MARKETING Kay Millar: Marketing should focus on benefits to customers

December 25, 2006

MARKETING Kay Millar Marketing should focus on benefits to customers

The terms in the marketing communications field have become so interchangeable-not to mention misused and i l l - d e fi n e d - w e could spend a university semester sorting out the words and their usage. At least twice a week, we're presented with questions about the difference between a brand and a positioning statement, or imaging vs. branding, or slogan vs. tagline, or marketing vs. communication.

Since there are many books dealing with these concepts, I'm not going to try to answer these questions in this short column. However, I am going to focus on what these questions are really all about: differentiation. Every organization, forprofit and not-for-profit alike, should try to differentiate itself so that its target audience sees how it's distinct from its competitors.

But beware: That doesn't mean your organization should adopt a positioning statement like "We make a difference." Too many organizations have similar statements/slogans/taglines, and they do nothing to differentiate one from the other.

Instead, you need to look at your organization and its stakeholders very carefully to determine exactly what it is that makes the organization important to its various audiences. Listen to your audiences/customers. Is it the emotions your organization taps in its constituencies? Is it pleasure your product(s) bring to customers? Is it the fierce loyalty your clients show toward you?

Then you need to take what you learn and talk to audiences/customers about the benefits you deliver. Benefits-oriented communication conveys what your organization truly accomplishes.

In many cases over the years, we have worked with clients who originally thought they were selling a product. But after talking with others, they realized they were selling solutions or services, due to the role the product played in their customers' lives or a feeling the product engendered in the audience.

Once they realized that, it became a simple matter of talking to their audiences about the benefits they delivered.

Because human beings instinctively approach everything with a "what's in it for me" attitude, your organization needs to be communicating in a way that is focused on "you" the customer, not "we" the organization. And, your information needs to explain the benefits to the audience. For zillions of years, salespeople have been trained to explain features of their products/services. So it's difficult to switch to speaking of benefits first.

Even in the case of not-for-profits, where most communications are related to fund raising, benefits should be touted.

One exercise we have used in professional workshops is asking participants to re-write their organization's informational brochure from a "you" orientation-and remove as many "we" references as possible. We've found it's a very difficult thing for people to do.

Why? Because, generally, humans think of themselves first. Therefore, business owners think of their organizations from a "we" viewpoint. Most organizations write their company brochures, Web sites, newsletters, and other communication vehicles from a "we" perspective: "We" have so many employees. "We" have so much experience. "We" offer these many services. "We" sell these products. "We" guarantee quality, success or longevity.

Look at your organization's brochure. Try re-writing it so the focus becomes "you" and the benefits to "you." It will make a difference.

And that's what we're trying to accomplish: differentiation. Find the benefits that your customers believe you provide and highlight them in your marketing communication efforts.

Millar is CEO of Millar Communication Strategies Inc., a public relations firm that offers strategic planning, including crisis planning/communication/recovery. She can be reached at 2500 One American Square, Indianapolis, IN 46282, or call 639-0442.
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