying to achieve that goal, an obstacle is set in their way. The client’s team is then challenged to overcome the obstacle in order to reach their goal. Of course, the story isn’t satisfying if there is complete failure, so we avoid those (remember, always make the client look good!), but when the protagonist is challenged and claims victory, this is exciting for everyone involved, and the story is more interesting. This is the kind of story everyone tells at the water cooler on Monday morning. It’s a good story because it gives people a thrill. Affect people’s emotions and you will reach them on a more personal level.

If you are writing content for your business or your clients, we recommend reading 20 Master Plots and How to Build Them to derive some interesting insights into weaving stories into your content. Sometimes it is difficult to come up with interesting, captivating content, so this may be just what you need to spice up your writing and give you a fresh perspective.

Below are some more storytelling in content marketing articles to help you navigate this challenging and fascinating realm of writing:

iScoop – The art of storytelling in 6 content marketing context questions

Fast Company – Six Rules for Great Storytelling from a Moth-Approved Master of the Form

Tampa Bay public relations

Cushman & Wakefield’s Oliver Hedge Interviewed by New York Times

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Oliver Hedge, a director in the Valuation and Advisory Group at Cushman & Wakefield, works with golf course and country club investors and developers. He has seen the industry ride the rollercoaster and has an insiders perspective on what is working in today’s climate.

And business is good.

Oliver talked with New York Times reporter Nick Madigan about the state of both public and private clubs and the surprisingly slim margins owners eek out to compete.

Fewer Golfers, but Some Lush Courses are Coming Back

The story made the front page of the November 25th New York Times business section – great exposure for our client!

Based on the Times success, we pitched the story to the The Real Deal, which featured Oliver in their story, Falling Popularity of Golf Forces a Change of Course.

 

Need help with media relations? Let’s chat!

Build Top of Mind Awareness With an E-Newsletter

enews_newsSome things never change, even in the fluid online world. One thing that we have always thought important, and will always believe in, is the e-newsletter. A few years ago we wrote the below article – “Build Top of Mind Awareness With an E-Newsletter,” and we still think the information in this article is useful – probably more than ever.

In a market driven by meaningful content, producing an e-newsletter with solid articles that help your customers and prospects is one of the best ways to build the relationships that will foster trust in your brand. There is no question – content is king, and if you position yourself as an expert by creating good content, you will win the trust of clients and prospects.

 

There are some kinds of businesses that are a part of their customers’ weekly, if not daily routine—grocery stores, drycleaners, and gas stations to name a few. Other companies, such as clothing and hardware stores or even restaurants, also typically attract mostly repeat business. As long as these operations offer competitive prices, good service, and are conveniently located (with no new arrival in the market appearing significantly better on any of those points), customer loyalty should remain fairly strong. But how can businesses instill loyalty when clients may need their services on an annual basis at best, or perhaps only a few times during an entire lifetime? This is the common situation for many professional service providers such as attorneys, CPAs, medical specialists, IT solution providers, or architects to name a few. An e-newsletter may be an economical and effective way to maintain top-of-mind awareness with prospective clients during those long stretches between having a need for the provider’s services.

Simple name recognition is good way to initially differentiate your business from others in your market. But more importantly, an e-newsletter emphasizes the expertise that’s available from professionals at your company.

The greatest challenge associated with producing any e-newsletter – one distributed via email – is getting an audience to read it. And even when a recipient originally made a conscious decision to request the newsletter, it’s not unusual for that person to soon find himself deleting the communication unread, marking it as spam, or taking the final step of asking to removed from the subscription list.

Here are few dos and don’ts that will help maintain reader interest in an e-newsletter from a professional service organization.

Do offer news the reader can use. For instance, attorneys might offer tips as to what to do when starting a business and accountants could point out frequently overlooked tax deductions. Make the articles memorable, pithy and to the point.

Don’t make the publication just another advertisement. In fact, it will enhance the credibility of your e-newsletter if you don’t overtly “sell” anything at all. While articles can address issues that readers may be facing as well as the available solutions, avoid talking about your own company’s specific offerings. Consumers are savvy. If they read about a problem in your newsletter, they’ll assume you have a product or service to meet their needs.

Do make it plain that you’re local. People are more open to information that comes from a “neighbor.” Work references to area landmarks or events into the various articles. As silly as it may seem, people enjoying saying to themselves, “I know where that is.” Referring to local places and events will make your business seem less abstract to potential customers.

Don’t pontificate. A “message” from the company president or CEO is generally bad enough as a reader turn-off, but it may be forgivable if that message offers the “news you can use” component mentioned earlier. Observations about the state of the union, environmental policy, what’s wrong with kids today, or any other topic outside of the author’s professional expertise however, is a definite no-no.

Do keep it brief. While you may have articles that link to your Web site for more additional (non sales) information, the amount of content visible at first glance, should not take up much more room than one screen length. The format should also make it easy for the reader to scan for topics of interest, and quickly glean the facts.

Don’t overload your readers. Make sure the people to whom you send your newsletter have a reasonable chance of being interested in the information you’re providing. And your total number of broadcast communications (the e-newsletter plus any other announcements, alerts, sales promotions, etc.) should appear in their inboxes no more frequently than twice a month. Once a month or once every three months is probably often enough for your newsletter to make an impact without becoming an unread annoyance.

Do encourage reader interactivity. Solicit and make it easy for your audience to provide feedback about your newsletter. Not only is this good PR but their ideas could very well have great merit and can enhance your publication. Also make it easy for audience members to introduce people they know to your newsletter. And finally, make it easy for readers to unsubscribe if they wish to do so.

Properly executed and written with your audience’s interests in mind, an e-newsletter can help keep your business in the minds of potential customers for that specific moment when they may need your services.

Pinstripe Bookshelf: Uncommon Service

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Some colleagues and I recently shared a lively discussion about business and management books we defined as professional game changers. Many titles sprang to mind, with one clearly standing out: Uncommon Service by Frances Frei and Anne Morriss (Harvard Business Review Press).

Each of us had devoured its simple brilliance and intriguing premise.

uncommon_serviceFrei and Morriss maintain that companies must “dare to be bad” in order to be great, choosing highly strategic ways to “underperform while fueling a winning service advantage.” But first, they say, you have to have the stomach for it…

The authors pose compelling arguments surrounding the art of making competitive trade-offs to build a sustainable business that’s profitable, scalable and able to deliver service excellence every day. They deliver practical insights into service innovation and actionable ways to win by putting customers at the core of your business.

Case studies across a variety of sectors showcase four dimensions — or “service truths” — to illustrate a powerful approach to uncommon service. Truth No. 1? You Can’t Be Good at Everything.

Explore this and the other dimensions in the book. It’s a must-read in our service economy.

Order Uncommon Service from Amazon

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