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Raise your hand if you’ve got a new website that seems never ready to launch, a solution paper that you keep tweaking but don’t feel satisfied with, or a pitch deck that’s under constant renovation. Stand up if the things you’re communicating about your product, service, or company aren’t sticking where you’re putting them.
Be bold, make mistakes, learn a lesson, and fix what doesn’t work.
In the business-to-business (B2B) realm, it can be challenging to meaningfully connect a brand or message to target audiences. Sometimes, the problem is measurable (not enough clicks, or plenty of clicks but no action taken, or plenty of action but not by the right prospects). Sometimes, it’s a knowing deep in your mind that your communication is missing the mark—blank stares, polite nods, one-directional conversations.
But you’ve done all the right things
It’s an especially frustrating experience if you’ve followed all the best practices: discovery sessions, value statements, SWOTs, competitive analyses, and messaging matrices. If you know where you fit and how to add value and you’ve got customers who rave about you but it’s not scaling, there’s a missing link. If it’s not “clicking”, there’s a disconnect somewhere between the company’s communicating and the audience’s understanding.
What’s often missing in strategic communication is the voice of the customer. Looking internally to examine values and externally to understand fit in the marketplace are necessary steps in the positioning and messaging process. But there are always blind spots, and customer validation is a crucial and often-missing element to get positioning, messaging, and branding really right.
You don’t know what you don’t know
When I work with clients, conducting interviews with their customers is hands-down the most valuable and eye-opening aspect of the process. Well-crafted and expertly conducted customer validation interviews can reinforce some assumptions and reveal what a company doesn’t know.
The validation process can:
- Identify trends in outside perceptions about a company’s differentiation and value-add that more precisely direct the messaging and positioning
- Reveal misperceptions and gaps in customers’ understanding that have gone undetected and therefore unaddressed
- Crystallize positioning and messaging with greater specificity than can be achieved without considering the customer’s voice
- Home in on value as it is perceived by the customer and express it to align with customers’ priorities, emphasis, and language
- Reinforce and validate assumptions and beliefs, enabling a company/brand to step forward with greater confidence
All together, these benefits lead to bolder, more memorable, and better focused communication. Sometimes, the shifts are subtle yet powerful—like the “construction firm” that discovered it was really a project management company. Sometimes, the results are grander, like the “marketing firm” that discovered it was really a strategic bridge between innovators and incumbents.
In other cases, this work has saved clients from dramatic strategic missteps, like the company that hired me to re-position them against a perceived new competitive threat. The customer validation process revealed that strategy to be the wrong focus entirely and enabled us to zero in on my client’s true value and totally unique fit. It freed the company from a misplaced competitive preoccupation so it could instead boldly attack true opportunity.
Any time you are examining positioning, messaging, and branding, be sure to give your customer a voice in the process.