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Value Proposition: How a local business doubled its space in 9 months

October 8th, 2015 No comments

There are really only two types of marketing.

There’s “Let’sThrowEverythingWeHaveAtTheCustomerAndSHOUTITREALLYLOUD!” marketing. The value for the customer is not very clear with this method, but if the company buys enough TV spots, throws some huge incentives in the mix and pays high enough affiliate marketing commissions, it will move some product.

As for a sustainable business with reliable margins? Well, the marketer running these campaigns will be long gone by the time those topics come up.

And then there is …


Value-based marketing

This type of marketing is harder. Way harder. It involves discovering what customers really want, creating products and services with true value for the customer and clearly communicating those values.

You can see this battle most clearly in marketing for local businesses. I was thinking of this topic when I flipped through our local copies of Money Pages and Mint Magazine. These are essentially coupon circulars with local businesses and some national brands filling every inch of the space they bought with ink, shouting at the customer, practicing “Let’sThrowEverything …” — well, you get the idea.

Flipping through these circulars, I have no idea why I should go to one tire shop over the other or eat at one restaurant instead of the other. They’re all the same. The only question is — which will shout louder to get my attention or offer a bigger discount?


Local businesses have a huge advantage over national brands

Now here’s the irony.

You might say local business tend to practice this type of marketing because they don’t have professional marketers on staff or, if they do, the companies are too small to properly resource them.

However, local businesses have something that every marketer at a major brand covets — a seat at the table.

Whether this is because the marketing is done by a solopreneur or partner in the business, or just because the business is small enough that even a junior marketer can speak with and perhaps influence the CEO, the people running small business marketing can provide more influence than the coupon and the ad — they can help shape and create a value proposition.

This got me thinking …


What does a local business look like if it was built from the ground up with an effective value proposition?

At MECLABS Institute, value proposition is a core research topic. So when Zuzia Soldenhoff-Thorpe submitted an application to speak at MarketingSherpa Summit 2016 with her story about launching Bay & Bee (a locally owned eco-friendly play space here in Jacksonville, Florida), I saw it as a great opportunity to reconnect with her and learn about building a business from the ground up with a real value prop.

[Note: MarketingSherpa is the sister publishing brand to MarketingExperiments.]

Zuzia worked with me at MECLABS (here is a replay of a webinar Zuzia and I did with Facebook about strategic social media marketing), directly helping MECLABS Research Partners find their value propositions.

She knows the topic inside out, so I was curious to see how she applied it to her own business.


Find an unserved consumer need

“Bay & Bee was actually created due to the lack of such a place in Jacksonville,” Zuzia, Vice President, Bay & Bee, said.


At MECLABS, we teach that a key element of your value proposition is your “only factor.” This is something marketers try to tack on after a product is created. However, it is far better for marketers to influence product and service development to make sure an only factor that meets a key customer need is baked into the product.

Zuzia and her co-founder, Monica Pharr, built the company around an only factor. Here is how Monica explained it in a story about the company’s creation written to customers. Note the use of the word “only.”

“Basically, we are the only eco-friendly, non-toxic, clean and safe indoor play space for young children … We are the only ones using organic disinfecting and cleaning products, beeswax crayons; wooden, sustainable toys; have antimicrobial, sustainable cork flooring and are Montessori and Waldorf inspired.”


Don’t try to be everything to everyone

MECLABS defines a value proposition as the answer to this key question — “If I am your ideal prospect, why should I buy from you rather than any of your competitors?”

In the same story, Monica said, “We don’t communicate our value prop enough because I don’t feel like mentioning the negative aspects of [the] overstimulation, toxic plastic, etc. of our competitors, and people who appreciate our concept notice it all right away. Those who don’t care about these aspects can make the choice for themselves.”

If you look at the value proposition question above, it’s very easy to focus on the “why should I buy” part. But don’t overlook “If I am your ideal prospect.” An effective value proposition is one that does not try to serve every possible customer, but rather focuses on your ideal customer and leaves out the ones Monica refers to as “those who don’t care about these aspects.”

You would likely only win these people over with massive incentives that kill your margin and degrade the value of your products and services in the minds of the prospects you can’t serve best.


When you’re not the best option, tell your prospects

Once you’ve established a value proposition, the challenge is to live it through not just your marketing, but your business practices. In this way your potential customers experience it and you build trust with them.

