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Brand dissonance: Are you singing the right value proposition?

Your brand is a performance that people contribute to day-in, day-out. Especially if you’re a B2B service business, says Jill Pringle.

As marketers we all know that positioning is central to our strategy. With the rise of account-based marketing, and sales and marketing working more closely than ever, making sure you have a clear song to sing – a value proposition that plays to the benefits your clients actually care about – is ever more vital.

Yet all too often B2B organisations take to the stage and sing ten tunes at once. It’s not a well composed and rehearsed symphony; more a cacophony of sounds that no one can hear well, let alone understand.

Time and time again businesses come to me with this same problem; “people don’t understand what we do”. Usually they will also admit that’s because they themselves can’t explain it – or the MD can but no-one else really understands. Often a company has an aspirational vision and then a set of sales features – but the gap between these two things is hard to bridge. Composing their value proposition is often the solution and it always starts with creating focus – on who specifically they are talking to and what problems they will, and importantly won’t solve.

Over the years leading marketing teams in service businesses across a range of sectors from financial services to directories, from supply chain advisory to flower shows, there are some common themes for what leads a brand out of tune.  An avoidance of clarity is a big root cause and many of the issues sit outside of marketing. Here are just three:

1. Performing to no one in particular.

Playing to a big crowd and not caring whether they engage or not, is neither fun for the performers nor a memorable performance for the audience.  Businesses, especially those with lots of sales channels, often fear the clarity that comes with niche-ing. It feels like turning away opportunity when it actually allows you to stand out and be heard by a group of real people. If you don’t have a clear audience in mind you will never pick the right song.

2. Unwilling to stick to one song.

There are lots of root causes for this – organisational silos, short-term revenue campaigns that drive sales to sign any deal, an MD who gets easily bored and chases the next shiny new toy, marketers who want to hop on a trending hashtag so shoehorn the message. Consistency and frequency have underpinned good marketing campaigns for as long as I can remember, and consistency and frequency of airplay also gets a song to the top of the charts.

3. Write a jingle then never orchestrate it. 

A tagline is just that – it’s a jingle. The tagline should come after the value proposition. Your value proposition is the whole song, not just one memorable phrase. People buy the whole song and everyone in the band, choir or orchestra needs to be able to play their part in its performance.  Yet too often there’s a tagline, a launch and then hey presto, everyone goes back to their desk and nothing changes. Any artist will tell you that recording the song is just the beginning of the journey. When Beethoven composed his 9 Symphonies, each has a detailed score so that every instrument and every player knows where to come in and how they fit with the whole. Do you have that?

It’s time for marketers – especially in B2B organisations where the services may be intangible and the stakeholder groups complex – to ask ourselves this question.  Are we really orchestrating our value propositions?  Or do we have a tagline that performs to no-one in particular, changes like the wind, and never gets fully orchestrated?

In the words of Julie Andrews, let’s start again at the very beginning.  Your brand is a performance that people contribute to day in, day out.  Our job is to help them perform.

Jill Pringle is marketing consultant and classically trained singer. You can hear her

session at 3.10pm


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