Published Date: December 16th, 2021
There are good questions and there are bad questions. But the only dumb questions are the ones that we don’t ask – and that is as true in business as it was for the esoteric philosophies of the great thinkers that came before us. In business, of course, the questions we fail to ask often comes with a cost. Those costs could be either tangible (such as inflated overheads) or more speculative (such as opportunity costs of foregone profits).
But in marketing, everything starts with a question: What is our competitive advantage? Where is our target market? How do we reach them? And what is the return on investment? But some questions are universal (and come before all others). And to ask those questions is the opposite of heresy. It is, in fact, quite divine.
You know your product or service inside out. You know why you’re offering it to consumers and why they need it. But are you communicating that value proposition to the marketplace? And more importantly, are you communicating that to your target audience, specifically?
When you know a product or service so well, it can be hard to see the forest for the trees. You develop such an intuitive grasp of what your products or services have to offer, that it seems self-evident, and you overlook how important it is to clearly communicate that to consumers.
So whenever approaching any marketing initiative, it’s important to ask: “How is this communicating our value-prop?”
So, your brand has a value-prop. You know what it is, you know that it’s tangible, and you know how to communicate it to your audience. But what is it about your brand and its products/services that set them aside from those offered by the competition with similar (or identical) value-props? In other words, what’s your unique selling proposition (USP)?
A clear and tangible value-prop is important, but it’s only part of your brand’s messaging picture. There are substitute products out there that offer very similar value to consumers, so it’s important to communicate what it is about your brand’s products/services are unique, and why they are the best option for your target audience.
Your USP makes your products/service unique, but what about your brand? What is it about your brand that inspires consumers to identify with it? What makes consumers want to buy from it? And how are you articulating that in your messaging? Your brand is more than its products or services. And it’s more than its value-props or USP. It’s an entity and identity in and of itself. And that entity has its own values.
Does it stand for offering the lowest possible price, or the greatest value at its current price-point? Does it stand for quality over quantity or function over form? Or does it stand for dominating the current market, or for outright disrupting it – and maybe even making the world a better place one sale at a time? And how do your products/services reflect these values?
Determining what your brand’s values are will not only help you refine your USP but also better define your target market, as well as establish the tone and messaging you need to engage them. Simply put, once your brand knows who it is, it can not only find its voice but start speaking its own truth.
Your brand has its values. It knows what it stands for. But what is its vision for taking those values to market? For being the change that it wants to see in the world (or marketplace)?
If you are going to offer the lowest prices, how will you achieve the cost structures and supply chain to do so? If you’re going to dominate the market, how are you going to overtake market leaders and other incumbents? And if you’re going to disrupt the market entirely, how are your products/services (and the distribution channels you use to deliver them to market) going to challenge the status quo and dislodge outdated business models?
In other words, how does your brand intend to actually walk its talk?
A vision is essentially a roadmap. Your brand doesn’t have to traverse it all at once, and it certainly does not have to traverse it all before going to market. But it should have a plan for completing that journey, and each of your products or services should represent a step toward the fulfilment of that vision – and that should be clear to your customers.
Not all similar products (i.e. substitutes) are meant for the same market. Two products can have similar value-props (and even similar price-points) but be meant for very different (or at least distinct) markets – whether those markets are distinguished by geography, age, or some other demographics.
This is precisely where your brand’s USP, values, and vision come in. Your product might be similar to (or even interchangeable with) one of your brand’s competitors, but different consumers identify with what your brand stands for more than what your competitors stand for. So once you fully understand and appreciate the DNA of both your brand and its products/services, it’s important to ask yourself which segments of the market share that DNA, and will readily identify with both your brand and what it has to offer.
It’s not enough to identify who your target market is. You also have to understand them as human beings with interests, values, and personalities. In other words, you have to appreciate the different psychologies that drive and inspire the different segments of your target market to take action.
Who are the personalities that make up your target market? What makes them tick? What inspires them? And how does that demographic break down into actual human segments that we can all relate to?
In other words, you have to figure out how your brand’s target demographics break down into segments, each with their own personalities that are different and distinct, and how your brand’s values resonate with those personas.
Now, your brand has its own values, and those values will (or at least should) resonate with your target market segments on some level. But your audience and the various personas that comprise it each have a whole other range of values that have nothing to do with what your brand stands for or has to offer them.
So the question is: Where is the overlap between your brand’s visions and values, and those of your target market and the different persona that make it up?
After all, your audience and target market are comprised of human beings, and human beings are complex creatures, each with a diverse array of values. So, it’s not enough for your brand to align with them only on values that pertain to your value-prop and/or USP.
So, there’s a lot here to chew on. From value-prop to USP and your brand values to its visions, not to mention how those align with your target audience’s own needs and values.
But how does your brand’s messaging address all of this? How are your brand’s values reflected in its value-prop and USP? How does that messaging communicate your brand’s vision? How does any of that address the needs/requirements of your audience? And how does the tone of that messaging speak to the human personas that comprise that audience? At this point in your brand’s self-exploration, what it brings to the table and what it has to offer consumers should be clear. But now it’s time to take that clarity and apply it to how you communicate with the marketplace.
Finally, once you’ve worked out your value-prop and USP, once your brand understands its values and visions, and once it identifies its target market and how to speak to their values, you must choose the right channels in which to do so.
Specifically, do you know where the audience is? Do you know where they are actually engaged? Does your brand have a presence there? Is that presence meaningful? And does it elicit trust or authority?
Part of understanding your audience is understanding the channels they rely on. From social networks to television to search results to podcasts, understanding where your audience is engaged makes all the difference between ‘spray-and-pray’, and targeting your audience with the right message, in the right place, at the right time.
One great thinker before us once said that ‘the unexamined life isn’t worth living’, meaning that if you don’t question yourself or what you’re doing, you’re likely to stray from the path that’ll lead you to where you need to go. Well, business (and marketing) is no exception.
If your brand is not asking any questions, then it’s likely it will stumble through the marketplace, drunk on its own self-assured convictions. More to the point, however, if it’s not asking the right questions, then it’s possibly charging cocksure down a path toward (in the best case) mediocrity, or (in the worst case) toward futility and foregone opportunity.
CT Moore is a member of the Ireland-Canada Chamber of Commerce, as well as a Partner and the Head of Digital at anderson pigeon, a full-service marketing agency specializing in digital, retail, and trade marketing.