Sharper Marketing – Refining your Offer

We asked our experts to show how professional service firms can sharpen their game by differently or better defining their service offering (or value proposition) to prospects. Lessons here for all businesses.

Experts included:

Marc Lawn led off by discussing the importance of being clear and unique, being memorable.  You have two seconds to catch or lose someone’s attention.  Use less text, and focus the message by knowing how you want people to see you and whom you want to reach.  Be accurate, so you can actually follow through on the expectations you raise.

To create this focus, Marc uses the Marketing Triangle — a tool for structuring one’s thinking about a product, in order to better communicate your offering to your potential customer.  The triangle consists of Attributes, Personality, and Essence.

Attributes of the offer – the words to describe it
Within attributes, list Functional Benefits – how am I physically going to benefit?  And, list Emotional Benefits – how am I going to emotionally benefit? This could be

Personality — this expresses the idea that your firm is unique in the way it interacts with the world.

Values — imagine the lines around a football playing field – these lines show where you will and won’t play.  Your values should define what you will and won’t do.

Essence — 2-3 words of what we do — “we sell soda” for Pepsi — this really guides how you market.

Example using the soccer team Manchester United:

  • 134 yrs of history
  • play in the color red,
  • nickname of Red Devils
  • location Manchester
Functional benefits:
  • they are winners
  • they have scale and stature
  • they recruit up-and-coming talent, new players
Emotional benefits:
  • try new things
  • willing to be creative
  • exciting and unexpected
Personality: Youthful winners
Values: flair, creative, exciting, adventurous aggression
Essence: “youthful ambition”

There’s a strong message of dependability with a brand — a sense that your brand will be the same yesterday, today, tomorrow and the day after.

Marc has branded himself very clearly as The Business GP — GP being a doctor, a General Practitioner — and uses medical imagery and an extended medically themed analogy. His web site is simple and clear. He also offers “open surgery” where he privately will answer simple questions posed by anybody, client or not.

Summary: clarify the message so you can deliver it in 2 seconds; clarify your target client and go find them; and deliver your message to that audience consistently and using the right media that will actually reach them.

Seena Sharp, author of Sharp Market Intelligence: Market Due Diligence and Competitive Intelligence, emphasizes the importance of getting close to the client.

We gather competitive intelligence all the time.  When you go buy a car, you check with your friends, you research products, and you comparison shop.

Astonishingly, many business people lose touch with the market.  Seena shared a story about a client who got it right.

Seena worked with a wrestling equipment maker, and they discovered that in high school, as many girls wrestle as boys, yet there were no products for girls.  Reebok discovered years ago that women were buying men’s running shoes — and they made money by serving this untapped market.

So a key step is to read the trade journals of your industry.  This is basic research that anybody can do.

Customers are eager to communicate their needs — all your customer facing people from delivery, receptionists, service people, to sales people are in a position to hear this information.  Collect it from them, and go initiate conversations with clients.

Sometimes research reveals what market not to attempt.  An EEG maker had built a compact, lightweight EEG machine and they wanted to market it to the military.  By doing research, they quickly found the military will not field any piece of equipment that emits electro-magnetic fields that could give away the user’s position to the enemy.  Seena’s client was able to abort their plan to start up a whole new division to start selling to the military, saving a vast amount of money.

There are always opportunities out there.

A company should continually re-verify their assumptions about their market, at least annually.  Richard Branson of the Virgin Group is in over 200 industries, and he picks industries that have not changed in years — because they are stale.

And any time you’re prepared to spend significant money on a new product, go verify your assumptions in the market before putting that money at risk.  Don’t take a “Field of Dreams” approach — the idea that if you build it, they will come.

Seena says every single research project she’s led has come up with at least one major surprise.

Mitch Gooze of The Customer Manufacturing Group is a returning expert with deep marketing expertise. He agreed with Seena, recalling the saying “it’s not what you don’t know that hurts you — it’s what you know that isn’t so.”

Research has to be very honest — don’t set out to prove you’re right.  Set out instead to find out what’s up.

Mitch says that services companies in particular are very bad at expressing their offerings in terms of what the client gets out of it. As he put it, you’re either saying something they already know, in which case they wonder why they bothered to hire you, or you’re saying something they don’t know, in which case they think you’re wrong.

What is it that the customers are looking to acquire? What do they want to buy?

Because so many service providers are so mediocre, Mitch says, customers have become disenchanted. They expect everybody in the industry to be equally mediocre, and they focus on buying on price. And too many foolish service providers go along with that, and compete on price instead of doing the hard work of differentiating themselves.

Don’t have the arrogance of imagining that your customer spends all day thinking about you.

Mitch suggests you decide up front whether this is a single person business, or a brand you want to build beyond one provider. This is a strategic decision to either market yourself as a unique person, or your firm as a unique provider of value.

Answer the question: “what can I buy from you that I can’t buy anywhere else?”

Shel Horowitz, ethical marketing expert and author of Guerrilla Marketing Goes Green was marketing from a young age — he started as a teenager.

The sharper you can define what you offer, the more interesting you become. Everyone fears becoming too narrow, which almost never happens, and instead they become too vague and fade into the background.

If you’re a lawyer, ask yourself what kind of law you are particularly good at, and what kind of law you especially enjoy.

(listen to the entire interview)

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