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What Can Your Business Take From this Election?

By Jon Sawyer on 05/05/2015 - 0 Comments

(Updated 8th May, 13:00)

Despite the shock to most people of the eventual majority win for the Conservative party,  during this election, as Conservative and Labour moved towards the Election Day, the political dog fight between the two major parties showed no signs of slacking.

For some time (right to the last minute !), indicators were that no one party will hold a majority -  suggesting that other rising parties such as SNP, UKIP together with the LibDems would be key in determining the battle for power. Following nearly 3 months of political campaigning after what had been a fairly bitter and acrimonious period of electioneering, what can we learn from this extended political debate? Why was it that no one party had seemingly been able to gain dominance over that time? The parallels in business are more than apparent as to why some businesses fail to stand out in competitive markets.

Failure to maintain a clear customer proposition, with clear points of differentiation may hold the key.

What is a Meant by the Term ‘Customer Proposition’?

This can be defined in terms of the combinations of things that a company offers to customers, including products and services, prices, special offers, support etc. This proposition will clearly target the customer groups that the company believes will be the most profitable and most engaged with your product or service. A simpler way of saying this is ‘what do you want to be famous for.’ A restaurant may be famous for being the best steakhouse in town. This in turn helps define its menu and the types of people that may want to eat there. In response to a competitive market many restaurants just add more items to the menu in order to nullify the competition. All this serves to do is to blur the lines of differentiation, and adds to cost.

Do Political Parties Have a Customer Proposition?

It can be argued that for political parties this is enshrined in their manifesto which all parties announced with some 6 weeks to go before Election Day. Labour even promised to put this in a huge tablet of stone etched in the gardens in Downing Street. Did these manifestos actually set out a clear differentiated position or was there ‘blurring of the lines’?

As fears grew of the impact that the SNP, UKIP and traditional alliance partners such as LibDems might have had in holding the balance of power, the main thrust of any electioneering had been based on negative campaigning moving the core message away from the manifesto (customer proposition). For example, the Chancellor stated that “a vote for labour is a vote for a labour / SNP pact which would lead to lost jobs, higher taxes and would put the UK on the brink of a return to recession (Daily Telegraph 23/4/15).” Is this not a surprising message in the face of an increasingly buoyant economy which continues to outperform its global competition?

Even in sticking closely to a manifesto line there is the need for consistency of message. Ed Balls (then Shadow Chancellor) was in the spotlight over his confused position in respect of ‘Non Dom’ status, as recent interviews conflicted with statements given in a radio interview in Leeds in January.

In the face of such negative campaigning from all parties, is it not surprising that no one party had been able to establish a clear lead! The parallels in business are more than apparent as there always is the temptation to compete on price alone, which is hard to resist for any business owner. Such a proposition does little to sell the quality and added value differentiation a product or service may deliver.

What are the lessons to learn? Based on the above experience it is reasonable to assume that a more consistent delivery of the customer proposition would have been able to unlock some voter apathy and to help one party to establish dominance at a much earier stage, moving from the negative to the possitive.

So what is a customer proposition all about?

A robust customer proposition will help your company to determine why a specific market group should purchase your offering instead of your competitor’s. The first step is to understand the main set of customer’s requirements and preferences. Defining a simple, yet powerfully captivating, consumer value proposition will elevate your offering by focusing on the few elements that matter most to target customers, demonstrating and documenting the value of this superior performance, and communicating it in a way that conveys a sophisticated understanding of the customer’s business priorities.

What is the Process to Define a Compelling Customer Proposition?

1. Understand Customers’ Businesses
Invest time and effort to understand your customers’ businesses and identify their unique requirements and preferences. This requires research. The challenge in politics and in business is that you cannot be ‘all things to all people.’

2. Substantiate Your Value Claims
“We can save you money!” won’t cut it as a customer value proposition. You will need to back up this claim in accessible, persuasive language that describes the differences between your offerings and rivals’. And explain how those differences translate into monetary worth for customers.

3. Document Value Delivered
Create written accounts of cost savings or added value that existing customers have actually captured by using your offerings. And conduct on-site pilots at prospective customer locations to gather data on your products’ performance. Failure to communicate the comparative strength of the UK economy compared to its European neighbours could have cost the conservatives.

4. Make Customer Value Proposition a Central Business Skill
Improve and reward managers’ ability to craft a compelling customer value proposition. Make sure this is consistently known and executed by all members of staff whether front line or office based.

Some managers view the customer value proposition as a form of spin their marketing departments develop for advertising and promotional copy. This short-sighted view neglects the very real contribution of value propositions to superior business performance. Properly constructed, they force companies to rigorously focus on what their offerings are really worth to their customers. Once companies become disciplined about understanding customers, they can make smarter choices about where to allocate scarce company resources in developing new offerings.

What can we learn from the recent political debate? There is a clear need to define a robust customer proposition and to get all your team to own and deliver against this. A complacent approach may lead your market share to be gobbled up by competitors hungry and motivated to ‘fine-tune’ their offering more closely to customer needs.

Alistair Campbell had been sharing with labour campaign aides an anecdote from Bill Clinton that “when you run for re-election you have to be hungrier than you were the first time around” (Sunday Times 26/4/15). The criticism of Cameron from Tory MP’s is that he had not looked hungry. Did Miliband want it more? The electorate obviously thought not.

When looking at your own business, do your competitors want it more?

Time to decide?

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