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The emotional heart of a brand: secrets of the single-minded proposition

Single-Minded Propositions (SMPs) such as Nike’s ‘Just do it,’ have long been associated with consumer branding. But, as IT products and services become commoditised, Enigma is finding that the SMP is increasingly front and centre in the way we take our clients to market. Iain Halpin,


‘Head of Words’ describes the genesis of some SMPs and their value – and shares tips for creating them.

So, you’re working for a cloud-based provider of next-generation services. Or maybe they’re a disruptive AI-driven platform that’s accelerating digital transformation in your industry. Perhaps your approach to east-west security is rewriting the network security paradigm? Get in line!

Today, we have hyperscale cloud providers, the API economy and a VC community throwing cash at what it hopes will be the next big thing. There’s plenty of fish in the ocean – there were almost 12,000 start-ups in the UK alone last year. Your chances of having a genuine USP are slim to none.

Face it. What you (or your clients) do is boring. 

There are (at least) several companies that do pretty much what you do. (Or they know they can’t, but swear blind that they do.) And they’re targeting the same accounts with the same message. Probably with the same or similar results as you.

The good news? Despite the fact that your undifferentiated clients are going to market with ‘me-too’ propositions and generic messages, people are still buying their stuff. Why is that?

It’s a good question. Actually, the best. Why have they chosen to buy from (or stick with) you? What value do they see that is more than the sum of the product’s features? More than the benefits claimed in your DM copy? More than the promises made by your sales team?

What you do isn’t important. It’s what you do for your customers that counts.

So, how do you uncover that? You could do desk research. You could commission a mix of quantitative and qualitative research to

understand market drivers

. You could apply persona mapping to understand specific pain points affecting individual job roles within your target accounts.

Or you could talk to them.

I spoke to a customer of our Workplace Management and Analytics client, Over-C. He is operations lead at one of Ireland’s biggest rugby grounds. On every match day, 26,000 people cram into an area the size of a suburban car park. A series of legally mandated steps must be taken before he can open to the public. And, prior to using Over-C, he had no certainty that these steps had been carried out. He could only make a bunch of phone calls, receive a load of promises, cross his fingers and open the gates. As he explained, if all goes well, then these thousands of people go home having had a terrific matchday experience. I said, “Job done, right?”

“Wait a minute!”

Job Done. “Verb: to fulfil one’s task, to do what one is required to do”. Over-C deploy sensors around a facility triggering workflows to ensure that individual activities are carried out. ‘Job done’: ‘something you say when someone has achieved something, especially when it seems easier or quicker than you expected.’ Over-C has a visual dashboard that consolidates all frontline activity onto a single view, making light of the complexity of facilities management. ‘Job done’ communicates a quiet confidence that is perfectly aligned with Over-C’s culture. The company consists of a bunch of supremely able folks, none of whom fit the description of ‘braggard’.

‘Job Done’ articulates Over-C’s proposition at a functional, benefit and emotional level. I presented ‘Job Done’ to Over-C: it was approved in minutes. My boss texted the client to find out how the workshop had gone. She replied, ‘Job done.’ The phrase became a company meme within days. I love it when a plan comes together.

The Spark

There’s always something that, if you look hard enough, will provide the clue you need.

Data Interconnect invested millions in a highly configurable Invoice-to-Cash (I2C) solution called Corrivo; they wanted


to help them take it to market. Speaking to their customers, it was clear that the status quo was a mess. Invoices are generated by the sales team, processed by the finance team and chased up by a collections team. Communication is patchy, collaboration almost non-existent. Nothing is digitised and spreadsheets are the norm. ‘End of month’ is hugely stressful as teams scramble to ensure there’s enough cash to meet payroll. It’s chaos.

Corrivo provides exactly what the finance function needs: an automated, rule-based approach that streamlines Order-to-Cash (O2C) processes: Corrivo replaces clunky, disjointed and paper-based procedures with an integrated digital platform. It enables business to get paid faster, more efficiently and at a lower cost. It brings the entire I2C process under one roof. But it does something more. It allows finance leaders to ‘Take Control’.

‘Magic Eye’ pictures

It’s not always epiphanic. Remember Magic Eye pictures? These were lurid, almost psychedelic pictures whose shapes – if you looked at them in the right way – would resolve into 3D images. Sometimes, that’s how this process works. You assemble all the pieces and array them in front of you. Then you live with them – doing the washing up, in a hot tub. (I find water conducive to creative thought).

