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Industry Association Success: 5 Steps to a Winning Value Proposition

This week’s Persuasive Marketing Blog Post features marketing veteran, Susan Lowe, who has a rich background in helping start-ups and big-league companies, like Microsoft, HP, Toshiba, Juniper Networks and Logitech, establish and maintain effective industry alliances and associations.  In this article, Susan shares great tips that will help alliances develop a meaningful value proposition — which is a key foundation for marketing success.

There are few things more critical to the success of an association (profit or non-profit) than a well-defined value proposition.  Before any messaging or marketing communications plans are created, the value proposition must be developed and tested.  While there is much written about the importance of value propositions, defining one is not always an easy exercise — and for that reason this step in the strategic marketing processes is typically poorly executed or worse skipped completely. Don’t shy away from the task.  Your ability to articulate a clear and resonating value proposition will ultimately define your level of success (or failure).

The importance of a well-defined industry association value proposition

Whether the association is in the planning stages, growth phase or is an on going organization, it is important to define the value proposition for both the retention and recruitment of members.  Remember that the cost of membership is not only annual dues it also includes commitment of company resources (may be business, engineering or marketing), investment of time and potentially the company’s brand image.  For such investment, the value proposition must convey to a potential member that by joining they are ensured greater success and will be a part of something material then if they had not joined at all.

5 Steps to defining your association’s value proposition

A good value proposition can be articulated in a sentence or two, no more than ten words.  Most important, it should be specific, clear and concise. 

  1. Form a Committee.  The committee should include key board members, advisory council members, and functional VPs.  Don’t make it too large, 5-8 is a good number.  Have someone from marketing participate on the committee which should help with writing the value proposition.
  2. Schedule Committee Meetings.   These meetings should focus only on defining the Value Proposition.  Don’t try to cover other business at the same meeting.  Limit distractions.Plan that the entire process will most likely take several meetings and set aside 3 hours for the first meeting.  After the first meeting, you will have a good idea of the time needed for subsequent meetings.
  3. Prepare in Advance.  Before the first meeting, have committee members do some up front work and prepare responses to the following questions.  It will help make your meeting more productive and make better use of the time.
    • What is your association good at doing?  What is your specialty?
    • Clearly define the target membership and their needs and wants.  You may have different targets that should align with different membership levels.  Each target should be defined and may have unique value propositions.
    • What need is the organization filling in the industry?  What problem is it trying to solve?
    • Are there other organizations that are in the same space?  Who are the competitors and what are they good at?  What sets your association apart from them and what is distinctive about what you offer members and the industry?
    • If you have a Value Proposition, does it still hold true?  And is there a perceived value at each membership level?
    • Will a member or potential member company be at a disadvantage if they do not join your association?  Will they be able to influence more and succeed quicker if a member?
  4. Test.  This is a key step. On-line questionnaires, surveys and interviews and are good ways to see if the value proposition resonates with your members.
  5. Communicate.  Once the Value Proposition is defined and tested, marketing can create launch plans, develop messages, key benefits statements, communications and member retention and recruitment programs.

Interview with Jennifer Vancini, Business Development Strategist

Today we’re thrilled to be chatting with Jennifer Vancini, the acting General Manager of US Operations for the Symbian Foundation, about the role marketing plays in the successful execution of a business development plan.

Jennifer has over 15 years of experience leading strategic business development initiatives and alliances from genesis to maturity. Her experiences include building and managing business development teams, growing alliances, defining and executing business growth strategies for both start-ups and Fortune 1000 companies.

Jennifer offers a real world view on how the right marketing plan and programs can make or break your success when opening new markets.

Attain Marketing: In your opinion, what are the ingredients that make business development strategies successful and how does marketing factor into this success?

Vancini: Simply put, business development efforts are most effective when the needs of the target customer are clearly understood and the company, and its products, sufficiently meet or exceed these needs. It is essential for marketing to support business development efforts by properly framing the value proposition and then providing campaigns and sales tools that will move new target audiences to take the desired actions.

