B2B Marketing Noir: The missing value proposition

It was barely 10 a.m. in the big city that I call home, West Squeegie, when I got my first client call of the day. I was still savoring my second cup of coffee, that black boiling-hot lifeblood of tired marketers everywhere.

I swung my cheap knock-off wingtips off the desk and picked up the receiver. On the other end was a certain Ms. Tiubie. I could tell she was a pro in the marketing biz from the smooth patter of her delivery, but I could also sense that something was wrong. I asked her to cut to the chase — why was she calling me?

“Well, it seems we … we’ve lost our value proposition.  We’re not sure where it is or what it’s doing,” she said.

“Hm. When was the last time you saw your value proposition?”

“Honestly, the last time was after our company launched and our sales chief was training our sales staff. Now they don’t even know where it is. We keep growing and changing our , but every time we look for our value proposition … it’s not there.”

I’d heard this story before. So many times I couldn’t count.

“OK, I think I can help you,” I said. I filled out my “All Points Bulletin” or “Be on the lookout” form. It goes something like this.

Description of Value Proposition of high importance: Clearly and concisely describe a company’s unique traits in its market by relying on credible, fact-based information. Should be able to speak to the company’s target client/customer and answer the questions “Why should I consider you instead of your competitors?”

Location: Usually lives on home page as a prominent headline or text and is underscored by supporting information.

I then gathered Ms. Tiubie (Beatrice) and her colleagues into a room and started the process. It goes like this:

Write a detailed description of your ideal client focusing on 10 traits of their position and authority.Then write 5 core NEEDS of that client.

List 15 traits of your company’s services or products: they must include at least 5 traits that are UNIQUE and fact-based, supported by data.

Do any of your UNIQUE traits address the NEEDS of your client in any way? If not … start over with the UNIQUE traits again or the NEEDS. Redo both lists if necessary.

Once you have matched at least 2 pairs of UNIQUE traits and NEEDS, finalize the value proposition process by asking this question: What are the top 5 ANXIETIES that would prevent my ideal client buying our product? Be honest. Put yourself in the shoes of your client or customer.

Next: Write a headline with at least 1 pair of matched UNIQUE traits that address an ideal clients’ NEEDS. Then ask yourself how you can address the top anxieties.

Addressing needs without addressing anxieties is pointless in Web marketing. Your Website and company, to any new prospect or client, needs to overcome a very high hurdle of distrust specifically because it is on the Web and therefore NOT personal and tangible.

I’ll give you a great example of a value proposition that works. Here’s the home page of the web hosting company Bluehost.bluehost

Do you see the value proposition? It’s “Over 20,000 New Customers a Month & Hosting Millions of Domains!” Why is this a great value proposition? Think of the need of the ideal customer for a web hosting company — it’s actually almost the same as the top anxiety: “I need something stable and reliable — Is this hosting company stable and reliable?”

Because a hosting company that’s not stable and reliable isn’t worth it at any price. So the headline does contain two main pieces of credible, fact-based information: “20,000 new customers a month” and “hosting millions of domains.” So where’s the UNIQUE aspect? It’s the number 20,000 … it’s very specific. It also, I think, unconsciously speaks to steady growth.

Now look at the supporting text supporting the Call to Action (Sign Up Now). It is a mixture of points addressing NEEDS while also addressing ANXIETIES. Words like “unlimited” are also powerful and better than words like “free.”

After a million cups of bitter, hot, depraved coffee, Ms. Tiubie and her team had come up with their own set of unique traits that addressed needs and anxieties. Suddenly, as if by magic, their value proposition appeared. There were lots of hugs and “hail fellow-well-met” back slapping.

I said goodbye to Ms. Tiubie and went back to my office. I threw my knock-off wingtips on the desk and started to make out my invoice. Somewhere down in an alley I could hear a street musician sawing away on a violin doing a half-decent job of playing “We’ll Meet Again”… The other sounds of West Squeegie drifted up to my open window melding into an urban coda at sunset — traffic sounds, heels on pavement, sirens in the distance and the half-forgotten lyrics of the song drifting over all …

We’ll meet again
Don’t know where
Don’t know when
But I know we’ll meet again
Some sunny day
Keep smiling through
Just like you always do
‘Till the blue skies
Drive the dark clouds far away

I filled out the invoice, closing out the day.

Subject: Lost Value Proposition

Client: B. Tiubie

Status: Case solved.

Most Top 20 public companies in Mass. invisible on social media

Are marketers like myself in a bubble when it comes to social media? I think so. We read and research so much about the topic that we naturally think every company is involved in some way.

