It might be time to change our value propositions

The greatest danger in times of turbulence is not the turbulence—it is to act with yesterday’s logic

Peter drucker

It is impossible to articulate how unsettling these times are for all of us. Just like a lot of you, I am struggling. I’m struggling to reframe a marketing message in a world that seems to need something more than what I offer professionally. Many of us think it needs a lot more kindness and compassion, don’t we?

I sat down today to write an article about the importance of a core value proposition to guide your marketing. It was easy to come up with a lot of business blah-blah that had been regurgitated countless other times by countless other people, but it wasn’t easy to come up with a way to make that very simple business premise relevant to today’s disturbing uncertainties. So, today, I look inward.

When I was a small boy, my family took a ride on a big jet airplane to go visit some relatives. The flight attendant gave the safety demo. When she said, “Put the oxygen mass over your nose and mouth, and breathe normally,” my 9-year-old eyes looked up at my teenage brother and asked, “What is breathing ‘normally’ when the plane is crashing?” To me, it was a legitimate question. He was laughing too hard to answer it.

How do we market ‘normally’ today? Yesterday’s value proposition may not be so valuable anymore. Deep discounts, free shipping and liberal return policies may need to be augmented by safety, solace and peace of mind as the things that customers value most.

For decades, we’ve been taught to write our value propositions with our customer’s needs in mind. “First, ask the customer what they value about your business, then give them that,” has been one guiding principle. There are many resources in pretty simple language that will help step you through the process of creating your value proposition, including this one from Your value proposition is key to your marketing effort, so don’t ignore it. However, I’d like to add a layer to it.

What Do We Want to Provide?

This question came to me while I was re-noodling my own value proposition. Notice the breadth of philosophy knit into the wording.

First, is the verb “want”. Companies often ask themselves about what they can provide and what they should provide, but not what they want to provide. It’s an emotional word.

Second, is the verb “provide”. Of course, we could ask, “What do we want to sell?”, but I want to take us a step past the profit motive. There’s nothing wrong with the profit motive. It’s perfectly sane and necessary. Of course, many brands do ask themselves what they want to provide. Apple has developed a number of products without an ounce of consumer demand in place. Had they stuck with the question, “What should we sell?”, we’d likely never have seen the iPhone.

The word “provide” is defined as supplying something useful or necessary. Apple decided it wanted to provide the world with a whole new experience. To give something doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s useful or necessary. (See what happens when you give teddy bears in response to a hurricane.) So the idea of providing something is a powerful concept. Wanting to provide it speaks to passion. Apple exemplifies this in their value proposition: The Experience IS the Product.

Adding what we want to provide into the analysis of our value proposition, helps us more deeply understand the interconnectedness between our brand and our customer. It helps us see both ends of the transaction more clearly, and feel it at a more visceral level. In fact, employee morale may be related to how your workers feel about what they are providing to customers. If they don’t feel like they’re providing very much, morale will likely be low. If they love what they provide, morale will likely be high. In this way, your value proposition is not just a marketing tool, but a way to rally an army of stakeholders under the same battle cry.

Thích Nhất Hạnh at the Mahabodhi Temple, Bodhgaya, India

Mindfulness is a psychological technique for calming the mind, helping one to focus on the present moment. Thích Nhất Hạnh is a Vietnamese Buddhist monk who is largely credited with introducing the practice to the West. He has sold over 2 million books on the subject, as well as written and lectured extensively on the application of mindfulness in business. In his book, The Art of Power, he writes:

“By focusing on our spiritual power, we can change our bottom line from pure profit to one that includes compassion. We don’t need to get rid of profit. Compassion can bring financial and political success.”

So in these insanely chaotic times, let’s consider doing more than business with each other. Let’s try providing for each other. As the famous saying about chicken soup goes, “It couldn’t hurt.”

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