Sometimes you should tell potential customers not to buy from you.

For example, in addition to being a play area and hosting birthday parties, Bay & Bee has both a brick-and-mortar and ecommerce store. But they don’t always carry the products potential customers are looking for.

In that case, Zuzia and Monica direct people who make inquiries on the website or through Bay & Bee’s Facebook page to other stores after making sure the desired item is at that location. “Might seem silly but, in the long run, those customers appreciate it and almost always return to our store,” Zuzia said.

Not only does that build trust with potential customers who may buy from them next time, but it builds a network that can refer customers to Bay & Bee when it is the option that can best serve customers with its value proposition. “That has become a norm by now, so other stores do the same now when they know we have something they don’t at the moment!” Zuzia said.


You still need the basic blocking and tackling of marketing

Having an effective value proposition doesn’t mean you can overlook the basics of marketing. But it does mean you can get far more bang for your buck … and time.

Zuzia’s budget is, “$100-$300 per week, depending on how many events we attend, what materials are being printed and sponsored posts ordered/written” which includes Google AdWords, “although we set a low budget of $1-$5/day to less competitive, more broad keywords,” Zuzia said.

“Most of the word spread is organic though,” Zuzia said. This is where that unique value proposition really comes in handy. “We have sparked conversations about classes, services and products we offer, as well as why we are different than others throughout popular blogs and sites around Jacksonville.”

For example, she has targeted closed Facebook Groups such as Jax Moms, Jax Beach Breastfeeding group and JMB Beaches/Intracoastal Moms. “We watch or join conversations, but without trying to sell. Just honest opinion, usually through our personal profiles rather than as business,” Zuzia said.

She also invites all local online influencers for exclusive deals and services exchanges, such as Jax Moms Blog, Fun 4 First Coast Kids, First Coast Babywearing, Jax Beach Breastfeeding Support and many others. “We became friends and we share each other’s events and posts on social media outlets, and have been given reins to their Instagram account on several occasions (when Bay & Bee takes over their account),” Zuzia said.

This has helped SEO as well. “Being consistent with our concept from the day the business plan was created [and] finding how Bay & Bee could differ from other local activities and indoor facilities let us achieve [a strong] online position and obtain most of our traffic organically,” Zuzia said. For example, Bay & Bee has received organic first page rankings for key terms like: play space, Jacksonville; mommy and me jacksonville fl; jax play space; Tula jacksonville fl; Tegu blocks jacksonville fl; life factory jacksonville fl; and Montessori play space jax.



The results from having a unique value proposition and then effectively messaging through organic and (a little bit of) paid marketing are:

  • Expanding to double the space after nine months in business
  • More than 4,000 Facebook likes and more than 240 active members within a year of opening
  • 5,000-10,000 visits to website per month
  • Positive media and reviews, such as being named “Best Mommy & Me” in Jax in 2014 and 2015 and “Best Party Venue in Jacksonville.”

The biggest challenge, as it is for many brick-and-mortar retailers, is attribution. “Our biggest marketing challenge is not being able to measure conversion for each channel,” Zuzia said. “Membership sign-ups, party booking and most of all in-store purchases all happen after the initial visit to Bay & Bee. The goal of each campaign is to bring foot traffic.”


You can follow Daniel Burstein, Director of Editorial Content, MECLABS Institute, @DanielBurstein.


You might also like

Value Proposition Worksheet

Value Proposition Development online certification course [From MECLABS, MarketingExperiments' parent company]

Direct from the Source: What a value proposition is, what it isn’t and the 5 questions it must answer

Incentive: The bacon of marketing tactics

MarketingSherpa Email Summit 2016 — At the Bellagio in Las Vegas, February 22-24

How a Cloud-Based Video Creation Service Uses Testing to Better Understand What Customers Want

September 10th, 2015 No comments

What assumptions do you make about your customers? How do you validate if those assumptions are true or, instead, actually damaging conversion?

A/B testing can help you discover what really works with your customers.

Animoto, a cloud-based video creation service, usually has at least one test running every week and runs a total of about 250 tests with millions of customers on its website every year. I sat down with Brad Jefferson, CEO, Animoto, to get an inside look at his company’s testing practices and see what he’s learned about his customers along the way.


