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How to communicate to your customers using the Values Ladder

A strong return to market requires communicating with maximal impact: Welcome to the most valuable communications exercise you probably never heard of.

Whenever has your company needed to break through more clutter in order to stand out vs. competition? Whenever has your messaging needed to be more differentiating, relevant and impactful to signal your company is back and stronger than ever? Even if technology can help you prioritise messages, what do you want to say in the first place? What should you be communicating? This is where the Values Ladder comes in and, as we suggest, may be the most important communications exercise you may never have encountered.

What is the Values Ladder?

The Values Ladder is a structured, analytical process to help you understand and articulate the benefits and values of your business. It is the basis of your brand strategy, what your business delivers, and what your customers receive in return. It is a solid, logical process that asks the questions, at each step, Why? So what? 

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The Values Ladder process: how it works

To begin unlocking the power of the Values Ladder, start at the bottom of the ladder with Attributes: the characteristics of your company’s Total Offering. What does anyone get if they knock on your door? This corresponds to your company’s What?

Don’t stop there, although arguably most B2B communications do! Ask, so what? What Functional Benefits does your offering provide your customer? What sort of “tool” are you putting in that customer’s hands that they perform their role better, with more assurance or control?

Don’t stop there: So what? What Emotional Benefits does your offering bring your customers? Even in professional, B2B contexts, emotional benefits in confidence, satisfaction and peace of mind are powerful and often overlooked.

So what? What Emotional Values does your offering bring customers? What do you allow them to achieve? What avenues do you open towards professional excellence, fulfillment and pride?

  • Note: Together, functional and emotional benefits and values provide the Promises you make to your customers and why they should believe you. They correspond to your company’s How?

Finally, what End Value does your offering provide your customers?  So what? What does it empower your customers to do? What larger impact—on the category, on society, on a region, on people –does your offering enable or facilitate? This holds the insight into your company’s ultimate Positioning and corresponds to your company’s Why?

  • Note: While this exercise can admittedly be somewhat difficult and seem abstract, there is reason to persevere: We were recently told by the CEO of one of our clients, that if he had known the full benefits of his offering to his audiences, as revealed by the Values Ladder, and the power his offering provides his audiences in their daily work, he would have charged them a lot more from the beginning!

A recent example: Company X

A great deal of the long-term success of Company X ( identity withheld for reasons of confidentiality ) as well as its immediate recovery will depend on their creating a market for their new technology: more powerful internal reporting and communications systems for large multinationals. The Values Ladder helped shine a light on the multiple levels of their brand story, beyond the technical:

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Using the Values Ladder, the team learned how to “unpack” their value to each audience. 

  • Technology departments need to be fully aware of all specifications (attributes) of the advanced reporting technology that currently differentiates the company.
  • Management Teams, however, need to understand how the offering impacts their global staff. Benefits they will spark to include “more reliable”, “cost-savings”, “more efficient,” “competitively differentiating” and a “better place to work”. 
  • CMOs and Marketing need to understand how the offering impacts employees’ daily work – e.g., how it makes their work “simpler”, “more accurate” and “time-saving;” “faster”, “more secure”, “more enjoyable”.
  • All audiences, not least boards and shareholders, need to appreciate the highest end value the offering represents: empowering individuals in an international community through co-creation, collaboration and communication. Now that makes quite a story!

The point: It is one thing for B2B developers and R&D to explain new technology to prospective tech departments. The highly technical attributes and features of new technology are typically meaningful and understandable to both sides as they “speak the same language.”  But in this case, as in so many B2B cases, the company has to convince more than just tech departments to have a chance of making the sale.

They have to be equally able to explain the benefits and values of their tech to non-technical people: e.g., a Management Team who will have to approve the purchase and convince a Board of their reasoning; a Marketing Team, who will have to promote the advantages of the new tech to even more non-technical people. If all any company can “speak” is tech, their chances of prevailing with other, all-important audiences are slim and nil; and if not in the immediate term, there is no longer-term.

Three classic learnings from Company X for all B2B:

  1. Company X offers one product: a more robust internal reporting and communications system for large corporate internationals. The same product, however, presents very different benefits to different audiences. Engaging with each audience differently, for what benefits and values resonate most with them, is critical to prevailing in any marketing or sales pitch.

  2. The need to move beyond technical details is often hard for B2B to absorb as they are understandably “in love” with their products’ design and new technological features; the need for serious, focused marketing and sales training towards this end should not be assumed or underestimated.
  3. Even in the best of times, clear and compelling messaging is hard to achieve. Today, difficulty is compounded by the pressure to return to the market with strength, assurance and clear competitive edge – and this requires more relevant, compelling messaging to each target audience than ever.

Getting started:

Ready to try the Values Ladder exercise? We suggest you begin with your most important “pillar” products and certainly with new product entries. Try it as well for your corporate offering.

You may find it profitable to do a Values Ladder for each of your key audiences. Helpful hints:

  • Typically, attributes and end values are the same for all audiences—they are your full, unchanging offering and your enduring positioning.
  • Functional benefits and emotional values are specific to audiences-- tech vs. marketing vs. management, for example. They help you craft different, highly relevant messages to different audiences, while still managing your overall messages across audiences
  • Messaging applies equally to marketing departments and sales departments: both should be fully aligned to amplify and communicate the same messages to the same audiences.

Does the Values Ladder exercise change what you have been communicating? Does it open new avenues of communications? Don’t be surprised if you discover something completely new about your offerings!

Next blog: a Values Ladder example long in the public domain, through good times and bad, that still holds relevance today: DuPont’s Kevlar. 

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