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Mickey Mouse attends the grand opening of the Times Square Disney Store on November 9, 2010 in New York City.
Mickey Mouse attends the grand opening of the Times Square Disney Store on November 9, 2010 in New York City.

Grow: Mark Healy

How to create a powerful brand Add to ...

Winners is an example of a refined value proposition: The latest brand names for up to 60-per-cent off.

Everyone understands it, and it’s powerful.

There are many approaches and techniques that work well at getting to a clear and compelling value proposition. Most organizations use a three-step process:

Step 1: Internal competencies review: Who are you?

This question should be answered by the group responsible for founding or running the company – the partners, the executive team, the owners. And it is usually through a series of guiding questions that the answer is arrived at. Here are some examples of good guiding questions to ask:

  • Why did we get into this business?
  • Why not shut down the company right now?
  • How would the world be worse off without us?
  • How would (BNN host) Amanda Lang introduce us to a mass TV audience?
  • What is it we are really, truly great at?

If we use a book publisher as an example, the answer from Step 1 might be: “We got into this business because we are great storytellers. So who are we? We are great storytellers?”

The founders of Nantucket Nectars love to say: “We are juice guys.”

Step 2a: Customer demand and perspective: What do you do?

At this point, customer feedback is important, especially if you haven’t received it in a long time. Why? What you do must meet a match in the market. Finding customers in their own environment, and asking them questions about what they like or dislike, want or don’t want is a pretty effective way to do a temperature check.

Beyond customer input, more guiding questions will get your group to the answer to ‘What do you do?’

  • If we had to explain our business to a children, what would we say?
  • How do we help address a customer pain point, or fulfill a customer desire?
  • What is the outcome for customers of buying and using our product or service?
  • How are customers better off after using our product or service?

Staying with the book publisher example, the answer from this step could be: “We write great children’s fiction that tackles diversity issues.” Disney is fantastic when it comes to understanding and talking about what it does, over-and-over, “we make people happy.”

Step 2b: Customer demand and perspective: What makes you special?

You can’t answer this question unless you have a good, up-to-date understanding of what your competitors are offering. Competitor intelligence is a whole topic on its own, but suffice it to say it’s based on thorough research.

After finishing the competitor research, again more guiding questions will help here:

  • How are we fundamentally different from our competitors?
  • Why do/should customers pick us instead of our competitors?
  • What or how do we do things that no one else does?
  • What is the one thing we do which is both unique and compelling to customers?

In our publisher example, the answer here could be: “Our books incorporate public figures and celebrities which make the stories real for our young readers.” Vitamin water does a great job of explaining how they are special right in the name of their brand/product.

Step 3: Development and articulation: What does it all mean?

To complete the process, most firms look at the answers to all three core questions, and work through a series of implications. To spur new ideas, two great guiding questions are:

  • In 100 years, what do we want people to say about our company?
  • If a client from overseas called tomorrow and said, “Hey, I hear you’re the best at X,” what would X be?

In our example, the big idea answer could be: “We are the most relevant children’s book series dealing with issues of race and gender.” Another great example you will probably recognize is Grocery Gateway: the most convenient grocery option for busy people.

A simple means of articulating the value proposition is to put the answers to the three core questions together as an elevator pitch for everyone in the organization, and to have them form the opening paragraph of sales and marketing materials, including the home page of your website.

Tactically, the most important things to keep in mind are related to clarity and brand alignment.


  1. Resist the urge to complicate or use buzz words that will degrade clarity for the sake of fancy or cute language. The more direct the language, the better. Think of Buckley’s and its “it tastes awful but it works” positioning.
  2. Everyone in the organization, from top to bottom, should be able to understand and communicate the fundamental value proposition. WestJet does a great job baking the value proposition of friendly service into its culture.

Brand alignment:

  1. The substance of the value proposition must align with the brand position, or there is a fundamental problem to fix. For example, if after all the research you decide the benefits of your offerings are associated with value, but your brand promises premium quality, a brand review is in order. No Frills promises great value, and even its store layout and look deliver on this promise.
  2. The language you use to describe your value proposition should reflect the image of your brand. If your brand is about customer service, then try to select terms – such as “fast” or “thorough” or “hassle-free” – that reflect your overall brand position. Koodo is doing a great job of matching language with its brand (simplicity) and value proposition (low cost, hassle-free), using terms such as “ready-made combo.

Special to The Globe and Mail

Mark Healy, P.Eng, MBA, is a partner at Satov Consultants – a management consultancy with practice areas in corporate strategy, customer strategy and operations strategy. Mark’s focus areas inside the customer strategy practice include consumer insights, customer experience, innovation and go-to-market strategy. He is a regular speaker and media contributor on topics ranging from marketing to strategy, in telecom, retail and other sectors. Mark is known as much for his penchant for loud socks and a healthy NFL football obsession as he is for his commitment to Ivey and recent Ivey grads. He currently serves as chair of the Ivey Alumni Association board of directors. Mark lives with his wife Charlotte and their bulldog McDuff in Toronto.

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