All about value props: How customer and competitive research should shape your marketing
Columnist Sam Welch suggests five questions you should be asking yourself when developing your messaging to customers and prospects.
Conveying the value of your product or service is a foundational tenet of marketing. Whether you are a mature company or a startup, understanding your worth and knowing how to properly communicate it to current and prospective customers is key to success.
But as those of us tasked with driving marketing strategy know, this isn’t always an easy endeavor. How many times has a brilliant ad copy idea missed the mark? Or a fresh redesign of your landing page caused conversion rates to decline? Even worse, how often does it feel like every company in your industry is saying the same thing?
Sending customers the correct message is one thing. Delivering that message while competing in a crowded market is an entirely different challenge.
In my second article of this series focused on competitive intelligence, I will show you how to identify and communicate the value your product provides that resonates most with your customers and that truly differentiates you from the competition.
Understanding your product’s value
Before you can message effectively, you first must have a thorough understanding of the value customers derive from your product or service.
In other words, what does your company enable people to do? Does it save people time? Does it motivate people to achieve their goals? Does it have therapeutic value or reduce anxiety? Thinking beyond your product’s use cases and into their broader implications is key.
A framework I frequently revisit that helps guide this thought process is The Elements of Value, published by Bain & Co in 2015. This study defined the 30 values consumers care about the most and organized them into a hierarchy using Functional, Emotional, Life-changing and Social impact tiers. Their research indicated that the more of these values a company actually provides, the more successful it will be in terms of revenue growth and net promoter score (NPS), a measurement of customer loyalty.
And while The Elements of Value is normally used to inspire new product development, it can also be used as a tool to analyze and improve your messaging.
Applications in messaging
Once you’ve successfully identified the values your product delivers, you can use that knowledge to audit your current messaging and check for alignment and areas of opportunity. For this analysis, I encourage you to take an internal and external perspective.
- Internal: What you could be messaging against based on the value you deliver.
- External: What competitors message against and what customers truly care about.
Your goal in this analysis should be to answer these five questions:
1. Are there values your product provides that you aren’t currently speaking to?
I’ll start with an easy example: ginger ale. Most people like ginger ale! Why wouldn’t they? It’s bubbly, crisp and refreshing, especially on a sweltering summer day. However, if you were to only message to those value props, you’d be ignoring the fact that it can also settle your tummy. Parents love ginger ale for that exact reason.
“BARFING CHILD? Try ginger ale!”
2. Are your competitors messaging against values that you should be, too?
Often, you’ll realize that the competition is speaking to values in ad copy or on-site that you hadn’t even considered. It might also be the case that you’re clearly stronger in a given value and should be competing head-to-head.
Let’s compare Subaru and Volvo. Both car brands are spacious, great in the snow and excellent for rural living. However, Subaru is the only one highlighting that their car is perfectly suited for four-legged, furry companions.
Just look at the search results pages below. Here is suburu + dogs:
Now compare it with this results page for Volvo + dogs:
Does this mean Volvo is an inherently worse car brand for dog owners? No. In fact, I’d argue they are comparable. It just means that maybe Volvo doesn’t fully understand its customer base or what they value most.
3. Are your competitors failing to message against important values related to your product?
An absence of value messaging by competitors is a prime opportunity for you to differentiate. As the previous example showed, Subaru clearly capitalized on Volvo’s lack of love for man’s best friend.
4. Are you communicating the values that customers actually care about?
In my last article, I explained the importance of understanding the criteria that customers use when deciding to purchase or engage with your product or service.
As a refresher, here is an example list:
- Quality of service/product.
- Overall ease of the service.
- Customer support.
You should always consider your company’s list when crafting your messaging on-site and in ads. For example, maybe your product is cost-efficient and saves people money. That’s great!
On the other hand, if this is not something your ideal customer cares about, you may fail to engage someone who might have otherwise converted had they been presented a different value proposition.
Could you imagine a luxury watch brand attempting to compete with Rolex or Cartier by using price savings as their primary value prop? Sure, the watch might be slightly less expensive, but that also might not be what a customer in the market for a fancy watch wants to hear.
5. When and where are you communicating your values?
Your customer will have different prioritized values depending on where they are in their journey. For example, someone at the top of the funnel who is not yet aware of your product may be influenced more by functional value propositions, whereas emotional value propositions might appeal more to someone closer to purchasing.
This reminds me of the Facebook ads I occasionally see for SaaS products touting their life-changing technology. Yes, I am sure your cloud-based customer service and support ticketing platform is just the solution I need on my quest for mind-body harmony.
Remember, any combination of the above questions will create a stronger output, and incorporating all of them into your messaging strategy will create the strongest. Ideally, you should strive to message the values you deliver customers that they actually care about and that competitors aren’t messaging against.
And hopefully, you now have several new entries in your testing roadmap!
In my next article, I will show you how to collect and analyze your competitors’ emails and weave them into your retention strategy.