I just tried a little experiment that says that’s not true — not by a long shot.

I took the Boston Business Journal’s 2013 Book of Lists and looked at the home pages of the top 20 largest public companies and the top 20 largest private companies in Massachusetts (measured by revenue). I looked for social media icons on the home pages, and only the home pages. I understand some of these companies are “parent” companies of well-known brands, but still, I wanted to see what their home pages presented to the world. After all, if you’re not promoting your social media accounts on your home page … where would you?

The results: 65% of the 20 largest public companies had no social media presence at all on their home page.

Do  you find that astounding? I do. And these are companies with 2011 revenues between $1.85 billion (Waters Corp.) and $25 billion (Staples).

Private companies fared much better: 30% had no social presence on their home pages (which I still find fairly high).

Almost universal to both public and private company home pages, too, was the hidden nature of social media icons and links. In almost all cases, the social media account links or icons were located at the very bottom of home pages — and very nearly invisible (low contrast icons).

After looking at a few of these accounts, I understood why: a large number (I didn’t tally specific results) showed very poor sharing habits. They might have many followers, but in turn followed precious few other Twitter accounts in return. This screams to me they are using Twitter as a broadcast platform only — and don’t seem much interested in sharing content or listening to others.

I will look deeper into the top lists and report more later when I’ve tallied results, but I think this cursory look says a lot: Big companies, private, and especially public are prone to ineffective and superficial use of social media.

A good counter argument  is that these successful companies are not engaging social media much because they effectively engage in customer feedback in more traditional ways. That’s fair enough.But these days, I’m surprised at the very cold, impersonal “front face” these companies show to the public.Nstar Twitter page snapshot

Look at Nstar’s Twitter account in this image above. Do you think — especially to younger customers — that this says anything about their responsiveness to their customers? Yes, I understand they are a regulated utility. Does that really prevent them from “Following” others? Really?

Even if it’s a holding company, doesn’t it say something when a company uses social media only for its brand properties only? Doesn’t it seem to communicate a kind of “facelessness” that seems cold, impersonal — not really human?

At least that’s my impression. I’ll report more data when I’ve looked at more companies, so stay tuned.


Getting Started on B2B Twitter: Build your Follower count with dashboard searches

For many B2B users who start out on Twitter, one of the first questions is “how do I start to get Followers?”

Here’s an easy way to get started: Use a social media management dashboard like HootSuite or TweetDeck to build custom search lists. Social media management dashboards are 100% necessary for managing your social presence across multiple platforms, be it Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and others. See this description of HootSuite on Wikipedia to get the picture or just visit the links above.

I’ll use the example of HootSuite, because it’s what I use, but feel free to use Tweetdeck or another tool if you wish. Naturally, you have to create your social media accounts first and then add them to your social media dashboard.

Now, let’s say you’ve done that. Here’s what the HootSuite search box looks like: Hoot search

An easy way to build followers from a low count or even zero, is to use the search tool (in the upper right hand corner) to search for relevant potential followers by inputting these key word searches.

  • Input words that describe your general industry or type of business
  • Input words that describe your industry or business and use the “location” icon in the right-hand corner of the search box (it’s the circle thingy)
  • Input words that describe your type of product or service
  • Input words that describe your type of product or service using the “location” icon

Just start out with this task list, and when you find a stream of tweets that seem to be relevant, or match closely with the search and your interest, just click on the “Add Stream” button at the bottom of the search box. By searching with and without the location tool, you essentially get two searches that are “everyone on planet Earth” and “everyone in my area.”

Now … click on individual tweets and click the “Follow” button in the profile. Why? Remember the golden Twitter rule: To get Followed you must Follow someone else. What you are essentially doing is starting out by “Following” your peer set. This is a natural place to start or build from — and you get to see what your business peers (and yes, competitors) are talking about on social media.

Want to make it simpler? On the left hand side of the HootSuite search box you’ll see the Twitter icon and a down arrow. Click it and it will allow you to “Search Twitter” (which is the default) or “Find Twitter Users”. Click on “Find Twitter Users” and the result box will show Twitter users who have that key word search in their description or name — and a default button to “Follow” that user!

How easy can you get?

You will find yourself endlessly playing with key word searches, but don’t be shy — keep adding relevant streams that apply, you’ll eventually delete the ones you find not-so useful.

FYI, you can use the same search tool to search Facebook too! Unfortunately it’s kind of buried. Just click on the Twitter icon in the search box and you’ll see a bottom option for “Search Facebook.” Now … if they could only add LinkedIn to that functionality we’d really be all set.