An avid hiker with history of heart problems is on vacation. On one unlucky day, the hiker experiences chest pain, but is not sure what’s happening. In a nanosecond, ECG monitoring app on his cell phone detects a heart attack and sets off a chain of events… his doctor is notified, emergency response team dispatched, hiker location transmitted, preexisting conditions communicated. A life is saved.
An airline passenger on route to Hong Kong gazes out the window at a brewing typhoon. In an instant, her entertainment screen notifies her that her next flight has been delayed and presents her with alternative travel reservations. She updates her itinerary and avoids lines and crowds in the airport.
A tree falls in the middle of the road and a citizen uses her smartphone to text the city’s non-emergency services. In an instant, the messages are parsed and routed to the right department. Security cameras on the road confirm the hazard, and a crew is dispatched to clear the tree.
These are a few of the lead vignettes I wrote for HP’s recent launch of the Instant-On Enterprise. So, what do these scenes have to do with B2B marketing? Getting your audience to remember your message is 95% of the battle in marketing. Most marketing pitches targeting the CIO start with a benefit claim – Lower TCO by 40%, 2X faster than our competitor, etc. Many CIO customer presentations start with how the amount of data will be doubling every few years, or how many billion mobile devices there will be.
After a while, they start to sound the same.
By starting with a human story, we immediately grab a CIO’s attention; give him a break from the Lower TCO messaging clutter. We paint a picture of what our customer’s customer might experience in the near future based on our research of technology trends, then describe how our customer will need to become an Instant-On Enterprise.
It’s about breaking through and owning the narrative.
Here’s how story flows together in a video.
Here’s an article that summarizes the Instant-On Enteprise vision.
What do you think? Does the use of these vignettes create a differentiating point of view for HP?
Continuing from my last post, writing a strong value proposition is critical to communicating how your product or service is relevant to your customer segment. Now, there’s the easy way and the right way to write a value prop. The easy way is to craft one in half a day that is written well and sounds good, but that doesn’t include any specifics. The right way is to first gather quantified data which proves your value to your customer. From my experience, this is by far harder than the actual writing because you need to be able to make a claim against the competition that you can legally stand behind.
One grand example is Larry Ellison’s announcement in 2001, that Oracle saved $1 billion by implementing its own solution across the company. The easy way would have been to say “Oracle’s solution saves customers time and money.” Not very exciting. But in typical Ellison fashion, he went big. Think about how much resource and focus needed to be dedicated to be able to say four words “Oracle Saved $1 Billion”. He put the entire company behind making that claim. Was it worth it? Absolutely. Was it painful? Most probably.
Let’s take a look at an example of a weak and a strong value proposition.
Our value proposition rests on an unrivalled package of strategic, transactional and financial advisory services, uniquely linked with independent judgement and deep industrial/commercial insight.
Our reward is not “transaction-based”, so we can maintain genuine objectivity in our client’s long-term interest. In negotiating and carrying out an engagement for a client, we participate fully in the client’s corporate thinking, and take into account not just the immediate value and impact of the project, but its context and implications over a longer period of time.
We work closely with management and other advisors, such as major investment banks, to leverage and complement their knowledge and ensure maximum impact. We try to foster senior management’s commitment to our recommendations and actively support implementation and skill building.
- Above is the type of statement I often see passed off as a value prop, but it really falls somewhere between a mission statement and a description of capabilities. It’s very difficult to write a general value proposition that is not targeted to a specific audience and does not contain examples.
- It’s missing a quantified value. This could have been added in the form of an example or a claim such as “Our services have demonstrated an average of 20% ROI improvement.”
- It’s also missing a competitive differentiator. How is this approach better than any other consulting company?
Result: not a value proposition. It does succeed at describing what sounds like it might be relevant to their clients, but it’s missing any quantified results or competitive advantage.
How would we make it better?
Gather the data
- Brainstorm with the right people in the organization and list as many quantified factoids and data points as possible. (eg. saved xyz customer 20% in operations. Cut time-to-market in half from two to one year.)
- Run all of these data points through the sieve. Are these defensible, sourced? Are they actually better than something the competitor could do?
List competitive differentiators
- Create a list of the First, Best, Most, and Only claims your service or product could make.
- What capabilities do you have that your competitor doesn’t?
Make sure it’s relevant
- Talk about what you have done for customers, how you understand their industry.
