The Value Proposition, and its close cousin, the Unique Selling Proposition, are two time-honored tools that have been used for ages to help marketers crystallize a message that is relevant to customers. In the age of social media and social selling, they still represent the crucial core of good positioning and messaging. But marketers need some new ways to address the unique challenges of dialog.
The simple idea behind the Value Proposition is to communicate the positive outcome your customers get from using your product. It distills the value of your offering down to its most compelling root. For example: SocialRep helps enterprise companies increase channel revenue by empowering partners to generate a 30% increase in leads through inbound marketing. That’s a bit over-simplified, but that’s the idea. Jill Konrath goes into great detail on her site on how to formulate your own great value propositions, and I recommend downloading her free toolkit.
The Unique Selling Proposition (USP) is different from a Value Proposition in that it’s designed to differentiate your value from the alternatives. Introduced by ad-man Rosser Reeves in the early 1960s, the USP was designed to excite customers about something your competitors can’t match. You may have seen different formulas for generating a USP. One of the most common is like an ad-lib: Our [product] offers [benefit] to [target customer]. Unlike [competitors], we offer [unique features]. Again, a bit oversimplified, but that’s the idea.
The power behind the Value Proposition and the USP is the focus on distilling your message down to what is most relevant to your customers. That hasn’t changed with social media. It is still important for companies to do the grinding legwork of understanding the customer’s needs, and to align your core message to be relevant and compelling.
However, it’s important to understand these tools were developed in the age of broadcast media—an age in which companies focused on carefully crafted messages to influence customers through PR and Advertising. These approaches were centered around creating and transmitting messages as effectively as possible to a target audience. They were not centered around dialog with customers. Typically, the customer perspective would be gathered through research as a data input into the messaging process.
As anyone who has spent any time observing or interacting with customers through social media knows, dialog is messy, constantly shifting, and far more dynamic than a crafted message. Messages can be shredded in an instant with a poor review, a disgruntled customer on Twitter, or a flame war erupting on a forum. But the far more common experience for companies getting involved with social media is just failing to get beyond a flat presentation of talking points Tweeted into the void at regular intervals via HootSuite.
So without belaboring the background anymore, let me introduce a couple of ideas we’ve put into practice with clients that help build on the idea of a Value Proposition for social media.
The Customer Community
The first idea is to change your notion of a “Market Segment” for whom you need a great message. Instead, start thinking about your “Customer Communities”. One of the most powerful impacts of social media is that customers now talk to each other all the time online. They share insights and experiences, they compare notes on how you deliver, they shape your brand image in the minds of other customers, and they influence sales. When you think about a customer community, the first questions to ask are “What is their shared interest? What is it they connect to talk about?” You need to be able to contribute to those conversations in meaningful and relevant ways. The next questions to ask are “Where are they connecting online? How can I join that conversation in a useful way?”
The Company Role
The second idea is to expand your notion of a value proposition to think about the value your company brings to the community. Are you a galvanizing force that brings customers together? Are you a visionary that helps customers understand emerging trends? Are you a troubleshooter that assists customers in understanding and solving problems? There are a lot of possible roles a company can fill, but the important point, as with the Value Proposition, is to distill it down to the value you bring to the community by participating, beyond just the value of the products you sell. How are you serving your community?
One of the exercises we use to help think about different types of roles is to imagine your company as a superhero. What unique ability do you bring as a member of your customer community? For example, at SocialRep we imagine our superhero quality as the ability to help our customers see the future, based on the social data and intelligence at the foundation of our inbound channel marketing platform. So we use that concept to help shape our content strategy and the way we try to show up in social media. When we do it well, our role is delivering useful insights into emerging trends and opportunities to help make our community smarter.
Value propositions and USPs are still critically important—it will always be necessary for companies to distill and advocate a compelling brand message. But to bring that to life in the age of social media you can’t just speak it, you have to live it. Understanding your market as a community of customers joined by a shared interest, and understanding your role in bringing value to your community in a way that is relevant to those shared interests, is a useful framework for learning how to walk your talk.