Identifying unique value: The power of asking ‘So What?’

When was the last time you checked whether your positioning really and truly stands out?

If you haven’t checked your positioning or customer value proposition and USPs in a while, you must have deep pockets.

Why, do I hear you ask? Because if you aren’t unique you have to either be cheaper or spend a disproportionate amount of cash on finding and acquiring customers – either way, your budget takes a hit.

That might seem insignificant, but in the world of B2B where marketing budgets and teams are very often stretched, it could be the difference between delivering a much-needed acquisition campaign to help deliver the revenue forecast, or not. And we’ve all been in that position in Q4 when sales ask for help and you have nothing left in the kit bag.

So, before you commit cash to either discounting or a paid media campaign, it pays to take a moment to look at your value proposition and USPs.

I know it’s tough and there are lots of reasons not to. Some of the most common ones we hear are;

…We just don’t have the time…

…My company launched ‘the product’ before I started working here, that part was already done…

…It’s been selling really well for the last 3 years so why would I need to review it?

…Management just want me to get the campaign out the door asap…

But would you take out a new insurance policy without first checking if you needed one, or at least that you’re getting the best deal? Probably not. Taking the time to review your positioning before spending your budget on campaigns is the same principle.

Your customers are reviewing the market more regularly than you and unless you are an established and highly regarded brand with significant retention and long contract lengths, there is every opportunity for your competitors to steal a march.

Who should write the positioning or proposition?

In a perfect world, Product Marketing is ideally positioned to review your positioning. They have strong knowledge of the technical capabilities of the product yet are outwardly focused. One of their main raisons d’etre is to help the company grow by understanding the market and the customer and use that knowledge to clearly define USPs that meet the customers’ needs.

Not every Marketing Team has the luxury of this role however and very often it is either Product Management (who are focussed on technical and functional capabilities) or a generalist Marketer who takes on a number of roles in the business from digital to events and CRM (and everything in between).

Identifying unique value: The power of asking ‘So What?’

So how do you begin?

We recently helped a client to come up with new positioning for a major product launch. They have grown their business very successfully over the last 20 years. However, with changes in technology, the customers’ environment and new digital competitors; a new perspective was needed.

Not surprisingly when creating messaging that is customer focussed, the thinking has to start with the customer.

  1. What is happening in the industry, what are the trends driving change? What forces does this exert on your customers business?
  2. Who is the customer and within their team, the buyer? Who makes the decisions and who influences the decisions? Have changes in the industry altered how the customer buys and what is important to them?
  3. What are your competitors saying?
  4. Talk to the sales team. Yes of course if you have a budget and you are about to launch your biggest product in 5 years then by all means commission primary research. But remember your sales team are talking to your customers every day. How do they pitch the company against the competition and overcome objections from customers? Talk to people in different Regions, and a mixture of inside and field-based reps and don’t forget Sales Management, as the latter can provide you with a broader perspective.
  5. Engage the Commercial leadership team. I hear you thinking what has that got to do with product positioning? Well, think about it. If there is a commercial barrier to the product selling at greater volume (such as Sales not being incentivised to sell it through the commission structure) you need to know about it. It won’t just be the market positioning you need to take a look at.

Treat it like a research project

Make the time in your calendar, I recommend two days. Get the meetings set up in advance, you can gather a huge amount of insight when you treat this like a mini-research project.

Once you have this information, take a step back. Can you identify what makes you different from your competitors and stand out to your customers? Can you recognise areas where your positioning simply lists functional product benefits but doesn’t actually tell the customer how it meets their needs? (This is probably THE most common challenge we come across, particularly with tech businesses where the technology tends to feature front and centre.)

How to overcome this problem?

It sounds simple but look at what happens if you keep asking yourself and your team; so, what?

Let’s use a really simple example. Three ‘benefits’ or unique selling points which are quite often found on company website homepages. But do they really set you apart or tell the customer what difference this makes for them?

  • Fast delivery
  • Great customer service
  • Local advisors

Fast delivery. So what? What is the customer benefit here? What did your research uncover about what was important to the customer? Is it speed or reliability that is most important? How does this help them most? Is it resource efficiency or the service they provide to their customer which is most important?

Customer insight is absolutely critical to getting your positioning right.

Simple statements can mean a number of things and unless you speak in the language that your customers want to hear, you risk missing the mark.

Take a look at how simply asking ‘so what?’ can help you to actually find the customer benefit rather than the functional statement:

  • 2-hour delivery guarantee (so what?) that enables you to meet your customers’ deadlines
  • First-time fault resolution (so what?) so you achieve maximum uptime
  • Specialist local knowledge (so what?) to help you deliver detailed insight to your customers

I’ve used a product example in this article, but you can apply the same thought process to a whole product category or to an entire business. I’d strongly recommend creating a draft value proposition which you then test, either in a workshop or across different internal and customer-facing people in your business. Ideally, find a few friendly customers to pitch it to and listen to their feedback, make the changes and go again.

So…block out some time. Get yourself some tasty snacks and put your thinking cap on because no one can create market-leading positioning and value propositions in 5 minutes flat. Getting it right can be difficult and sometimes, you may just need a little extra help.

Help is out there!

When you’re ‘inside the jar’ the writing on the label can sometimes get a bit fuzzy, because let’s face it – business owners and marketing leaders always have A LOT of competing priorities. Carving out thinking space is tough and when you’re spread thinly and knee-deep in detail, it’s not easy either. An external consultant or facilitator can give you a fresh perspective, challenge the status quo and ask the challenging questions you might otherwise avoid.

Author: Helen Brown, Director & Co-Founder, Seeblue Marketing


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