- Are the values you are citing helping them improve their business by:
- Increasing revenue
- Decreasing cost
- Speeding time to market
- Improving agility (ie time to react to market changes)
- Making better use of resources (ie requires fewer people to accomplish something, or resources can be reapplied to more strategic areas)
- Providing better customer service for their customers
- Improving organizational intelligence and insight
- Improving accuracy of forecasts, predictions, market conditions
- Reducing the burden of compliance
Good value proposition example from VMWare
For IT organizations wrestling with the high cost and inflexibility of the old “one server, one application” model, VMWare can improve the efficiency and availability of IT resources and applications through virtualization. About 70% of a typical IT budget in a non-virtualized datacenter goes towards just maintaining the existing infrastructure, with little left for innovation. VMWare can free your IT admins from spending so much time managing servers rather than innovating. An automated datacenter built on the production-proven VMware virtualization platform lets you respond to market dynamics faster and more efficiently than ever before. VMware customers typically save 50-70% on overall IT costs by consolidating their resource pools and delivering highly available machines with VMware vSphere.
- This value proposition starts by describing the target customer’s problem their product solves
- It quantifies the problem: 70% of an IT budget spent towards maintenance
- It describes the benefits of implementing a virtualized data center
- It offers a range of IT cost savings from their typical customers
- The only thing it doesn’t do is offer an advantage over the competition. However, it is using the non virtualized datacenter as the alternative in this case.
Result: This is a good value proposition. Even though it didn’t go into the competition, it called out the customer problem the product addressed, described how it addressed it and offered tangible and relevant results.
If you would like my analysis on your value prop and don’t mind public scrutiny, send it to me and I’ll take a look.
Frequently in marketing, I hear a product or service’s ”value proposition” confused with a product description or list of benefits… “Saves time and money,” “Do more with less,” “2x faster” are actually not value propositions.
A value proposition needs to have three key elements in order to be a true value proposition:
- Quantified Value
I’m sure you’ve heard those packaged goods ads that claim “4 out of 5 dentists recommend Colgate” or “Twice the cleaning power of the leading brand (asterisk).” The most important ingredient of a value proposition is the quantified value of your claim compared with some other quantity. The power of the value you are claiming depends on:
1) How relevant the metric is to your audience
2) What you are comparing against
For example, if you are claiming your product runs “twice as fast.” A relatively weak comparison - yet, frequently used – would be against your previous model. The strongest comparison would be against an appropriate competitor’s performance or the industry benchmark. Of course, the metric has to be relevant. If you’re talking to a CEO, s/he may care less about how fast your product goes. Instead, the CEO might be more interested in how it helps his/her company reduce operational cost, or improve return on assets.
A value proposition is only as valuable as it is relevant to the audience you are targeting. If you have decided that your primary product or service benefit is that it lowers the cost of operation, that may be music to the ears of a airline CEO concerned with razor thin margins, but the CEO of a Telco may be more interested in deploying new mobile services to increase revenue per subscriber. Therefore, your lower cost pitch may not be as relevant or valuable to a Telco customer. Your value proposition needs to be tuned appropriately for each marketing segment.
- Unique Differentiation
The final ingredient is whether your competitors can make the same claim as you. If you claim your product can reduce their operating costs by 40%, and your competitor can claim 50%, you have a weak value proposition. This is why claiming a lower price is often a weak quantified value – your competitor can easily match your price, then you’re sunk.
If you’ve got all three of these key ingredients, and each is strong, you’ve got yourself a solid value prop. Of course, what makes a value prop even stronger is to weave it into a customer story or elevator pitch with real live examples.
In the next post, I’ll provide some examples of good value props and a template to help you make sure you’ve capture the key ingredients…
Monday, I ran down to HP’s Cupertino cafeteria to grab a quick salad before my next meeting. I was surprised to see the room – normally empty - packed with the lights dimmed. Normally, this meant an EVP was holding a quarterly update. Instead, the large projector screen was down with the Italy v Paraguay game playing. Without any sound, the room was quiet with the occasional synchronized sound of the “oh’s” and “whoa’s” of an intent audience. As I was getting my grilled chicken, there was the unmistakeable roar of the crowd reacting to a goal.
It was Antolin Alcaraz scoring his studly header against the stunned Italians. The Paraguayan players said they were playing for Salvador Cabanas who had been shot in the head in Mexico City earlier in the year.
Human stories like these stop us in our tracks. They are powerful enough to fill a normally empty cafeteria with people from all cultures. Good B2B marketing – or good marketing for that matter – will have the same stopping power. It’s all about putting it into a context that people will care about. The most tried and true formula is to tell a story.
