First Things First

A few years ago I was working with a non-profit organization to develop its value proposition so the organization could communicate more effectively with its clients and donors.  This organization started as an orphanage in the late 1800s and evolved into providing a variety of services for children and their parents in a city environment.

The first step in developing the value proposition was gathering input from the senior management team about what the organization does and why it is different.  This was done through an internal survey and a subsequent meeting to review the survey results and start drafting the value proposition.

The next step was working with the Board of Directors to get input on and commitment to the value proposition.  Again we used a survey to solicit input from board members’ views of the organization’s uniqueness.  We met on a Saturday morning with the 30 or so directors to review their answers to the survey, compare their answers with the management team and continue honing the value proposition.

As we were working through key points that should be in the value proposition, a board member who had served for many years asked: “Why are we bothering with all this?  What we need is a catchy slogan.”  She had just been to a PAL (Police Athletic League) fundraiser and liked the PAL tagline.  I again explained the process we were going through, but she persisted that all the organization needed was a tagline.  Finally the board chair and the executive director jumped in to support the process and to reassure the dissatisfied board member that the value proposition would provide many benefits, including development of a tagline.  The dissenting board member agreed to carry on but was not persuaded of the value of the value proposition.

This story in indicative of many organizations.  There is a bias toward action, which is not a bad thing.  But unless the action is supported by sound thinking, it is easy for everything to go awry.  I use the analogy of the value proposition being the foundation upon which the house is built.  Just as a foundation that is not level, plumb and solid will unlikely support a house for long, if a value proposition is not true (in every sense of the word), everything built on it will be weak.

Make no mistake about it: Developing a strong value proposition is not easy, especially when a company has a variety of products/services and markets.  The complexity of a company can lead to watering down the value proposition to fit everything into the tent.  But the value proposition can be a litmus test.  If 90% of the business is described by a very strong value proposition, but it is being diluted to fit the remaining 10%, maybe the 10% is not core to the company’s success.  In this case, the company might exclude the non-core elements in its value proposition and might consider disposing of those elements as some point.

A strong value proposition serves as a benchmark against which all the company’s efforts can be measured.  Is that new tagline, ad, website, sales contest or acquisition good?  Only if it is effective in communicating and supporting the value proposition.  By using the value proposition to judge all activity, the company can assure consistency and focus, including on that elusive tagline.

 

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