Developing a Unique Selling Proposition

The creation of a unique selling proposition is one of the most difficult tasks an organization will address and it is critical to nail it.

An effective value proposition statement needs to not only clearly communicate a promise of value that an organization will deliver, but also create a belief on the part of the customer or prospect that value will be experienced.  The best value proposition statements incorporate a quantifiable combination of benefits, costs and value.

What makes creating a unique selling proposition complex is that the executive team must be involved. In addition, other reviewers must represent diverse backgrounds in terms of functional responsibility and technical expertise.  Trying to herd this group and drive consensus will always be a challenge. To effectively develop a unique selling proposition, a messaging and positioning workshop works well for creating a messaging framework in order to produce an effective value proposition statement.  Below are the key steps in building a messaging framework.

An Image Depicting a Messaging and Positioning - Value Proposition Statement Example

Define the Objective and Strategy for the Messaging and Positioning Workshop

As with any project, it’s always a good idea to define the objective and to document the assumptions deemed necessary to create an effective unique selling proposition. Communicating this information will also serve to immediately identify any issues or confusion, and facilitate getting everyone on the same page.

Messaging and positioning are sometimes used in combination, and sometimes one term is used in place of the other.  However, I hold the believe that:

  • The goal of positioning may be to be placed in the upper right hand corner of Gartner’s magic quadrant, or to be perceived as a premium price/premium value solution.  In both cases, the focus is on how the company is perceived relative to other choices in the market place
  • Messaging is the development of the words used by a company to describe themselves in internal and external communications—the value proposition, the boiler plate, sound bites, market category, etc.

Positioning Process

Laying out the project in steps or phases provides insight into what will take place. It also identifies exactly where the project stands at any particular point in time.  Depending upon schedules and resources, this may not be a serial, linear process.  In other words, the order of tasks may have to change or multiple phases may have to simultaneously be in motion.

Deliverables & Timeline

Developing a timeline and documenting the deliverables greatly facilitates the successful management of the project.

Messaging and positioning are critical for every company so, as stated earlier, the executive team must be involved.  Because scheduling one-on-one and group meetings will be a challenge, project management will play a pivotal role in the success or failure of the project.  It’s a classic “Catch-22”:

  • The messaging and positioning effort is vital for the organization to get right
  • The management team needs to be involved (and usually wants to be)
  • The day-to-day activities of running the business can frequently get in the way of running a successful project

As a result, the CEO needs to be the project champion to encourage everyone involved to make the project a priority. This is key to the success of the project.

Who Are You Selling To?

Regardless of the size of the company, there is usually some discrepancy when discussing to whom the company should be selling.  After all, the executive team is made up of the CEO, COO, Vice Presidents of Sales, Services, Marketing, Development, Human Resources, Legal, etc. And everyone has different experiences and exposures to customers.

Also, the answer may vary as the customer data is sliced by:

  • Revenue or employee size
  • Various products
  • The sales channel: direct sales, inside sales, e-commerce
  • The approver, decision maker, influencer or recommender (particularly in a complex sale)
  •  Where the product is in terms of its product lifecycle (early, mid or late stage)

At this point, it is important to beware of the tendency to try and “boil the ocean” with the project – meaning trying to do too many things.  If this happens, it’s imperative to go back to the original objective (and revise it if need be), and let that serve as the guiding light.  If there are multiple divisions or product lines within a company, it may be necessary to extend the analysis, but ultimately everything will have to fit within the umbrella messaging and positioning framework of the company.

Market Landscape

Because all products and services compete against other companies and alternative solutions, all products and services have a market landscape. It does not matter how unique the CEO or development team believes the product to be because it is the perceptions of customers and prospects that are critical.

A customer or prospect only has so much room in their brain and most cannot segment  a topic into 10, 100 or 1000 strands.  Generally, people draw upon existing knowledge and categorize any new information based on that existing knowledge.  So analyzing the market landscape is difficult since not only are there are millions of companies in the United States alone, there are likely at least another 100 companies out there communicating something similar.  If one of those companies gets to the prospect first and is able to establish a position in the mind of that prospect, then an uphill battle ensues.

An Image Depicting the Value Proposition Statement Competitive Landscape

Perceptual Mapping and Relative Competitive Positioning

Perceptual mapping is a technique that attempts to visually display the perceptions of customers or potential customers. Typically the position of a product, product line, brand or company is displayed relative to the competition against two attributes.

Technically, perceptual maps can contain any number of dimensions, but the most common is two dimensions or attributes.  However, perceptual maps do not have to be based solely on primary research.  There are also intuitive maps (also called judgmental maps or consensus maps) that marketers can create based on their education, experience and observations. However, the value of this type of map can be questionable as there is a great chance for bias.  If this approach is used, it is essential to have a wide group providing judgments so that the team is not only including the opinions of the development team, for example.

Competitor Review

With a Competitor Review, it’s important to develop a ranked and prioritized list of competitors because this analysis requires some cycles.  Also, the analysis framework should be the same for each competitor so that the data can be compared and contrasted without bias.  It is also a good idea to have the same person conduct all analyses in order to minimize bias.

Company Review

This framework should be identical to the one used to analyze competitors for the purposes previously mentioned (consistency and comparison).  The target market information should be easily pulled from sales and marketing.  It is always interesting to see if there are any discrepancies noted from this exercise as those would be a breeding ground for conflict and inefficiencies.

