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Build a clear-eyed value proposition that your customers will feel

Monday, December 3, 2018 - 08:00
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James O’Dell cringes at the sight of hollowed out brands. Known for wearing bow ties, this dapper brand manager for Motown Automotive’s marketing department argues that any business—manufacturer, e-tailer, parts store, and yes, even repair shops—has it in their power to craft a value proposition reflective of what customers want. An empty slogan containing descriptors like “trust,” “best” or “quality” can lessen confidence in a product or a service, no matter how stellar it performs. A misaligned brand with what the target customer values can also weaken customer loyalty, the force that drives revenue and market share growth.

O’Dell is spot on that the chiseled features of a sharply worded value proposition projects brand power, but freely admits that stringing together a potent expression that captures shopper needs can be elusive. Consider the relative strength behind “Trust the Plus” or “The Best Remanufacturer in the World.” To entice commercial repair accounts and the walk-in customers to shop Motown (now Fisher Auto Parts), O’Dell appreciates that these two distinct segments yearn for a transformative connection. To become first call, each word must resonate with a reality based car care challenge that says I feel your pain without stating the obvious.

For emphasis, he alluded to the Harley-Davidson narrative of the adventure rider, overpowering the roadways, straddling their motorcycles. For universal recognition, these loyalists will happily pay a premium to own a 2018 Fat Bob and adorn themselves with the eagle wings emblem stitched on their leather jackets. To belong to the Harley club, implied by their brand, is to be “American by Birth, Rebel by Choice.” James’s analogy about comparing a visually compelling brand against anything less is a smack at commoditization. An indistinguishable brand is an invitation to compare product with price. To become top of mind to the customer’s requirements, James has dedicated his mission to link Motown’s assortments that offers a solution to urgent repair, preventative maintenance and shop supplies.

A deeper question lingers. Which elements underlie a value proposition? Alongside a respected marketing firm, one Harvard business researcher recognized that it is hard to pin down what shoppers may value as beauty lays in the eye of the beholder. To clarify this concept, they identified a variety of building blocks of value that support four fundamental needs—functional, emotional, life changing, and socially impactful. Here’s a look at some of the core elements that may either satisfy or reward the value hunter.

This study published by Harvard Business Review revealed that the top performing companies that combine the most elements are likely to attract more loyal customers than their competitors. Those firms generated more sales revenue at a faster rate than the rest of the marketplace.

Case in point, take Amazon, whose value proposition ties into several functional and emotional elements. Shoppers found this content rich e-commerce giant time efficient and gratifying over the variety of product assortments. On every visit, they experienced an accessible, easy to navigate site that rewarded each person with a simplified check out process at the press of a button. As Amazon’s transactional value proposition developed, they raised shipping costs from $79 to $99. And the customers kept on buying without protesting the increase.

To validate the elements of value theory of what truly matters most to the professional automotive installer, I interviewed one dozen service writers and shop operators about their anxieties. Failure prone auto parts categories such as charging electrical and braking systems present a unique set of challenges than preventive maintenance such as replacing a fuel filter. While some name brand manufacturers and their purveyors focused on price and availability, the shops saw this dynamic differently. Customer comebacks from defective products mattered more because each return was denting profitability and customer satisfaction. In addition to processing warranty and labor claims, do overs from an inferior alternator may last up to four hours that inevitably slows vehicle turnover. For one Baltimore, Maryland shop owner, maximizing every minute of the day inside the bays is his expectation set for his technicians. 

Few brands, these respondents said, have produced a value proposition that promises a peace of mind slogan when a repair goes bad. If a defective product were to surface, repairers want to rely on a functionally hassle free and simplified process that takes days, not weeks. Emotionally, they want a rewarding vendor partnership to help their business make and save money.

Any size company that sells parts, turns wrenches, or develops software can easily mine these elements to leverage its usefulness unique to their consumers. What puzzled HBR is that some brand marketers skipped the qualitative stage. Don’t. Quantitative surveys serve the purpose of revealing who is buying what products and which products are thriving, but it falls short of answering why buyers make certain choices. Invest more time in listening. Face time interviews and group settings will help discover hidden opportunities by asking open ended questions on where they currently stand. By asking what additional benefits a shopper seeks from an existing product can yield new innovations that can raise a product or services above the competition.         

Small organizations that serve a concentrated customer segment should have an easier time seeing a pattern of new offerings versus a larger organization that serves a diversified market. No worries. Encountering different value elements are expected. Many managers, observed HBR, solved this obstacle by offering a three or four design prototypes of what customers hold dearly. It was not uncommon to describe quality, variety, or access in different words to capture universal acceptance that might appeal to the individual. With the same group of panelists, let them weigh the strengths and the weaknesses before narrowing down to which service or product to launch. 

Distinctive brand value propositions can emerge anytime, anywhere through an engaged business to customer relationship. What is to stop anyone like you from converting shoppers into customers? Shoppers crave a compelling story that makes them feel functionally secure and emotionally validated. If a brand manager is looking for some creative inspiration, just look for James.       

Source: Harvard Business Review, September 2016

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