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When is a company’s core value proposition not a core value proposition? When it’s a collection of buzzwords.

Many of today’s companies recognise the need for a core value proposition (CVP) to underpin their internal and external messaging. They appreciate the importance of explaining to customers, in a unified voice, exactly what the company values, how it’s different and how it will meet their needs.

Yet far fewer companies understand what’s required to ensure their CVP is meaningful and robust. In reality, the vast majority of CVPs amount to a nebulous motherhood statement or a series of empty buzzwords – neither of which do anything to genuinely explain a company’s core proposition.

Innovation, trust, value, connection, diversity… sound familiar? So many companies rely on the same words, regardless of what business or industry they’re in. Often as not, if you covered up their logo, you wouldn’t have a clue which company they were referring to.

Beware the buzzword

A CVP is the beating heart of your company, splattered onto a page. So it needs to be authentic.

It guides how your own people talk about the company; what they stand for and what they deliver. If you give them clichés to work with, they’ll speak in clichés. If you give them a motherhood statement, that’s all they’ll talk. If you give them corporate jargon, they’re going to rely on corporate jargon.

But if you give them truth wrapped in your own unique personality, that’s when things get really interesting.

Do your homework

So, how do you get to that point? How do you devise something that is truly authentic, that genuinely reflects the truth about what your company does and why it makes a difference to your customers?

Certainly it shouldn’t be about devising a snappy line and retrofitting your CVP – before you’ve even considered the full extent of what your company offers and how it may benefit customers.

You need to do your groundwork first. A CVP should be the end result of a thorough discovery process, a collective brainstorming of ideas, a fine-tuning of key messages as you attempt to uncover and distil all the truths that represent your company.

In other words, it should be the last thing you produce, not the first.

All aboard

Before you get started, however, there needs to be a willingness among those with whom you want to create the CVP. You want your business stakeholders to be entirely on board, to appreciate exactly why it’s needed.

Inevitably, if you bring a room full of people together to work on a CVP and half of them are unwilling, or think it’s garbage, it’s simply not going to work. A couple of non-believers isn’t such an issue. In fact, I’ve found that if you do a three-hour workshop at which most of the people are really positive and passionate about explaining what the company stands for, those non-believers begin to get excited themselves and eventually get involved.

Doing the groundwork

Such workshops are part and parcel of the next step – the deep discovery process. This is where Six Black Pens comes in. First we do an audit of every possible existing asset that explains what your company does and why it’s of benefit. This can range from your company website, sales presentations and information sheets to personal insights from your executive team and the rest of your people. We’ll do a ‘bring out your dead’ session, where we look at every Clip Art presentation a team has ever cobbled together, as well as every ageing brochure.

Most importantly, we pick the brains of the frontline teams to find out how they currently talk about the company and its offering, in order to find undiscovered gems.

Multiple workshops are essential for this. They allow you to understand how your team is currently articulating what you do and why it matters – what we call the ‘what’ and the ‘so what?’.

Incidentally, while most people can tell you what they do, very few can tell you why it matters.

At the same time, it’s critical to put your customer hat on and try and understand their perspective in any given situation. Frankly, if you’re not bringing their perspective into the room at this point, you’re going to end up with a toothless tiger as far as your CVP is concerned.

Getting organised

Once the discovery process is over and you have an abundance of useful material, it’s time to arrange it all in a way that makes sense. We call the end product a messaging matrix. Ultimately you’re looking for between four and six key value pillars to frame your CVP, together with a whole lot of proofpoints to support each pillar.

What’s most important about these pillars is that they’re truly authentic – that they’re absolutely anchored in evidence. Simply put, unless you can substantiate a promise to the customer, you shouldn’t include it.

Maintaining control of your CVP

In order to stay in control, you need to take your messaging matrix back to your key stakeholders to test every single word it includes. Of course, this means passing it by your legal team as well. However, be warned: if you don’t want your matrix to be rewritten in the voice of a robot, make sure they understand its purpose and what you’re trying to achieve upfront. It’s well worth it. (That’s why it’s a great idea to have legal in the room very early.)

Similarly, it’s important any revisions of the matrix are managed by a really tight team who know what they want to achieve and can muscle it through when push comes to shove. During the testing and revision phase, you’ll start to see different business units come to the fore with very specific agendas in terms of what they want to achieve. To ensure the CVP truly represents the whole company, however, you need to make sure one single business unit isn’t able to hijack the process. Otherwise, you may well find you have a very lopsided CVP.

The final crafting

The very last step in the process is to summarise, summarise, summarise. Be bold, be thorough, be true.

Eventually you’ll come up with a single, strong statement (with a series of carefully crafted supporting messages) that’s perfectly positioned to be your company’s CVP.

That wasn’t so hard, was it?

Kimberley Gaskin

© Six Black Pens 2024