Internally generated communications is the opportunity to review everything that a customer or prospect sees. All of this information should be presented at one time and in one place.  If a brand identity system is not in place, a messaging and positioning exercise has not been completed, or if multiple people own messaging creation, it will be painfully obvious.  Click here for a free assessment template>>

Internal Interviews

As mentioned earlier, while the management team will be obvious participants in the process, other employees will need to be included based upon their knowledge of the markets, competitors, customers, prospects and influencers.  Again, there should be a consistent interview format so that the data can be captured, synthesized and then internalized.  However, each interviewee will have an area where he or she is most knowledgeable, and that information needs to be exploited by the interviewer.

Specifically, attention needs to be given to:

  • Who will be interviewed?
  • What information will be collected?
  • How will the information be synthesized?
  • How will the findings be presented?
  • How will the information be internalized?

What Content Should Be Covered

This is a good exercise to ensure all the information needed is collected.  It is not a list of all the content to be covered in detail with each interviewee.  The guide is to make sure nothing is forgotten, and that the interviewer delves deep into areas where an interviewee is knowledgeable, in order to develop a unique selling proposition that will resonate with the target audience.

What Questions Should Be Asked

As previously mentioned, there is a lot of information to collect and many people to interview.  However, each interviewee is not going to be able to answer each question with rich information.  It’s important to be respectful of people’s time and do some homework up front.

For each interview, the team should identify the interviewee and make some assumptions about whether the person is strategic or tactical, technical or business-focused.  This should aid in developing a relevant interview guide for that interview.  Granted, this will not be 100% accurate, but it should be at least 80% on target. If not, there is a huge disconnect between the people running the project and their knowledge of the people in the organization.  For ideas about what questions to ask click here >>

Organizing information

Once information is collected on markets, competitors and customers, the company has the critical task is organizing, synthesizing and internalizing the information. The first step is to organizing the information.  Ideally, relevant content was outlined and good questions were developed to understand the issues.  Next, the team starts with the core positioning premise.  From there, they add a layer that highlights the key attributes.  Then they find the common themes for each attribute.  As a last step, the team incorporates relevant responses and data to support each theme.  At that point it will be obvious where there is a solid story and where there are holes.

Differentiation Summary

A pragmatic approach is to make a list of differentiators to be ranked and prioritized.  Next, the task is to list competitors and then score the company and its competitors.  While it is important to score high, it’s important to understand how much of a difference there is between the company and its competitors, and whether those differences are important to prospects or customers.  Once this differentiation has been established and the key differentiators identified, the team can begin to develop language to talk about them.

Source Code

While the term “source code” is used by a software development team when building a product, it can also be used as an organized summary of the work that comes out of the positioning workshop.  It is a comprehensive summary that includes a superset of information that will be used to develop the uniques selling proposition.  Messages will be extracted from the source code depending upon the audience and key messages to be communicated.

Unique Selling Proposition

The unique selling proposition is a promise of value to be delivered, and a belief from the customer that that value will be experienced.  In order to develop an effective value proposition, it’s important to review and analyze the benefits, costs and value that an organization can deliver to its customers and prospective customers both within and outside of the organization.

Consideration should be given to:

  • For which market is the value proposition being created?
  • What are the predominant use cases?
  • Which products or services are being offered?
  • What are the benefits the market will derive from the product or service?
  • What alternative options does the market have for the product or service?
  • What proof or evidence is there to substantiate the value proposition?

Go-to-Market Messaging

The messaging and positioning exercise should drive the Go-to-Market Messaging.  In short, whether the task is to build collateral, web copy, campaigns, a blog post, tweet, etc., there should be a framework from which to draw messaging. This messaging is a by-product of the messaging and positioning exercise and ensures consistency and brand building.

Messaging By Audience

Now that there is a messaging framework, the silver bullet is to align messaging that resonates with the target audience.  This does not mean creating something new, but rather it should be highlighting and going deep into what is relevant to a particular audience.

For example, the concerns of the CEO and CFO are different from those of sales, marketing or IT, and as a result focused messages must be developed that are relevant to each person. In addition, typically a strategic and functional cut should also be done in order to adequately address the needs of all roles involved a complex sale.

Summary – Unique Selling Proposition

It is important to remember that the messaging and positioning framework creates the source code for all internal and external communications.  This means for example, that when a press release needs to be written, the PR person does not start with a blank document in Word as he or she begins to type.  It also means that when an email blast or webinar is in the works, the lead generation people do not “roll their own” from scratch, etc.

When developing all company communications – both internal and external – the messaging and positioning framework must be referenced.  By doing this, the time, effort and money invested into building the messaging and positioning framework will payoff in the successful and consistent building of the company’s brand.

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5 Responses to “Developing a Unique Selling Proposition”

  1. Peter, this is a really good post.
    Purely coincidental, I just drafted a post for my blog on the exact same topic but was unhappy with it, lacked depth somehow. Then yours popped in and I understood why.
    Well done.

    • Thank you for the kind words. It takes me a day or two to conceive, write, edit, add imagery and post. My focus is to help anyone fighting the go-to-market battle.

    • Allen, thank you for your note. Please view the free download – Questions to Ask When Building Go-to-Market Plans and the Messaging and Positioning Planning Template for additional insights.


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