The 5 Basic Storytelling Elements Applied to B2B Marketing
The Main Character – When you begin laying out a pitch to your customer, you may be tempted to start with an exaggerated problem, then introduce your solution to the problem. Instead, consider developing a character like you would if you were writing a screenplay for a movie. Ideally, this person should have similar qualities to your target audience. If you’re shooting a video, look for someone who looks like your target audience. Good character development will draw your potential customer in and make them care about what you’re about to say.
The Setting – Like the main character, the setting should help establish a connection with your audience. In B2B marketing this can mean choosing an industry and geography most relevant to your customers in which your story unfolds . When I present to customers, I always try to find and memorize a case study from their industry and region to earn their attention. (As I’m writing this, I’m studying about Smart Meters for a utility company presentation tomorrow).
The Plot – Your B2B plot should have a set up, a build up, and a pay off. What crisis does your character have? Was there a breaking point which gave your company an opportunity provide the solution? What were the results of the solution? And how did you help your customer “win” in the end?
The Backstory – In marketing, you need to make your point fast, fast, fast. So, the backstory in B2B marketing can be as simple as the context of your “main character’s” business, such as a big number – NYSE trades 13.3 million contracts traded per day – or a brand of which everyone will know the backstory. This helps set us the importance and drama of your story.
The Detail – This is your opportunity to embellish the story with color – make it more realistic and human. Depending on your marketing deliverable, you may or may not have an opportunity to embellish – but, this is the lowest priority element in B2B marketing.
When you put all these elements together with your B2B value proposition, you’ll have something much more powerful and impactful than 95% of what is produced today.
Last year, I went to a b@b breakfast with a panel of CIOs. When they were asked about the main way they stay in touch with their vendors, it was always through their account reps marketing and emails. Then, a marketer in the audience asked if they ever notice any of our ads, brochures, Whitepapers. The CIOs all stared blankly. It made me wonder why we even bother with advertising.
Most of the contact our B2B customers will get is through the sales force. As a B2B marketers, we should think of the sales force as our customers; therefore, it’s critical for us to regard sales enablement as a staple of our marketing mix. With that in mind here’s my top 5 list of how to help a sales person:
- Meet with customers. The sales team cares about what the customer cares about. In order to get on the same page as the sales force, you need to get inside your customer’s head, so that you can provide useful and credible information to the sales force. You need to proactively think of ways to get in front of customers. Listen in on a customer presentation. Go to a conference. Work a booth at an event. Present your company’s overview. The most valuable part of these engagements will be the questions the customers ask you.
- Ask how you can help. I know it sounds obvious, but so often, there is a lack of communication between marketing and sales. We like to go to our marketing offsites and create new ways to differentiate our value proposition. Equally as important though is reaching out to sales to find out what they need. The Funnelholic blog suggests that you meet regularly with sales. This may not be practical at large companies or at the end of the quarter. The next best thing is to do an informal survey, then give them what they ask for. Delivering on your promise will be the fastest way to becoming relevant to the sales team.
- Deliver a killer presentation. A staple of field marketing is the PPT. Many sales folks have told me that they usually have to cobble together a preso from a variety of sources because there’s to much fluff in what they get from marketing. I like to think of a customer presentation as a long-form value proposition which follows this structure:
- Problem statement/issues we are addressing
- The solution
- Customer successes using the solution
- Why only your company can deliver this solution
- Take the next step/call to action
- Give answers to the ugliest questions. It’s easy for any sales rep to answer the softball questions, “why should I buy this?” “How will this product help me?” What would be more useful is if you delivered an FAQ document FOR SALES’ EYES ONLY that answers questions you are afraid customers will ask (and of course they will).
“Why is the product six months late?”
“Your competitor just came out with something faster and cheaper, why should I buy yours?”
“Your new product is a forklift upgrade, isn’t it?”Even though these questions may not have great answers, you want to give your sales force the best answers rather than letting them squirm in front of their customer.
- Use customer language. This goes back to one of my previous posts about detoxing your KoolAid. If you hang out with marketing people for too long, you won’t be able to differentiate between spin and customer language. When you talk with customers, remember the vocabulary they use and reuse it in your marketing. Nothing wrong with coining clever phrases to break through the clutter, just make sure your messaging is simple to understand (and that you understand it!)
Working in a large organization, it’s easy to get lazy with your marketing. Marketers like to market to themselves, their peers, their friends, create buzzwords, cool sounding phrases, repackage stale concepts. Just look at the evolution of SaaS (Software-as-a-Service). Before SaaS, we were talking about SOA (Service Oriented Architecture), before that it was Web Services. At some point, someone in marketing coined these terms which eventually became standards. But, most of the time, clever phrases get cycled and recycled by marketers to the point where customers have no idea what we’re talking about. Check out Prose and Cons: Marketing Jargon Gone Wild. This entertaining blog tracks marketing jargon trends. When I posted this “Crowdsourcing” and “Trust Agent” were on the rise.
