Value Prop: Is there true value in your marketing proposition?


“Value prop” and “value proposition” are two of our top inbound keywords from Google. It’s also a key component of our online Landing Page Optimization training course. And with good reason.

Marketers really struggle with crafting an effective value proposition. Hey, it’s quite hard. In our training course, we teach that the perceived value must outweigh the perceived cost of your offer. Because, as the famous line goes, “perception is reality.”

But, unfortunately, reality is not perception. In other words, you might craft the most seemingly effective value proposition ever, but if your product is a piece of junk, are you really being effective? Editorial Analyst Austin McCraw brought this issue to my attention the other day and suggested that marketers must also be concerned with true value.

Some of the people some of the time…

According to the MarketingExperiments Optimization Sequence, you must optimize the Product factor before you optimize the Presentation factor.

The Product factor includes the Value Proposition of the product, as well as its quality and usability.

Now I know what you may be thinking, “Not my problem! I’ve got enough on my plate. Let customer service deal with it. Besides, caveat emptor.”

Caveat Twitter

No longer must only the buyer beware, now the marketer must as well. There is a New World (Wide Web) Order and your customers have just as much power to influence purchases as your marketing campaigns, if not more. Transparent Marketing is a fact of life in 2010…and if you won’t shine a light with an open window, your (now disgruntled) customers will be more than happy to kick in the door.

The MarketingSherpa 2010 Social Media Marketing Benchmark Report found that 62 percent of responding consumers use social media to learn about new products, services and features. And who do you think your potential customer trusts more? Their college roommate who had a bad experience with your product or your corporate marketing department?

As Danielle Sacks puts it in this month’s issue of Fast Company magazine, “But the dark side of a transparent marketplace is that marketers have never had more of an opportunity to rub consumers the wrong way and be publicly skewered. The days of lathering on a brand message that a product may not live up to are long gone.”

No thanks, I prefer the headache

Take Children’s Tylenol as an (admittedly extreme) example. It was one of 43 over-the-counter drugs recalled by Johnson & Johnson due to the following manufacturing problems: “inadequate laboratory facilities and untrained staff, as well as grime, dust, a hole in the ceiling, clutter and bacteria-contaminated raw ingredients.”

Here’s why this problem should cause marketers to reach for some (hopefully not Johnson & Johnson) antacid. Children’s Tylenol and generic acetaminophen are the exact same thing, except the generic is cheaper.  According to Euromonitor International, a London-based marketing research company, Children’s Tylenol is a $695 million business globally. That revenue, the brand’s entire value prop, is based on trust. As a parent, I reach for the generic cheaper stuff, but when I do, in the back of my mind I think that the unknown company making it might have “inadequate laboratory facilities and untrained staff, as well as grime, dust, a hole in the ceiling, clutter and bacteria-contaminated raw ingredients.”

And Johnson & Johnson’s marketing department realizes that. Which is why, according to The Wall Street Journal, “The grape version’s red-and-purple packaging appears similar to the box before the recall. It pictures smiling mothers and children, and says that mothers have ‘trusted’ the medicine for 50 years.”

Of course, parents aren’t stupid and know that a more transparent statement would be, “Trusted by mothers for 49 of the last 50 years.” And slick packaging won’t change that opinion. Which is why, according to the above referenced WSJ article, “In general, loyalty to Tylenol’s pain pills, a strong indication that customers will buy the product, dropped 7 percent in the past year, according to an annual survey in August of 35,000 Americans by marketing consultant Brand Keys Inc. Among over-the-counter pain medicines, Tylenol ranked behind rivals Advil, Aleve and Excedrin in terms of customer loyalty after trailing only Advil in 2009.”

Protect true value by any means necessary

As marketers we should protect true value like worker ants protect the queen. And I mean no disrespect to any of the marketers at Johnson & Johnson, some of the finest in the business, who have created some of the most respected brands worldwide.

My point is to raise this question in your head: do you have to be really good at more than just marketing in order to be really good at marketing?

The impact you can have on your product’s true value varies, based on whether you’re a sole proprietor or work for a multi-national conglomerate. And in fairness, when it comes to the Johnson & Johnson manufacturing problems cited above, marketers have an extremely limited (but not nonexistent) ability to influence, infiltrate, and/or inspire manufacturing to improve product quality.

But, as a marketer, you must battle to the hustings when any possible action (or inaction) your company takes could damage the trust customers place in your brands.

