POSTED : August 26, 2015

There’s a business-related urban legend that’s stuck with me all these years and it goes something like this. A high-end sports car manufacturer had just released their latest high performance luxury sports car. All the industry research had been done and the manufacturer knew they had all the winning elements. The dealerships were primed with the benefits of the new car with statements like “…latest technology and design for high performance…” and “…gas mileage efficiency.” The dealerships were ready to go with what they had been told were the talking points for why a customer would want to buy the car. But when the customers came in and started test driving the cars an interesting thing occurred. More often than expected, people passed over it for another model not because of its high performance engine, luxury design, or gas mileage. Frequently it was because of the cup holders. People were really interested in the cup holders. The manufacturer had underestimated the value proposition, the practical value of being able to hold the morning Venti Latte.

The moral of the story really boils down to winning business or missing the mark. This fundamentally comes down to understanding what is important to your target audience. The idea of customer value applies universally when bringing new products and solutions to market. That seems obvious, but frequently as marketers we get swept up into the internal excitement about a new product, service, or technology feature and forget that we are only talking to ourselves (unless we have truly identified what our customers care about).

This starts with an intimate understanding of our target audience – who are they, what do they want, and how do we know?  Once we’ve proven our credibility, been given the permission to engage, and are in the running for consideration the last thing we want to do is rush to close with benefit statements that don’t align to what our customers actually want. With this in mind, every time I get ready to launch a product or service, I think to myself “do I really know what my cup holders are?”

Here are 5 key considerations to ensure your value proposition is on the mark:

  1. Know your customer. You need to understand who your customers are knowing that they might be different by geo, by product and by segment.
  2. Know what they care about.  It’s really important to understand your customer’s truth. Author and marketing strategist, Ardath Albee, talks about the importance of understanding buyers and customers. You need to know what makes them tick, what keeps them up at night, and what lights them up. These days, there’s no excuse not to understand what is top of mind with your target audience. Social listening tools like Google Alerts, Socialmention, and Buzzsumo can help you tune in to the discussions that your audience is having about you, your product, and your competition so you can avoid leading with a message that isn’t relevant. You can also lean into more formal primary and secondary research, including customer journey mapping, to give you unique insights into how your target audience thinks about and interacts with your product. Make sure you know what your customer wants – not what you think they should want.
  3. Be careful not to talk only about yourself. Resist the temptation to focus all your content on your products or solutions. Research conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) found that 71% respondents had a negative impression when the content seemed more like a sales pitch than useful information. Make a real connection with your audience by focusing your storytelling on their point of view – weaving in relevant benefits when the time is right.
  4. Lead with your “cup holders.” Once a customer is at the point of consideration, lean into the features about your product or service that the customer cares about the most. This might not be what you originally thought it would be – see #2!
  5. Determine your “cup holders” for tomorrow. Realize that today’s hot feature has a shelf life. Keep a weather eye open for the next new thing by listening, talking to your customers, and creating continual feedback loop from partners and sellers to ensure you stay connected to the evolving business needs of your customers.

So before you get ready to launch your next product or service ask yourself, “Is our value proposition delivering on the ‘cup holder’ promise?”

For related reading, check out this deep-dive on how customer insights and an intimate understanding of customer behavior can help create break-through customer acquisition strategies.

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