Growth is the holy grail for almost all companies, and its pursuit prompts CEOs to utter endless and effectively meaningless platitudes about the difficulties of increasing competition and a host of other woes they meet on a daily basis.
Very rarely will you hear a CEO discussing the company value proposition – and that strikes me as odd, because it is so fundamental to what a company does and consequently its success.
I suspect the reason we hear so little about value proposition wrangling from the top is because of a perception it could be like airing dirty laundry in public.
CEOs viewing it that way should see their stance as a strong signal to consider their positions because it points to out‐of‐date world views.
A brand is now what customers experience and what they tell their friends it is. A brand is no longer what a company simply asserts it is.
Highly polished corporate messaging is out and authenticity is in because of the erosion of trust caused by numerous corporate scandals (Enron, VW etc), the rise of social media, online reviews and the fallout of the global financial crisis.
As the digital revolution rolls on and we spend more time interacting through our screens, people increasingly value meaningful human interactions and that means our tangible experience of a brand takes on new significance.
Quentin Hardy, writing in the New York Times, put it nicely: “It may be that, in a world rich in digital information, physical contact, and the personal trust and relationship that still comes by spending time with someone, has become even more valuable, since it is harder to come by.”
The clear take away from that is that your brand needs to sound human and, even better, act like a human being.
Are you valued by your customers?
As we transition from the old world of shiny and suit wearing CEOs to a more human age, senior marketers are clearly struggling with their value prop, citing it as their number one concern globally, according to research house Frost&Sullivan.
The old school and internally focused way to come up with value propositions is dead, but not all companies have caught onto that yet. Before delving into that, we should probably define what the hell value propositions are.
Myriad definitions exist on the web, but let’s turn to the Financial Times: “The benefits that a product or service provides to customers, especially by being different to or better than a competitor’s products or services.”
It’s a basic definition, but it’s good enough to get us moving.
A value proposition should neatly encapsulate what it is that your company does and why people should care, pay attention or otherwise choose it above another option.
What is the most effective way therefore of coming up with a value prop that can be communicated effectively and drive growth? It is surely to co‐create it with your customers.
Service design – powered by design thinking – is the most powerful way to design a winning value proposition because it involves your customers, it considers their context (i.e. what they are doing and feeling when interacting with your company) and it depends on real insight.
Observation and deep learning is the service design starting point, because the insight needs to be meaningful and grounded in the reality and context inhabited by your customers.
The old school surveys and focus groups are useful but they won’t be able to give you the level of detail that comes with the openness of the design thinking approach.
Observing your customers, workshopping with them and co‐creating will get you further along than simply asking what they want or need – there’s a strong bias in people to you tell what they think you want to hear. The service design approach bypasses that and gets to a more honest communication more quickly.
It is that ethnographic influenced approach that will help you bridge the gap between what customers say and what they do, and in the process you have the opportunity to uncover unmet needs/wants that your customers might not even realise they have or be able to articulate.
That is your starting point for innovation.
Delivering true innovation requires two further areas of capability that are closely inter‐related – engagement (internal and external) and transformation.
Engagement is about how the world of customers and prospects will learn about and understand your value proposition, and it must equally engage your staff as they are the people who will deliver on your promises.
Staff engagement is a legitimate concern for CEOs the world over because of the professional disenfranchisement so many workers report feeling.
Growth outcomes with service design
Good service design considers the context and reality of your company to ensure that any value proposition is sustainable.
Involving staff who actually deliver on your brand promises in the service design process is a powerful way to help them re‐engage and find new meaning in their work.
Transformation (deliberately dropping the digital so popular these days) is the process by which your company will move from its current state to its future state.
That future state needs to be one where the company is inherently digital, and in which management stop talking about digital strategy and just describe strategy.
Think about it this way – the USA has hit the tipping point where the dominant workforce demographic is under 35, and that means most of those people have only ever known digital cameras, making the digital precursor redundant. That tipping point is coming to the UK as well.
The inherently customer centric (and digital by default) future state that CEOs must much towards means business models need to be challenged rather than afforded sacred cow status.
That future needs a transformation that goes beyond digital, because the company structure will be orientated around the needs of the customer rather than the needs of the firm. It is a future where marketing could cease to be a department because it is something that everyone does.
The diagram shows how the foundations of innovation, engagement and transformation support the value proposition, which in turn must be the driver of growth for the organisation.
The idea is to improve, evolve and iterate your company, communicate your value proposition to your employees and customers so that the company can continually transform.
What better way to bring your value proposition to life but by having your people live, breath and embody it, and for every touchpoint to be congruent from the customer perspective.
It’s an ambitious goal, but the companies that get close to that level of corporate self‐actualisation can look forward to significant bottom‐line rewards.
Your value proposition – when it truly satisfies a customer need – is the engine of your growth.