4 No-Cost Customer Research Hacks That Lead to B2B Value Proposition Insights
Marketers love a great brand story – especially those with a happy ending. It’s common for marketing books and blogs to showcase campaigns that broke out by expressing value propositions crystallized from deep consumer insights, ensconcing a brand’s reputation. Less frequently we hear about B2B value propositions, gleaned from customer research results, that helped write a brand’s success story.
Think back to your college marketing courses – or as recently as the latest webinar you’ve attended. Professors and presenters trot out B2C case study staples. The Volkswagen Beetle “Think Small” campaign of the 1950s, which celebrated a demographic that didn’t need to express themselves through the size of their car. The similarly positioned Apple “Think Different” proposition that appealed to individuality against the odds. Oreo Cookies’ insight to incite people to “Eat the middle first and save the chocolate cookie outside for last,” which is what Oreo lovers were already doing anyway.
It’s easy for a B2B marketer to assume that real customer insight – the kind that drives profitable, long-term brand and market share growth – comes as the result of big research budgets and expensive brand strategy agencies. The kind that B2C brands command and B2B counterparts only covet.
In my experience, that’s partially true. Nothing beats a fat budget to help solve problems. But, I have been amazed and delighted time and again by insights that are uncovered in unexpected, overlooked and counterintuitive places within an organization, without the aid of a big chunk of marketing change, which lead to real B2B value proposition successes.
Example: We worked with a private label artisan bread supplier to restaurant and supermarket chains, charged to build an artisan bread brand the company could call its own. Initial meetings with the marketing team produced standard-fare benefits: superior quality, depth of baking experience, etc. It was only when we asked for a product demonstration – a “cutting,” in industry terms – from a successful sales associate that we realized we had struck a rich vein of differentiated benefits. This sales rep showed us how she conducted a side-by-side comparison with leading competitive breads. In one comparison, she turned both loaves over to show telltale crosshatch marks on the bottom of the competitor’s, which revealed it was not baked on an actual baking stone, unlike our client’s product. In another test, the rep cut the loaves open and forcefully jabbed her thumb in the soft, spongy interior of each loaf – to demonstrate how quickly her product regained its original shape, an indicator of its superior moisture level. In another, day-old sandwiches made with head-to-head brands were examined – to the utter detriment of the competitive bread.
A second example from our own client brand experience was an even more accidental discovery of key differentiation. At a photo shoot conducted in our client’s manufacturing facility, we discovered that the medical tubing extrusion made at the plant (and sold to medical device manufacturers) was shipped to customers only after the tubing coils were injected with air, then crimped at either end to retain the air in the tubing. This prevented the tubing from collapsing, ensuring obstruction-free flow utility upon delivery and deployment in device fabrication lines. And this was an extra step that only our client provided.
Both these insights led to the development of strategic messaging platforms that offered forceful reasons for customers to make the right purchasing decisions. Notably, they were uncovered simply through observational skills and a hound’s nose for marketing opportunity and a good brand story. Best of all, they came at no additional charge, and without expensive customer research.
So, how do you create your own random acts of insight? Here are four suggestions for finding new vantage points for your brand’s value proposition.
BREAK DOWN TRADITIONAL SILOS
No marketer is an island. Work together with other internal teams to study their points of view on the customer experience. Identify your very best sales team members, both dedicated and at rep organizations, and conduct ride-alongs to see winning sales pitches first hand. Ask your best sales staff to give you a side-by-side demonstration of competitive products compared to yours.
From the R&D team, find out what has been engineered into your product that is superior in benefit to competitive models? Can differences in performance be benchmarked to give you a data-rich message to tell to customers? What insights were discovered in field trials?
As in the examples above, every organization contains tribal knowledge within functional silos that may not be general knowledge among brand marketers. It’s your job to uncover this knowledge and identify insights.
AUDIT YOUR END-TO-END OPERATIONS
Throughout the operation – product development, engineering, raw materials sourcing, production, quality assurance, packaging, shipping – impacts are being made on the quality and performance of your offerings. At every process step there is opportunity for insight into the nuances of your product that may influence how you express your value proposition to customers.
Is your product designed with superior-grade materials? Do your QA methodologies result in fewer variances? Does product packaging do a better job of ensuring plug-and-playability upon delivery? Do you have a better on-time ship rate?
An audit of this nature, of course, requires a review of competitors’ attributes, as well as an assessment of the value customers place on your unique attributes, to identify ownable, relevant points of differentiation.
ANALYZE CUSTOMER TOUCHPOINTS
Your brand touchpoints range far beyond your marcom channels and messages. Every time a customer interacts with your customer service or technical support teams, the brand is making an impression.
Review customer contact logs or incident reports from your sales, service and support teams to look for insights into what customers care about – and how your brand is creating value for them.
REVERSE-ENGINEER THE PROCESS
Up to now, it has been assumed your brand leads the competitive field, and untapped facets of the B2B value proposition lie waiting to be leveraged. But what if that’s not the case? These do-it-yourself customer research hacks work to uncover areas where there’s room for improvement for your brand, as well. Where would a retooling of processes improve the customer experience? Would a strong brand repositioning strategy resonate your customer value? Comparing your competitive set against your brand experience, how can you shore up your own deficiencies?
It takes just a single, strong insight into your customer relevancy to tell a powerful brand story. What has been your experience in identifying game-changing B2B value propositions? Share your story with us!