7 Damaging Mistakes When Developing Agency Value Propositions and How to Avoid Them.

A compelling value proposition has always been of central importance to the success of an agency. From a new business perspective its importance is clear but the real impact is much broader. 

A well-positioned firm has a perspective its people can buy in to: a shared vision coupled with a common language with which to articulate this vision. This empowers everyone in the firm with the basic tools to talk with confidence about the agency. Everyone can develop new business. 

A clear value proposition provides clarity and consistency for existing clients, steadies the ship and helps define the future direction of a business. It will also allow you to attract the right talent in an increasing competitive environment. 

It’s the starting point to so much. Getting it right is crucial – particularly in today’s economy. 
The agency marketplace remains oversupplied. Management consultancies are an added threat and more brands are considering in-house models. 

You get the sense 2019 will be a year of significant change and agencies need to sharpen the way they demonstrate value.

Here are the most common mistakes made in value proposition development with some suggestions of how to avoid them.

1.    Created in vacuum

I’m certain some agencies develop their propositions without speaking to clients.

Words and ideas are shoehorned together based on what the senior management think clients want. The result might strike a chord with some folk, then again, it might not. There is little way of knowing.

How to avoid: Speak to clients. Try to understand what worries them and what they think you do best. If you have budget available, commission some more in-depth research to establish a deeper understanding.


2.    Untested

This is linked to the previous point. How many agencies do you think test their value proposition before it goes live? I’d like to think most do but I’m probably wrong. It’s tempting to think you’ve nailed it when the internal team working on the project are happy. There’s an important step that has to happen with an external perspective.

How to avoid: Get out and speak to clients. The earlier you start getting feedback the better - if you can, involve some friendly clients from the beginning of process. 


3.    Platitudes and jargon

Marketers love a bit of jargon so it's no surprise when it creeps into the language used to explain how agencies deliver value. Here are a few words you should consider very carefully before using: synergy, data-driven, big data, holistic, omnichannel (still used unbelievably), optimise… I could go on.

Platitudes are similar to jargon but are in some ways worse. These clichés feel lazy and meaningless:

- Collaborative – what’s the alternative? Solitary, contrary… unless you are doing something pretty special to facilitate a deeper way of working with your clients I’d avoid this word. 

- Strategic – Has been overused to the point of it becoming meaningless. Agencies need to be in a position to deliver strategy but simply saying you are strategic doesn't mean a great deal. 

- Friendly – I don't feel as though being friendly should be central to a proposition. We all want to work with people we like but surely sage and honest counsel is more important?

How to avoid: Think carefully about the words you use. Really interrogate what message you are trying to get across and if the choice of words is effective. Be efficient with language, there shouldn’t be room for superfluous adjectives. Each word should be there for good reason. 

Also, we’re all humans trying to communicate with other humans. It’s important to remember this. Too much jargon and over used clichés will make you sound like a robot.


4.    Lacking focus

It’s tempting to try and be all things to all people but when propositions lack focus they typically won’t resonate with anyone. Things become watered down and wont get the desired effect. You want to articulate your proposition so your target audience will get the sense you are talking directly to them, about their issues and how you can solve them. Lack focus and you wont be speaking to anyone in particular.

How to avoid: Continually benchmark your evolving positioning against the needs of your target audience throughout the development process. You need to be thinking as they do and be critical about anything that doesn't feel right. Speak to customers and get their feedback.


5.    Unproven

In the search of satisfying customer needs, it might be tempting to include some elements in your proposition that you know people need but you don't have the capacity to deliver. This typically occurs when a business is trying to exploit a particular trend (AI, Augmented Reality, Blockchain, Voice etc.) and is paying lip service to this in its positioning. 

Creative people are, by their very nature, attracted to new and interesting trends. It’s all too easy to start shouting about a new technology before your offer in this area if fully formed. 

How to avoid: Value propositions are much more than sales or marketing messages. They should be closely linked to your business plan and influence the direction of your agency for the next 2-3 years. I’m not saying you can’t react to trends and develop an offering around new technology but ask yourself, ‘is {New Technology X} central to how we solve problems for our clients?’ If it’s not, then it probably shouldn’t feature in your value proposition yet.


6.    Me too propositions

The starting point for any proposition development is always the customer. However, it’s important to benchmark your evolving positioning against your competitors. This will provide some context to your position in the market. 

The aim is to make sure you are developing something distinct. The wrong approach is to use what your competition are saying to influence your proposition. Your positioning needs to be better so it's important to look for gaps and areas to own rather than elements to copy.

How to avoid: Looking into the competition is more of a sense check. View it as a benchmarking exercise to ensure what you are developing isn’t too close to others.


7.    Features vs. benefits

It’s all too easy to get bogged down with the details of what you do for clients without paying proper attention to the value it creates. Or in other words, focusing on features rather than benefits. Successful value propositions should be firmly centered on the benefits.

How to avoid: Positioning a creative firm around a process tends to ring alarm bells. The process is (to an extent) irrelevant; the outcome is what’s important. Scrutinize your evolving value proposition to make sure it’s focusing on outcomes and value, not just what you do and how you do it.


To conclude

Within the planning cycle of a business, reevaluating your agency value proposition is one the most important pieces of strategy work. It requires a frank and honest appraisal of your business’ core competencies coupled with a fact-based understanding of what your clients need. 

The process is rigorous but should be fun and hopefully enlightening. 

The rewards for getting it right are huge. A well-devised, sharply positioned value proposition can shape a trajectory of success for years to come.


Want to stress test your proposition? Get in touch.