One of the tests that Brad’s team ran was to determine what type of sample videos would be most effective.

Read more…

Value Proposition: Lessons from interviews with 50 business leaders

June 22nd, 2015 No comments

Marketing automation. Programmatic ad buying. Email personalization.

Advancements in marketing technology can power a successful brand, if …

… and it’s a big if …

… they are used to communicate an effective and authentic value proposition.

At Email Summit 2015 I sat down with Jose Palomino, Founder and CEO, Value Prop Interactive, and author of Value Prop — Create Powerful  I3 Value Propositions to Enter and Win New Markets, to discuss what value proposition means to your business.


The value proposition is “the core or central truth about whatever the offer is,” Palomino said. “And, most importantly, [the value proposition] answers this question — ‘why should anyone care?’”

Read more…

Process-Level Value Proposition: How marketing can leverage the value it creates

May 18th, 2015 No comments

If I am your ideal prospect, why should I buy from you rather than your competitors?

This is the essential value proposition question, and many major business decisions must be made to truly discover and deliver on your company’s value proposition — from the CEO down to the intern.

But today, let’s focus on the small stuff to raise this question for you …


What minor changes can you make right now to deliver a better value for your customers?

Once you have the big stuff taken care of, once marketing has communicated (and sometimes even created) value, sometimes the little touches make all the difference. They are the tipping point to help your ideal customer decide to choose your product or service instead of your competitors’.

Let me give you an example.


Really, they’re more than just stickers

My wife and I needed to buy some Mother’s Day cards, so we stopped by Deerwood Village, a shopping center near our house. As soon as we swung into the parking lot, we were confronted with three choices right next to each other that all likely offer Mother’s Day cards:

  • Publix (a grocery store)
  • CVS (a drug store)
  • Hallmark Gold Crown store (a gift shop)

We decided to buy the cards at the Hallmark store, and a simple but profound thing happened at the checkout. The cashier handed us stickers.

But, they weren’t just stickers. They were a signifier.

When she was done ringing us up at the cash register, she said, “Wait. Let me give you some of these to put on the back of the envelopes.”

With that, she reached down and counted out four gold crown stickers.

  Read more…

Email Marketing and Copywriting: Why you should send “spam”

April 30th, 2015 2 comments

OK, I’ll admit it. The headline to this blog post is absolute clickbait. I would never suggest any marketer send spam.

But, perhaps you should send “spam.” And “free.” And use other email spam trigger words in your email marketing.


Writing email with one hand tied behind our backs

Deliverability is a huge concern for email marketers. After all, if our emails never get into customers’ inboxes, they won’t be very effective.

One of the ways for our messages to avoid being labeled as junk email is to avoid specific words used by outright spammers.

But as a writer, avoiding these words can be difficult. After all, spammers use them because they are often the clearest, and sometimes most evocative ways, to communicate with potential customers. If we avoided all of these words in our email sends, we would seriously hamstring copywriters’ efforts to communicate with customers.

And then there’s the fact that the list of possible spam trigger words isn’t short. The list I linked to above included 393 words and phrases. This includes some pretty basic words such as “phone” and “now.”


Do spam trigger words really matter?

If you follow the latest research and top thinking on deliverability, these words don’t really matter. At least, not a whole lot (more on this topic at the end of this blog post).

Yet …

I’m pretty sure that if I step on a crack, I won’t break my mother’s back, but I’m still careful where I walk on the sidewalk. And how many elevators have you been in that don’t recognize having a 13th floor?

We logically don’t believe urban legends and superstitions, yet when blatantly confronted by them, something in our brain holds us back.

This was the position I found myself in when writing the MarketingSherpa Chart of the Week newsletter that featured this article — ”Email Marketing Research Chart: Why subscribers flag email as spam.”

After I sent the final copy to our copy editor, Kayla Cobb, I had doubts. Second thoughts. Superstitions. What if that word — “spam” — really did send all of our email to the junk folder? Only one way to solve this conundrum: To the split test!


