Guiding Marketing Conversation

You’re about to have one of those meetings during which “we’ll talk about Marketing.”

Great. Try to go in with a framework to help guide the discussion.

Today, for example, we used “Focus, Value Proposition, and Experience” to help explain how a professional services firm should start to think about its branding (and ultimately its business model — the two are and must be connected).

The CEO of this mid-market professional services firm was struggling with how to position the firm vs competitive and substitute offerings. There was a bit of research on client impressions. The research contained just enough to enable us to tee up our 3 part framework. The framework made it easier for our friend to see what she needed to think about next and what questions she and her team need to answer as they seek to define their brand.

Focus: Clients said: “Your competitors are either becoming generalists (offering a wide variety of services) or specialists. We do not see you going in either direction. What do you want to become?” This is a question of focus: What are you going to do best? To help you decide, examine your client base to see who is buying, what they are buying and why. What do they need that they may not even know they need? You’ll see these kinds of questions and many more in just about any marketing text you happen to look at. And for the question of focus, I often reread CK Prahalad, and Gary Hamel’s paper on Core Competencies just to get in a good frame of mind.

Value Proposition: Once you know your focus, including your target customer and what you will offer them, it’s time to think about your value proposition. If your focus is on speed say, your value proposition needs to bring this to life in a measurable way. What are the benefits of “fastest to market” for your clients/customers? And importantly, how do you measure speed? FedEx, when it “invented” reliable overnight express package delivery, promised: “by 10:30am the next morning.” A great value proposition and one FedEx knew its competitors could not match.

Experience: Every branding agency knows to talk about customer touch points and how the experience of the brand should be consistent across all of them. The practice of making this so, especially for firms with more limited marketing budgets and/or with seller-doer business models, is the challenge. So, start simply. We’d counsel our friend to identify 1 to 3 key areas where she and her people could make a demonstrable difference in alignment with their focus and value prop. Thought leadership is one such area. But even with focus and value prop, you have to orchestrate it well. Much more on that in a later post.

The point with the above is not so much to say: Approach branding professional services in exactly this way. Rather, it is a gentle reminder that providing a framework is a good way to get folks to remember what it is they need to think about when tackling their marketing challenge.

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