One of the most important goals of marketing is to get people talking about your business. When people are thinking and talking about what you do, revenue is sure to follow. Perhaps the best way to get people talking about your business is to strategically stand out from the competition – to differentiate your business by doing something in a way that others don’t.
These days, that translates into the need for deep, empathetic, insights into the desires, goals and pain points of your ideal customer, so you can design an experience that fits THEIR needs. The word “experience” is important to wrap your head around. Buyers don’t actually want to buy things – they’re seeking to have some experience that your product or service can deliver or facilitate. Your ability to deliver what they are seeking, and how, is called your “value proposition.” Despite what some businesses and classical economists seem to think, your customers’ journey is as much about personal bias as it is about price or objective “value.”
An effective marketing strategy or experience design is built on a strong value proposition and a core difference – as defined by the buyer. As you implement a customer-centric focus in your business, it is vital to understand what your customers are really after and what they how they expect to get it. This is a concept that is quite distinct from just “having great service” or competitive pricing. Our customers’ buying journey is often more emotional, non-linear and complex than we assume and is much less about price than you may be inclined to believe. To quote best-selling author John Jantsch in “Duct Tape Marketing“, there is always a competitor out there “willing to go out of business before you” in an attempt to undercut your market share.
The Value Proposition Canvas
Up to seventy-two per cent of new product and service innovations fail to deliver on expectations. It doesn’t matter if you have what seems like a great idea to you and your team unless your customers agree. Many a product or service has failed to impress anyone outside the team that created it. So, how can you design something that you KNOW your customers will want? We start with a great tool known as the Value Proposition Canvas. It’s the first step in a process that helps you to visualize, design, and test how you create value for your customers.
The value proposition canvas consists of two main components – the”customer profile” and the “value map.” Used in tandem, both are designed to help you focus on the customer’s “jobs to be done, pains and gains” and then address each point to form the core of what you should offer that features “gain creators and pain relievers.”
The Customer Profile – Always start with the customer
The customer profile is designed to help you identify, and describe, the problem your customer is really trying to solve. These problems, or tasks, might be functional, social, emotional, or some combination of these. As an example, someone buying an expensive hand-made Persian rug isn’t just trying to cover the floor of a room. They might actually be looking for a piece of art that tells visitors to their home a story about the owner. It’s the same idea behind buying a BMW instead of the cheapest available car. The buyer is seeking something that says something about THEM, instead of making a purely rational calculation about value.
The next bit that the canvas is designed to highlight is what your customers struggle with when trying to solve their problem or complete their “job.” What “pains” and negative outcomes would your customers like to avoid or eliminate from the process? An example here is booking a room in a hotel. It’s been an all too common experience to book a room in a place that looks great online and turns out to be otherwise. How easy is the booking process? Am I going to get a marketing email next week that tells me the room I just booked is on sale for half the price I’ve already paid?
This qualitative approach, paired with quantitative data, is really the only way to really create accurate buyer personas.
Finally, the customer profile identifies customer “gains,” which describe how customers measure a job well done. What do they want to experience or accomplish when they buy, and how do they want to feel in the process?
As you learn about more your customer’s profile (their jobs, pains, and desired gains), you can track, visualize, and test your understanding of your customers. The information becomes more accurate and reliable as you gather more qualitative information and really learn about your customers’ motivations. This qualitative approach, paired with quantitative data, is really the only way to really create accurate buyer personas.
Even if you don’t have the immediate resources to run through an entire Design Thinking exercise, the process of interviewing and observing your customers and potential customers is the place to start.
The critical part is making sure you’re really listening – and not leading them to the answer you want to hear. The goal should be to eliminate any daylight between what your customer finds critically valuable and what you imagine to be the case. Remember that, if your customers don’t really desire what you offer, no marketing strategy will be enough to overcome that fact in the long run.
The Value Map – Design an experience
How do your services or products make their lives easier or better in some way? How can you help them to avoid unfavourable outcomes?
The value map outlines how your offering will maximize the outcomes and benefits your customers explicitly expect or desire. These are referred to as “gain creators.” It also forces you to design an experience that minimises or eliminates things they are really hoping to avoid – “pain relievers.” Imagine the difference between buying a piece of clothing that looks great on day one but that falls apart after 2 months versus one that you have for 2 years before seeing the first signs of wear. The point is, what constitutes a gain or a pain is entirely based on customer insight.