Attain Marketing: What causes business development efforts fail and what can companies do to be more successful?

Vancini: Many companies are too focused on short term revenue goals, which is understandable given the way people are often incentivized. However, they don’t spend the time or money required to develop new markets, which are ultimately necessary to sustain long-term growth objectives and smooth out revenue fluctuations. Companies falsely believe they can develop a few random marketing tools and then magically gain traction in a new market, but that isn’t the case unless, of course, the market was low-hanging fruit to begin with and the company lucks out. I don’t rely on luck for repeatable success.

A successful business development program takes time to develop and execute and includes the selection of target markets with the highest probability of success, customer and competitive intelligence gathering, strategic positioning and message development, and creation of ongoing lead generation programs.

Attain Marketing: In your experience, what issues arise between business development and marketing teams that impede success?

Vancini: The common mistakes all stem from the same problem. Despite the fact that marketing and business development people are both charged with expanding their company’s client base, they rarely start out on the same page.

I’ve seen classic examples of this throughout my career, such as:

The “one-off” marketing campaign. In this instance, a lack of budget and commitment to a new market is replaced with a few disjointed and shotgun marketing campaigns. This short sighted approach often produces disappointing results because marketing activities are not part of an integrated and ongoing campaign.

Another common mistake is trying to be all things to all customers. This is usually a result of limited resources, limited market understanding and impatience. Instead of focusing efforts around a tightly defined audience, the company rushes into new markets with broad messages and ineffective campaigns that try to reach too many people and often the wrong people.

Lack of credibility is often a hurdle when entering a new market. You can’t assume your company’s reputation will automatically transfer from existing to new markets. Prospects won’t believe your claims unless third-party experts and/or customers back them up. You must take the time to build credibility points and endorsements from influencers in new markets.

Finally, new business development ventures are often misaligned with corporate branding and strategy. Time must be taken to ensure that new business development marketing programs align with overall corporate branding strategies. Branding is much more than a logo. The consistent, cohesive presentation of a company brand, which includes all touch points to a customer and market (promotion, product, service, sales, etc.), increases customer confidence. On the other hand, branding “free-for-alls” make a company look unprofessional and unreliable. Depending on how radical the departure is, it can also raise suspicion in the customer’s mind that his/her business development contact is acting on his or her own without buy-in and support from the rest of the company.

Attain Marketing: What tips can you provide to our readers that will help them avoid these mistakes?

Vancini: The main point is to view marketing and selling as an integrated process. Teams from both sides should collaborate and execute on an overarching set of goals and objectives. Management support and proper budget – is the first step to success. Other tips include:

  • Concentrate business development and marketing activities on a few, well-budgeted product and service offerings to avoid fragmented resources and reduced market exposure for each product.
  • Organize the demand-creation process in a way that lines up with target customers’ view of the world and how they prefer to buy your products.
  • Base your marketing messages on well-researched business issues and solutions instead of forcing your target customer to think about these issues and how solve them from your perspective.

Attain Marketing: Great points. As you know, everyone is sensitive about the economy today, so we have to ask you how companies can successfully market their business development projects with limited budget?

Vancini: I expected that one. But really, integrated marketing campaigns don’t have to be expensive – it’s not an all or nothing proposition. What’s important is to be sure that all marketing programs are tied to business development objectives and selected campaigns can generate the best ‘bang for the buck’. Even in good economic times companies can find themselves operating with a self-defeating scarcity mindset, especially small companies who compare themselves to rich competitors. Just do the best you can with what you have, make choices that have the strongest link to objectives and be realistic about the results.

If your sales and business development people on the front lines feel they don’t have enough marketing support, they’ll come up with their own programs and tools. I’ve seen this range from creating their own PowerPoint templates to making up a new product line on the fly. Not only does this become a diversion from where they should be focusing their time, but messages and brands get diluted and overall results are hindered.

More than ever, opening new markets is key for a company’s long-term growth. When marketing and business development are aligned, companies have a significant competitive advantage and will have the greatest chance for success.