How do you go about developing a customer-based strategy?
If you are a strategist you will have come across all kinds of frameworks including: 5 Forces(Porter); Core Competencies (Hamel & Prahalad); Ansoff’s Matrix; BCG’s Growth-Share Matrix; 7S McKinsey Model; GE-McKinsey Matrix; 3Cs (Kenichi Ohmae); PEST(LE) model; SWOT analysis; IDIC (Peppers & Rogers)….. Each was developed in a particular era, for a particular problem and represents a particular point of view about what matters in shaping success.
In addition to these frameworks, I’d like to suggest the 3V’s – Vision, Values and the Value Proposition.
Valeria Maltoni at the Conversation Agent has spelled out the value of having a Vision Statement. I am going to take her lead and explore the Virgin Group especially as I had the good fortune to provide digital marketing services to the Virgin brand some years ago and walked away impressed at the culture, the customer orientation and how we (the supplier) were treated. If you take a look at the Virgin website you find the following statements:
- “We have always succeeded in business by offering consumers another way, a better way and being willing to fight their corner.”
- “Our lifestyle is the way that we choose to live our lives – the things we buy, the things we believe – it is who we are. As global citizens we want to provide people with products and services that will help them to embrace a more sustainable lifestyle.”
- “Our vision is to contribute to creating happy and fulfilling lives which are also sustainable – surely a vision worth aspiring to?”
- “We believe that we have a part to play in making this a reality and so our vision for sustainability within the Virgin Group is: “to make a credible contribution towards sustainable lifestyles whilst meeting or exceeding the expectations of our staff, customers and other stakeholders”.”
- “We want our Virgin companies to provide responsibly produced, sustainable, low carbon services and products that are desirable, easy to use and good value above all else so that our customers can enjoy their lifestyles safe in the knowledge that Virgin is acting responsibly on their behalf.”
What is the point of putting forth a Vision Statement? Let me say that is no point in a Vision Statement if it is just a PR exercise or a desperate attempt to revive flagging fortunes. The power of a Vision Statement lies in its ability to enroll a diversity of actors (Tops, Middles, Bottoms, Customers, Suppliers…) in an inspiring point of view on the future such that they co-operate in moving towards and creating that future. This means that first and foremost the Vision Statement has to be authentic for the leader who crafts, speaks and lives it. Notice the last point: the Vision Statement lives to the extent that it is lived. The more people that live it the more likely it is that the vision will become reality.
You and I might craft the same Vision Statement and yet go about it very differently. Why? Because our values (and beliefs) are very different. For example, in the ‘struggle’ for independence from British rule in India several leading figures wanted the same thing – to bring an end to British rule and rule themselves as a people – yet some leaders valued taking up arms, others valued pleasing the British and Gandhi valued non-violent resistance.
Here is what Virgin says about values:
“The Virgin brand values have remained unchanged for 40 years. They aren’t just an image but a reflection of our very essence and the way we do business. Virgin has always stood for value for money, quality, innovation, fun and a sense of competitive challenge. But now our brand values have gone three dimensional; we no longer have a list of brand values but a brand cube to which we have added the Wellbeing & Happiness of People and Sustainability of the Planet. “
Made up values are cooked up to brainwash the intended audience and in that sense are simply the lipstick that hides the pig. They are an either an attempt to hoodwink the gullible, a good sounding slogan or simply a desperate attempt to turn an also ran into a contender (think back to the highly successful Avis campaign “We try harder”). Which makes me ponder about British Airways suddenly finding its core values: “To fly, to serve”. Is it authentic? I don’t know. Will it lift its fortunes? Possibly.
Real – authentic – values act both as guides and as constraints on what you will and will not do and how you will conduct yourself. One of the essential aspects of strategy is choosing what courses of action you will take and what courses of action you will not take. Real values also have another advantage they allow you find / attract value chain partners – it is simply easier to do business with those that hold the same values as yourself and arguably it is more fun as well.
In my way of thinking the Value Proposition is where you spell out your promise to your target customers. It is where you take all of your insights about yourself, your target customers, your competitors and the world at large and spell out what your customers can count on you for. If you get the Value Proposition right then you will attract hordes of customers. If you actually deliver on the Value Proposition – the customer experience delivers the value proposition – then you will keep customers and they will get more customers for you through word of mouth.
Let’s take a look at the Value Propositions for Richer Sounds (award-winning high street electronics retailer); TED (one of my favourite sites); and John Lewis (renowned for customer service):
Richer Sounds: “Biggest Brands, Best Prices, Expert Advice…and take it home today!“;
TED: “Riveting talks by remarkable people, free to the world”; and
John Lewis: “Free Standard UK Delivery on Orders Over £30”; “Click and Collect From Our Shops”; “International Delivery”; and “Never Knowingly Undersold.
It is worth thinking about what you stand for in the world (Vision, Values) and clearly articulating the promise that you are making / the bargain that you are striking with your target customers (Value Proposition). Why? Because these are fundamental strands of a customer-based strategy. What do you think?