Eventually, through a process of osmosis, the idea will come to you. CirrusHQ asked us to ensure that their positioning reflected their status as one of the country’s leading AWS partners. I read that, in 2018 alone, AWS released almost 2,000 new features on its platform – each one of which could be transformational for their customers. That’s around 40 every week. Eight every working day! How do you stay current in the face of that kind of quickfire innovation?

In drafting the SMP, I had settled on the word, ‘always’ – which has AWS at its heart – and was searching for a combination of words to bring the proposition to life. CirrusHQ’s pure focus on AWS allows them to stay on top of all this of platform innovation. They constantly monitor clients’ workloads, optimising them for performance, availability and security. They aim to grow faster than the market over the next few years. Eventually, it dawned on me: ‘Always Ahead’ fitted them to a T. They agreed.

The gift that keeps on giving. 

Particularly for positioning projects, where key stakeholders have been involved in the process and have signed off the finished proposition, the agency is dining at the top table. You build strong relationships – and a detailed understanding of the client – in the course of doing the work. So, you are naturally positioned as a partner, and differentiated from other marketing ‘suppliers’.

The SMP binds employees to their company. Over-C’s CMO Riona Hegarty recently told me, “When we unveiled the value proposition and brand to the company, everyone was blown away. People were saying. ‘I’ve always been happy at Over-C but I’m now so proud to work for this company.’”

The SMP serves as an organising principle and usually has a whole hinterland of messaging to support it. So, it becomes a ‘North Star’ around which all communications activity can align. Done well, the SMP captures a company’s DNA and does most of the heavy lifting from a planning perspective.

It also streamlines campaign execution. The digital team can plan straight from the message house. Copy almost writes itself: in the case of Fischer Farms, the entire web site was written and approved almost without change in the space of a week. And the Studio have something with a bit of emotion to play with – much easier to come up with a creative hook for, ‘taking control’ than ‘configuration’! 

Crucially, not only does the SMP provide more fertile territory, but the outputs are more likely to be approved. One of my main takeaways from Doug Kessler’s presentation at b2B Ignite last year was this – the stronger the campaign rationale, the harder it is for clients to say ‘no’ to innovative campaigns.

Too frequently, studio teams submit ‘safe’ campaign ideas on the basis that this is all the client will approve. What we’ve found is that any campaign that is a legitimate execution of the SMP – no matter how ‘out there’ it might be – is given serious consideration.

What’s not to like about the SMP, right? So, how might you go about creating one?

5 tips for creating a meaningful SMP

  1. Look beyond the product:

    Marketing used to extol features. Then it talked about benefits. We need to move to an ‘empathy-based’ approach. Get into your customers’ shoes. How do you improve the quality of their lives? Do you want to lead with the virtues of a real-time dashboard? Or with the reassurance that comes from knowing that a difficult and potentially high-risk event ran like clockwork?

  2. Dig Deep:

     Einstein said, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” The SMP needs to be explained simply. Talk to as many people as you can. Leaders. Customers. Analysts (e.g. Gartner, not a shrink). Partners. Anyone that can help you unlock the value. Know the industry. And the competitors. Understand the product or service. Keep your eyes open – inspiration can come from anywhere.

  3. Focus:

    If you try to be all things to all people, you’ll end up meaning nothing to anyone. What’s the one thing you want to hang your hat on? That will make you stand out. Make people pay attention? I’ve never given a client more than one SMP, never offered them a Plan B. There’s only one right answer. Be brave.

  4. Believe:

     The word credibility derives from the Latin, ‘credere’ – to believe. There is no credibility without belief – literally. If you want to present your ideas credibly, you have to believe in what you’re presenting. I am my SMP’s harshest critic. I interrogate it from all sides. I can overcome any objections. If I don’t believe in it, who will? (I’ve done this numerous times. No-one has ever said, ‘No.’)

  5. Give a s**t:

    It’s your project. It’s their job. It may even be their life’s work and their retirement plan. Have passion for what you’re doing on their behalf. They care – so should you. 

Any closing remarks? 

What you do may be boring. But what you can do for your customers is amazing. 

Remember that and you won’t go far wrong. 

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