“But I am just a simple marketer in this small company. What can I do to make sure the products I sell have true value?” Glad you asked. You’re clearly the introspective type. So here are a few more questions to ask yourself (and I’d love to hear your advice as well):

  • What’s best for the customer? Sounds simple. And odds are that someone, somewhere in your company is thinking about this, right? Sales. Customer Service. Definitely Product Development. Must be. Sorry, buddy, that’s not good enough. YOU are the one convincing the customer to part with his/her hard-earned money to buy your company’s product with your debonair language. So YOU must be the advocate for the customer
  • What influence do I have? Likely greater than you think. After all, your campaigns are the public face of the company. Marketers have turned a pair of glowing arches into “Over 99 Billion Served.” So don’t think you can’t convince Product Development to fix that bug in the next release.
  • Would Mom be proud? Could be your mom…could be anyone’s mom. My point is, if every internal challenge you know about were plastered on the front page of a newspaper tomorrow a la “Thank You for Smoking,” how would you feel about it? I had this experience recently because I’m not only the Associate Director of Editorial Content here, I have a second title as well – Dad. It’s one I’ve been very proud of since I was promoted a few years ago. So when a press release came across my desk bragging about six-year-olds’ brand affinity for Facebook (you can’t even “officially” create an account until you’re 13) and 20 other brands, I wasn’t too happy. And after all, I’m the one with the wallet. You can read the Young Love study for yourself, creepy name and all.
  • Have I stormed the barricades? You can’t win every, or probably even most, of these battles. But that shouldn’t stop you from trying to put in every effort you possibly can. Don’t settle for “It’s not my fault” because that prospective customer doesn’t care whose fault it is, only that they’ve lost trust in your brand’s true value.

To end on a high note, and remix Margaret Mead, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, marketers can change the company. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Related Resources

Ask the Scientist: MarketingExperiments Optimization Sequence

Powerful Value Propositions

Optimizing Your Landing Pages

Email Optimization

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  1. Glenn Cressman says

    Well said Daniel. I believe all companies need to stop thinking about selling what they have to an audience and start thinking about what that audience wants, then figure out a way to get it to them.

    And since you asked for advice… another question to ask yourself (in addition to the ones you list, which are great) is “Why would anyone buy this from us as opposed to someone else?” I always ask that question of my clients for 2 reasons:
    1) it forces them to define the value proposition, and
    2) it forces them to create an offer that isn’t just a “me too” offer.

    This is especially important for small businesses. If you’re Pepsi, you have a “me too” product, but you also have the marketing influence ($) to carve out an adequate piece of the market. If you’re a small business with limited resources, your product better be unique in some way to catch people’s attention. Otherwise, I’d suggest starting over.

  2. Dave says

    You make some great points as well. You address the challenges that most retailers face. “I don’t make the product, I just sell it.” And for e-tailers, they don’t even deliver it, so a lot of the value proposition, both perceived and true value is in the hands of those outside of the your business. You can have the best customer service ever and that won’t matter too much if the delivery company damages the product or worse the customer’s house.

    Amazon made the transition to designing and distributing their own product in Kindle and eliminated delivery issues with digital downloads of eBooks. (Or are there still problems there?)

    1. Daniel Burstein says

      Great point Dave.

      Apple is a great example of what you’re talking about. On the downside, they’re a closed system. But on the upside, they have quality control and true value that Wintel can’t match since they control so much of the customer experience.

  3. Becky Blanton says

    The greater the value, the farther the fall. When Apple (notice I do not genuflect or bow my head when I say that), captured my attention decades ago I was a huge fan. They provided tremendous value for the dollar. When my MacBook crashed and died a year after I got it, and kept crashing, and crashing…they opted to replace parts, to the tune of almost $2,000 rather than replace it ($1,200) as my Apple care warranty said was an option.

    The excess of expenditure, the reluctance and refusal to replace a device that three Apple Genius’ said was, “definitely a lemon,” destroyed any value I saw in Apple. My laptop was my livelihood (I’m a ghostwriter). The company I once valued cost me money, jobs, time and resources, severely impacting my life and livelihood. To this day Apple keeps hate notes on my consumer file and their customer service are cold, if not rude to me because I dare to upend the kool-aid cup every time I have the opportunity. Rather than apologize, replace the laptop and keep a loyal customer Apple has repeatedly shown they could give a road apple about customer experience. I’m not surprised they rank second only to AT&T in customer service from hell. As far as quality control and true value? Hmmm….have to ask the survivors of the suicides in China about that one.

  4. Fred Trotter says

    You all got your point guys. And, I wanna thank the writer of this post for sharing such a wonderful idea.

    And I do believe in what you’re saying, “perception is reality.”

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