How to articulate what you stand for in business

Smart practice

Thursday 01 February 2018

What’s the difference between brand positioning and a customer value proposition?

“Nothing – they’re both equally confusing.”

Sherise Mercer, Head of the Macquarie Virtual Adviser Network, is only half joking. The former Saatchi & Saatchi director spends her life working with business owners who have brilliant financial brains – but sometimes struggle when it comes to building a brand or articulating a customer value proposition (CVP).

“Typically, advisers have a left brain bias. They’re great with numbers and the process and machinations of the market. Very few of them come from a brand or marketing background. In the past, it didn’t matter as much, because advisers tended to differentiate themselves based on their ability to outperform the market. Their brand was largely competitive – not relationship-based. It was a practical, quantitative proposition.

“But, as our most recent Propensity Project shows, clients increasingly want the right brain stuff as well: life goals focus, empathy and the ability to communicate effectively even in hard conversations.”

You have to articulate what you stand for in the market. Otherwise, how will you attract ideal clients and top talent?

The survey looks at end-client satisfaction in the high-performing specialist and multi-disciplinary firms that make up the Macquarie Virtual Adviser Network (VAN).  It reveals the 1,500 clients surveyed are increasingly attracted to a truly customised experience based on their needs and goals, and advisers being proactive around communication to build a trusted relationship.

Mercer points out that, if business owners are looking to grow via personal referrals – which can create three times the revenue of the next highest source of new business – they need to have a very clear idea of what people will say when recommending their business. The ‘why us?’ question has morphed from ‘because we get you the best returns’ to something more nuanced.


Brand positioning

To help business owners determine what that is, Mercer often asks the BBQ question: if your clients spoke about you in glowing terms at a BBQ, what would they say?

She says many advisors shy away from what they perceive is ‘fluffy’ branding stuff.

Strong brands are created when your people and your processes consistently live up to the claims on your website.

“In fact, these ideas are central to attracting and retaining clients. When we measure perceptions of value, managing client expectations and being clear about what people are going to get are foundational elements of customer satisfaction.”

“You have to articulate what you stand for in the market. Otherwise, how and why would your clients recommend you to their friends? How will you attract ideal clients and top talent?”

Mercer advises practices to start with the client. “Who do you serve best? What are their true needs? How do you meet them better than others?”

“Next, establish your point of differentiation. Write down: What are you good at? What do you believe in? What do you stand for? How are you different? Why are you special? You don’t want too many elements. Chunk your answers down into two or three clear differentiators.”

She emphasises the answers to these questions don’t just go on your web site. “They need to be embedded in every client interaction, from the video playing in the waiting room to the initial ‘get-to-know-you’ conversation. Strong brands are created when your people and your processes consistently prove that you live up to the claims on your website. That means training your team to deliver the right messages and revisiting all your processes to make sure they back up your brand positioning.”


Customer value proposition

A CVP articulates what it is you do and the value you deliver to your ideal client. As Mercer puts it: “if a client chooses you, what tangible benefits will they get in return? If that isn’t well understood, explained and reinforced, clients will make up their own expectations – and it’s extremely unlikely that you will be able to meet them.”

She says that managing expectations about what will be delivered and explicitly talking about the value of that service is crucial.

“Think about your ‘proof points’. These are specific things you do that demonstrate your CVP. It could be your people’s years of experience or their qualifications. Do you have a process that speeds up execution or makes your clients’ lives easier? Proof points don’t have to be big ticket items. They just have be real.”

Examples might be:

  • Every document will be in plain English, so you can read and understand quickly and easily.
  • To make sure we understand your changing needs, we’ll have a review meeting at least twice a year and check in with you by email every month.
  • We fit our service around your schedule, meeting at a location of your choice or meeting by Skype if that’s more convenient.


New value proposition

Mercer suggests that, if advice businesses are moving into managed accounts, this is an important trigger moment for creating or revisiting the firm’s CVP.

“Managed accounts free up advisers to spend more time identifying client goals and developing new ways for achieving them. It’s an important opportunity to firm up your position as a strategic adviser.”

How managed accounts create more strategic client conversations

“With managed accounts, your value proposition becomes about the tailored personalised relationship you offer rather than focusing on just your technical capabilities. Your new CVP might include shifting to a goals-based engagement, managing other experts, proactively driving the client relationship and improving your client’s understanding of their finances.”

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