Monday, November 26th, 2012

Getting Your ‘Why Us’ Story Straight

If you did something 400 times, you would think you would be able to get it right at least once.

Not always, as we learned after being called in to help a well-known company draft its corporate value proposition—after it had already attempted 400 versions unsuccessfully. True story.

Outside of delivering consistent financial results, creating an effective and high impact “Why Us” value proposition maybe the biggest challenge facing an organization. That 30-second blurb that explains to a prospect or customer who you are, what you do and how you are different.

Companies are engaging customers every day, and pitching their wares to new prospects just as often.  Why, then, is it so hard to come up with a compelling and agreed-upon “Why Us” story?  Well, feel free to pick any one or more of the five following reasons:

1. Ownership. It’s everyone’s job … and no one’s job. The organization debates who should create the story, and, as a result, it doesn’t get done or …

2. Versioning. The good news is the company has a story.  The bad news: There are many of them, none of them the same, and a new one is created for just about every new sales meeting.

3. “Inward-out.” Using internal jargon to tell the story that only reflects the company’s view, while not addressing the needs of the customer or prospect.

4. Non-differentiated. Focusing on the features of the product or services and not the benefits delivered to customers. As a result, it sounds just like everyone else in the market.

5. “Same-page syndrome.” This is the most fascinating of all. The folks responsible for putting together the story bring their own perspective on what the story should be. Using their own experiences, their role and their history with the company, they all bring a different view on what the company does and why it’s unique.  As a result, no one can get on the same page to describe the organization and its value, resulting in 400 rounds of edits or multiple versions or both.

Given this situation, how to do you make it right?

1. Ownership. This is a collaborative process, but marcom/corporate communication should own it. They are in the best position to understand the brand, audience needs and are responsible for external communications.  Corporate starts the process and then cascades it down the organization to add more detail. They own the final version and the governance process to lock down “version du jour.”

2. Go outside.  Conduct external research on your target audience and industry competitors. This will help you understand, and be able to define industry/ market “tablestakes” versus opportunities to differentiate products and/or services. It should also help eliminate the internal speak. See below.

3. Get on the same page. For many organizations, this is the challenge. Before attempting to draft anything, have all key stakeholders agree to one of the following “types” of value propositions. Michael Treacy and Fred Wiersema concluded in their best-selling book The Discipline of Market Leaders that market leaders leverage one of three value proposition types: operational excellence, product leadership and customer intimacy.

*Operational excellence. This value proposition type guides companies to provide products at the best price or greatest convenience. Operationally excellent companies construct a value statement that emphasizes, scale, low prices and customer service.

*Product leadership. This value proposition type encapsulates companies that offer consistently innovative products that push performance boundaries. Companies defined by product leadership communicate their commitment to provide customers with the best product or service.

*Customer intimacy. This value proposition type directs companies to cultivate long-term relationships with members of their target audience. Customer-intimate companies specialize in satisfying the unique needs of individual customers and provide them with the best total solution.

4. Make it personal and relevantDavid Aaker, a marketing professor at the Haas School of Business, defines a value  proposition as having three parts: functional benefits, emotional benefits and self-expressive benefits. The functional benefits are related to the step above. Emotional benefits are typically tied to the audience’s role, and self-expressive benefits to the individual. See below.

5. Test, refine and validate. Start with the sales organization, and then with a few of your customers. This process is not only about capturing the value of your organization through the ears and eyes of your customers, but it’s also a change management challenge. The process can still break down unless the organization has buy-in to adopting the final output. Customer validation can help lock it down.

Lastly, be disciplined. Once defined, stick to your value proposition for at least a year. Marketing’s role is to clearly communicate the organization’s value (brand, product, etc.) to targeted audiences; sales is to convert interest in the value into revenue. As a result, sales may take some liberties with the story. But keep in mind: Just because someone comes up with a clever, new “Why Us Today” story in the heat of a pitch doesn’t mean you change your messaging. Stay on point. You don’t want to do this 400 times. Trust me.

Scott Gillum is president of gyro, Washington, D.C.
Follow Scott @sgillum

He blogs regularly at www.B2Bknowledgesharing.com

Originally published at Ignite Something on the Forbes CMO Network

2 Comments

  1. Scott, this is a great post with excellent advice.

    I’d add one more reason for the lack of a compelling “Why Us” story: Lack of focus (which is somewhat overlapping with your reason #4 above). The company wants to be everything to everyone. Their products are good, and they have many cool features, but they can not decide or don’t know which features are MOST important for their target audience. A typical indicator? When asked for the most important features, the people in product development smile and say “oh, it can do everything”. And so the list of features is (seemingly) endless.

    What’s worse: In such environments, it is quite difficult to bring back the focus, because you will always find someone who will be very disappointed that “his” feature is not being mentioned prominently anymore. So, the external advice from an experienced agency is more than welcome here. (Internal stakeholders tend to listen to external advisors much more than to internal folks.)

  2. Great add Mark! I’ve seen this behavior more than a few times. Everything to everyone means nothing to no one….or said a different way, your product will get lost in the noise. Product marketers need to take a stand and clearly define their differentiators.

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