Are you willing to bet your business entirely on unvalidated assumptions?
In short, the value map helps you describe and communicate exactly how your product or service eliminates pains and creates gains for your customers. This will help you to identify and refine your value proposition and core marketing message. You can make changes and adjust things until you find what truly resonates with your customers. Of course, your customers’ journey will always be evolving – and your value proposition needs to evolve with them.
You identify your value proposition when you make a clear connection between what matters to your customers and how your products or services will ease pains and maximize gains. Failing to really empathise with your customer, or thinking that you already know is needlessly risky. Are you willing to bet your business entirely on unvalidated assumptions?
Unfortunately, many businesses prefer to think they know more about their customers than they actually do – sometimes drawing too many conclusions from the gut feeling of a charismatic (or just headstrong) leader or manager. Just remember that it’s not up to the boss to simply declare what’s valuable.
Your customers define your value proposition – not you!
Your value proposition is an essential part of transforming and growing your business. The key is to remember that it’s your customers that define your value proposition, not you. There has been, until very recently, a clear shift in power from seller to buyer in the sales process. Customers search and consume differently than in the past – largely due to the sheer availability of information and other options. Switching costs and barriers to entry for competitors aren’t what they used to be. It’s up to your customers to determine what should set you apart in the ways that matter to them.
Maybe you do have better customer service or higher quality products than anyone else (and your customers know that), but is that what your customers really love about what you do?
Differentiating yourself doesn’t mean you need to do something big, expensive, dramatic, or controversial. You just need to do something better, faster, or in a unique way that meaningfully incorporates their perspective in your experience design.
Ask your customers to tell you your value proposition
How can a small business start really start to uncover its value proposition quickly? For an existing small business, you might start by creating a list of ten to twelve of your ideal clients. This group should be a subset of your most profitable customers, who also actively refer new business. Given limited resources, it hardly makes sense to spend time courting unprofitable customers who don’t really get your value. Stick with the ones that do. Interview them, either by phone or in person, and invite them to share the details their experience with your business.
What are they really trying to get done when they buy from you and what is unique about how you deliver? If they say you have great service – push them further to explain what that really looks like.
Use all of the information you can get to be as clear as you can.
Ask questions like, “Why did you buy from us?” “What is one thing that we do that you appreciate the most?” “What is something we do that other companies don’t do?” “If you refer us to a friend, what do you say?” “Tell me about three other companies that you love to use.”
You aren’t looking for scientific data points; you’re looking for stories, repeated phrases, and common themes. These kinds of questions help you see your business from the customer’s point of view. What do they see and experience and what problems in their lives are you solving for them?
If you can, also spend time simply observing how customers interact with your brand – digitally AND in person if possible. Use all of the information you can get to be as clear as you can. The more you take the value proposition canvas seriously, the better the likely outcome.
Don’t be afraid to talk to your customers
Customer interviews reveal valuable information and insight about your company, especially in this age of empowered and informed customers. This is an essential part of any significant rebranding, transformation project, or product launch.
Even if you offer a product or service that has no strong competition, customer insights can help you anticipate unmet customer needs and continue to build a loyal base. Regular, quality, feedback from your customers can give you insight that enables you to keep up with and meet their expectations. Former Virgin Australia CEO, John Borghetti, was well known to travel weekly in economy class on his own airline to gather feedback in person.
Customer-centric companies are relationship-driven.
Follow-through is critical
The first step toward becoming a customer-centric business is to listen to your customers and respond empathetically, and systematically, to their feedback. Customer-centric companies are relationship-driven. An essential part of any relationship is truly listening, then acting in response to what you hear to create a positive experience – for both parties. If in doubt about this, go to your next networking event and stand on a chair – shouting loudly about what a great person you are, and see how you go. Believe it or not, this is the live equivalent to marketing and experience design that is all too common in business.
Have a close look at your own offerings, core message and marketing to see if you’re talking about your company more than about your customer. If so, calmly dismount the chair and stop shouting. You’ll make more friends that way.
When you decide to truly empathise with your customers, be prepared to act on what they are really saying. Every conversation raises their expectations of you – and that’s a good thing! You may be surprised at just how much they will want to help you deliver more of what they love.