No matter what our endeavor, we all seek to create value for those we serve. And yet, so many worthy ventures and causes don’t get traction because the people behind them struggle to communicate what matters most to their audience: why are you valuable to me?
If you ask most leaders, they will tell you that communicating value is paramount. But most of us don’t actually speak or write in value terms. It’s really hard to do, especially when it requires breaking out of old habits, and perhaps thinking differently about our enterprise. We know we should speak about the things that matter most to our customers, clients, donors and other audiences, but we haven’t–or think we can’t–invest the time to figure it out.
I remember sitting with a business owner who wanted my business and for me to refer her to others. For about 30 minutes, she droned on about her experience as an accountant. I glazed over–visions of tax returns and balance sheets danced in my head. Plus, I already have an accountant I like and so didn’t think what she had to offer was relevant. As the conversation continued, I realized that what she was offering was not accounting services, but business counsel, based on her knowledge and experience as a CPA, to help companies discover how to grow. Now I was interested. She’d spent so much time delivering an experience list, she’d neglected to address what her value might be to me as a business owner.
To express value, we first have to hit the pause button, step back, and take the time to understand what our audiences need or desire most. We have to look inside and outside of ourselves and sometimes we find out things we’d rather not know. Perhaps our product isn’t as useful as we think it is, or our customer service is so annoying that our clients are going elsewhere. We might even learn some of the toughest realities to absorb–like our own team finds our organization bureaucratic or autocratic, making them ripe for poaching by competitors. What we think is most valuable often isn’t to the people we want to engage.
Communicating value isn’t about a list of things you do or products you offer. It isn’t even enough to share stories about people who have used your product or service or become involved in your cause. That might have been good for them but if I don’t see myself in their stories, I won’t connect. While I’m a big believer in storytelling to enhance communication, narratives alone don’t help you communicate value.
So what does? Here are a few tips.
Ask. Reach out and request feedback from your key audiences. Find out why they love or hate what you do. Probe more deeply. If your respondents say your product is great, ask what in particular delights them. And if the comments are glowing, ask if there is anything they’d like to see you do or change.
Really listen to what’s said–especially the words that are used. We recently worked with a client who said they thought their differentiator was that they are client- centric. Their key audiences agreed, only they didn’t say it that way; instead, they spoke of how the firm really listened or that the company “got into their DNA” to understand and then deliver what was wanted.
Accept What You Hear (in Balance). This may be the most difficult thing of all, especially if the feedback is negative. Avoid the tendency to dismiss critics, as you risk putting your head in the sand. Domino’s Pizza once floundered amid harsh criticism of its taste and delivery protocols. But by revamping and rebranding their product, they also bolstered their stock price. By the same token, be careful to keep feedback in balance. Sometimes we focus on the one negative comment that stands out against ten positive ones. That’s just as harmful as dismissing what you don’t want to hear.
Frame Your Offerings in Terms that Matter to Your Audience. When stating what you do, always frame your communications in terms that specifically answer the needs and/or aspirations of your target audiences. (You will understand what those are if you ask and listen.) At Wainger Group, we used to say that we were a strategic communications firm. So what, right? What we now say is that we help enterprises clarify their purpose, simplify their message and amplify their presence, all things that clients have told us they need and value from us.
Don’t Stop When You Think You’ve Figured It Out. Value communication is not a task, but a process that is never fully done. It is like a beautiful rose garden that has to be carefully tended and pruned, otherwise the garden becomes overgrown or weeds obscure the blooms.
Relationships are the foundation of any successful enterprise. Invest in an incisive look at what and how you communicate your organization’s mission, purpose and value.
Are you framing your offerings from your audience perspective? What are some ways you’ve learned how to communicate what really matters about your company or organization?