The best way to detox yourself from your own Kool-Aid is to talk to customers. Unlike with internal constituents, customers will let you know immediately whether what you are on target or full of c*&p. You’ll also get a real-world look at the problems they’re dealing with which you’ll be able to use later to improve your value proposition.
Last week, I presented our introduction to HP deck to an enterprise customer in the HR outsourcing business. Just preparing for the presentation forced me to lift my head up from my every day work and brush up on our news and acquisitions. I had to learn about areas of our business of which I was unfamiliar. I got rid of our “fluffy” slides attempting to dramatize, such as ”When a mother dials 911, you know you can count on us.” That may work for an ad, but I could never imagine saying that to a VP of IT. The presentation also forced me to speak in plain English and strip out all the “Complete Integrated Solution” and “Best-In-Class” language which we so often find so liberally sprinkled throughout tech brochures.
A lot of marketers I know rarely talk to customers because it can be intimidating. What if they ask me a tough question? What do I talk to them about? But, as a marketer, you gotta do it. It’s like going to the gym; it takes discipline, but if you don’t do it your mind gets flabby.
Here are some easy, low key ways to meet with customers:
- Go to an industry conference. Talk to customers in booths, at sessions, in networking events.
- Seek out industry bloggers and forums. Enter the discussion by posting comments.
- Connect with a sales person. See if they wouldn’t mind you sitting in on a presentation.
- Do a case study on a customer.
- Present your expertise to customers. (OK, this requires more involvement, but is the best way in my opinion).
Not only will this sharpen your marketing, but it will give you better “street cred” with your peers and the sales force you support.
I thought the herding cats title would be apropos for the subject of this post as well.
“Let’s do a viral video!” I can’t count how many times I’ve heard a marketing director say this. From my experience, this exclamation is usually code for 1) we need to get as much exposure as possible for no money. 2) we’re bored with our run-of-the-mill product marketing and want to do something that will stand out among our peers. However, according to Brett Wilson, CEO of TubeMogul, only .33% of the videos on YouTube have more than 1 million views. 50% of YouTube’s videos get less than 500 views! You have a better chance of getting struck by lightning than making a video that goes viral.
START with clear messaging and value proposition
Like all marketing communications, a video needs to have a clear purpose, a simple, simple message and strong value proposition which ties back to your business. If it doesn’t, you’re basically creating an entertainment piece on your marketing dime.
Here’s an example of an IBM Viral Video which lampoons the idea of viral videos:
Another “The Office” parody. Somewhat entertaining and funny. I’m sure the marketing team had a blast making it and it was highly viral inside of IBM. The only problem: 98% entertainment, 2% product bullet points. The only thing I remember is that IBM did a funny video. Was that the intent?
Strong call to action
Videos online need to have a strong call to action even if it’s a branding campaign. What do you want your audience to do or think after they watch the video? Unlike with TV ads where the viewer may be sitting on their coach watching 24, online videos are perfect to move your customer down the buying cycle because they are online already. These days you can even embed clickable links within the video.
A look and feel that adheres to the company’s brand
I’ve seen a lot of marketing videos that create their own unique look and feel. While it may adhere to the look of the campaign, it looks completely different than other videos from the same company. When this happens, the video misses out on leveraging the companies brand equity, or helping the company to build its brand. Check out this joint effort between HP and AMD.
Again, very entertaining and gets traffic, but at what cost? The brand was sacrificed here in order to get people’s attention. I’m not even sure that the knockoff of the MTV show resonates with an older, more conservative IT audience.
On the other hand, let’s take a look at an example Michael Parker presented from Symantec. They invented a fictitous character “Hal” who would be their spokesperson throughout a series of videos. Here’s an example:
Now, this video wasn’t nearly as racy or fun as “Pimp my Infrastructure,” but it’s effective, because it’s right on message, clearly identifies itself with an IT audience, and communicates the value proposition of the product. It also has 50K+ views on YouTube. Not too bad.
Quiet on the set
Once you’ve identified…
- The video’s purpose
- The value proposition
- The message
- The call to action
- The airing venue (an online tutorial vs a keynote introduction)
- The appropriate budget for the type of video
…you’re in much better shape to produce a video that will tie back to your business’ objectives and stay on track when your agency presents their ”Superheroes of the Data Center!” concept.