Or: Values, Alignment, and Customer Questions
Marketing is about aligning your product or service with the values of your customers, then helping them overcome the objections they might have about purchasing the product or service.
I’ve been thinking about this concept for a while now. As of right now, I’m convinced it’s one of the most important intersections between marketing and sales. I’m going to break it down in a couple different ways. First off, aligning the product or service with values. Second, aligning those values with the right customers. Third, overcoming the objections between first contact with your brand, and the point of purchase.
Step 1: Aligning products and services with values and value
For a social enterprise, it is not difficult to align our products and services with values. It is inherent in the model. Many social enterprises use a triple bottom line or other system to outline their values. Often this takes the form of a social/cultural bottom line, an environmental bottom line, and the financial bottom line.
Regardless how you outline your values, you need to be specific and explicit. There is a handy tool from Bain and Co. and the Harvard Business Review. They outline many different levels of value, based loosely on elements of Maslow’s hierarchy. You can use this tool to identify different values that your social enterprise either already fulfills or could fulfill.
Most notably, the highest value on their hierarchy of the elements of value is “social impact.” This gives social enterprises a leg up on other standard businesses, because the social impact is inherent within social enterprise. As social entrepreneurs, we need to be crystal clear about what our vision of social impact is, and how our business intends to effect social change. We then need to be able to explain what that vision is to all our customers.
After addressing your social change, you must provide something of value for any customers to bother buying from you. If you can only claim to provide social change, you might be able to collect signatures for a petition, but you won’t be able to sell much. From here, you can work your way back up the elements of value pyramid.
Starting from the bottom, what kind of function does your product or service provide that customers might value? Does it help them simplify their work? Save either time or effort for them? Does it reduce their risk? Does it help people connect and organize? And the most important functional value: is it high quality?
Moving up the visual, does your product or service provide any emotional value? Does it help your customers have better health or wellness? Is it a status symbol? Is your product well designed and does it help the customer feel more attractive? Do people who use your product or service have fun? Does it reduce their anxiety? Any emotional attachment or effects that your product or service could provide should be considered.
The second highest area on the elements of value pyramid is the “life changing” section. Does your product or service help your customer have hope for the future? Does it motivate your customers and help them achieve their long term goals? Does it give them something they can pass on to their children or mentees? Does it help them feel as though they belong within a group? The life changing values can have significant impact on your customers if you are able to follow through and fulfill these values.
Step 2: finding the right customers with similar values
To be able to do marketing effectively, you need to have a specific group of people in mind. This is what marketers call a target market. What does the group you serve care about?
Based on the values you identified for your product or service, you should have a natural fit. Does your product or service better serve people who work in government or people who coordinate farmers’ markets? People who live in standalone homes or that live in apartments? Do they prefer to buy things or pay for experiences?
Thinking back to the elements of value, what are the most likely things that your customers will care about in your product? What does the group you serve worry about?
Thinking about a hypothetical target market: People who live in urban centres, have teen children, low income, have a strong family support network, are involved in local beer league sports teams, and their local public school parents’ associations. What problems might this group need solved? What are they more likely to value in a possible solution?
They are unlikely to need a solution that connects them, because of their strong family ties, but something that saves time might be extremely valuable. Because of their full schedules, they would likely value a product or service that can help them organize their lives or allow them to coordinate between them and their kids. This group might be increasingly interested in a potential heirloom to leave for their growing kids. There are many possible values that this group might hold.
As the social entrepreneur who is selling a product or service, you need to have a target market in mind as you are creating your product or service. To make this even harder, you also need to find a target market who is interested in the social goals that you are working towards. I will go into more detail about this in a future article.
Little side note here: there will always be overlap between groups. There will be some people who work in high-risk investment firms who also only eat organic. The groups you identify here will guide your marketing, but you need to remember that everyone in this group has complex problems, and individual values. We group people so that we have a starting point, but we can’t forget the individuals.
Step 3: Overcoming the objections
When someone who is a part of your target market has found your product, they will race to buy it as soon as possible. This is great, and we’re all done here. We can now count our sales and use all the money we’re making to make a huge impact on our social goals!
I’m sorry to tell you that this is very unlikely. Even customers who buy into your social mission, and are within your target market will have questions that need to be answered, and objections to spending their money.
Unless you are exceptionally clear when you explain what your social enterprise does, I’m sure that there will be some people who don’t fully get it the first time they hear about it. In fact, I’m certain that nobody will completely understand the first time they hear about it.
The first thing that you need to be able to explain is what you sell. Why should your customer care about your business? Because they might get some value out of this relationship. Explain to your potential customers what it is you do, and how that can help them. Draw on some of the values we established in parts 1 and 2. This is the first objection, and you will get very few sales if you can’t explain what you sell.
Some customers will want to see how your product is used, and what it might look like within their homes or offices. Some want to get the technical specifications, and see everything that’s included in the box. Your sales pitch or webpage should address these concerns.
The price of your product or service will always be a concern, and will drive some potential sales away. This is normal. There will always be complaints about the price of what you sell. The people who complain about price are likely not looking for value, but a deal. If you are able to explain the value in your product you can reduce the number of complaints. Just make sure that you price your product so that it’s feasible for your target market to buy it.
Some customers will be content just knowing about the product. Many will have other objections related to your company. You will need to answer these other questions before they will be willing to buy what you’re selling.
Some customers need to understand what the business is about, and what the social mission is. Many social enterprises have a website with an about page to provide this information. Most new customers don’t know who you are, so you need to speak as if they’ve never heard of your mission and your business. It would be a good idea to also include the faces of some of your staff if possible, so they can connect with the human face of the social enterprise.
For some people the objections will be less ideological, and more practical. They might need to get your warranty information, or what your refund policy is. Some will be interested in knowing the expected shipping time or what products are on backorder. These kinds of concerns are why many companies have an FAQ to collect all of the miscellaneous questions that are frequent enough to answer, but don’t naturally fit on a themed page.
With time and practice, you will be able to identify how to predict what kinds of objections people have that prevent them from buying your product or service. Keep track of what questions people ask you about your product, and what customer service issues you regularly have to find out what objections are not being addressed before the sale.
When you create new tools and resources to help you overcome objections, make sure to keep your values and target market in mind.
As you explain your values and help potential customers understand your value: Keep it Simple