The “Bear” Necessities of Value Propositions

by: Doug Michaelides

Two guys are camping. In the middle of the night a grizzly bear approaches their tent. Razor sharp claws and hungry jaws are just inches away. One of the campers pulls on his socks and starts to lace up his running shoes. The other guy sneers, “Face it, we’re goners. You can’t outrun that bear.” The first camper replies calmly, “I don’t need to, I just have to run faster than you!”

When you’re marketing and selling your products, are you trying to beat the competition or are you trying to outrun the bear? Here’s a test. If I were to ask you why a client should buy your product or service would you fumble around trying to articulate a “unique value proposition”? Would you then complain that your incompetent marketing team has struggled to really capture your competitive differentiation? If so, I’ll bet that you’ve been trying to outrun the bear.

Most of the time you don’t need to be unique to be successful – you just need to be better than most of the other campers. So rather than agonizing to come up with unique differentiators, just be clear on what distinguishes you from your competitors. This may not actually have anything to do with your product or service but could be some other aspect of your business: the way you go to market, the quality of your customer experience, the speed at which you innovate, etc.

There’s a lot of waste involved in striving for differentiation when being distinguished will do. Unless your offer truly is unique, you’ll spend too much effort trying to come up with a value proposition that simply doesn’t exist. Or worse, you’ll latch onto a very narrow scenario in which you are credibly differentiated, thereby limiting your target market and constraining your growth potential.

“Unique” is a pretty high standard for any value proposition. By all means promote your value proposition as unique to generate excitement in the marketplace – I like to engage in marketing hyperbole as much as the next guy. But inside the tent, rather than wringing your hands over what makes you unique, just lace on your runners and go with what distinguishes you from the norm. Once you’ve identified the uncommon (though probably not unique) value that you offer, your marketing and sales team can get on with the race to find the many prospective clients hiding in the forest.

But tell them to watch where they’re running. You know what a bear does in the woods . . .

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