Control — More spam than a Hawaiian pizza

Subject Line: [Sherpa Chart] Why email is flagged as spam

Read more…

The Writer’s Dilemma: How to know which marketing copy will really be most effective

February 5th, 2015 2 comments

I’m staring at a blank page on my screen. There are several directions I could go with this piece of writing, and I’m not sure which will be most helpful to you:

  • How to improve the conversion rate of your email marketing
  • How to best understand and serve your customers
  • How to split test your email marketing

I’m sure you face this dilemma as a copywriter or marketing manager as well:

  • Which subject line will be most effective?
  • How should you craft the headline?
  • What body copy would be most helpful (and generate the most response) from customers?

So that’s what today’s MarketingExperiments Blog post will be about. Essentially, your product and offers likely have many elements of value, and there are many ways you can message that value, but what will work best with your potential customers?

To give you a process to follow, I’ll use an example:

We recently ran a public experiment to help answer the above questions for VolunteerMatch, a nonprofit organization with a unique funding model. It sells a Software as a Service (SaaS) product to companies to help fund its organization, which has generated close to $1 billion in social value each year through its work with nonprofits and volunteers.

Let’s take a look at the process we used for this public experiment and how you can repurpose it for your own marketing efforts.


Step #1: Get some new ideas

You think, breathe, eat, sleep and dream about the products and services you advertise and market. So sometimes it helps to step out of your box and get a new perspective.

For example, MarketingExperiments’ parent company, MECLABS Institute, uses Peer Review Sessions to foster idea collection and collaboration from new and unique viewpoints.

To get some new ideas for VolunteerMatch, we launched the public experiment with a contest on the MarketingExperiments Blog as well as on The Moz Blog where we asked marketers to comment on the blog post with their ideas for effective subject lines with a chance to win tickets to Email Summit and a stay at the event’s host hotel, the ARIA Resort & Casino. We received subject line ideas from 224 marketers.

However, this is only one way to step outside the box and get a fresh perspective on your products and services. You could also:

  • Talk to people in departments you don’t normally engage with (e.g., customer service, sales, product development, IT, accounting, legal … keep your options open)
  • Conduct surveys or focus groups with potential customers
  • Read reviews, feedback forms, forum conversations and social media to learn the language the customers use when talking about your products
  • Get on the phone and interview customers (and even people who chose not to be customers)
  • Read websites, magazines and newspapers aimed at your buyer and see what language they use and values they emphasize
  • Go to a museum, national park, art fair, farmer’s market, the symphony or some other creative endeavor to help spark some new thinking

My point is cast a wide net. Get a lot of ideas at this point.


Step #2: Coalesce these ideas around key points of value

Once you have all of these ideas, they will likely naturally fall into a few main categories of value around your products or services.

When conducting this public experiment with VolunteerMatch, we started with three elements of value (listed below) to help focus marketers who were entering the contest. When they entered, they would leave a comment on the blog post with their suggested subject line and which category of value that subject line was intended to communicate.

Defining the value upfront will help you know what elements of value you already consider important to your product or service when conducting Step #1.

However, it is important to stay open minded. When you assign the feedback you’ve received into different categories of value, you may find that all of the feedback doesn’t necessarily fit into the categories you’re using. You can find gold in these outliers — new value categories for your product that you had not considered before.

The three categories of value we focused on for VolunteerMatch were:

  • Category #1: Proof, recognition, credibility
  • Category #2: Better, more opportunities to choose from
  • Category #3: Ease of use

We also gave marketers an opportunity to come up with a category of value we may have overlooked.

From the suggestions we received on the blog post, I picked a new category to test along with the previous categories of value we had already identified. Suzanne suggested “I would argue that true volunteers are motivated by something more profound from within: dedicated volunteers are passionate about a particular cause.”

Based on this response, we added one more category of value:

  • Category #4: Passion


Step #3: Identify the best expressions of these categories of value

Now that you’ve identified a few areas of value to focus on, look through all of the messaging for the value from the suggestions you received and identify a few examples of wording that you think is the most effective.

I read through each and every subject line suggested in the comments on the MarketingExperiments Blog, and Cyrus Shepard, Head of SEO and Content, Moz, read through all the subject lines proposed by marketers through The Moz Blog.

We settled on these seven subject lines:

Category #1: Proof

  • Attention Business Leaders: How to Increase your ROI through Employee Volunteer Initiatives
  • Volunteering matters. We have the proof.

Category #2: Network size

  • CC Your Boss: 1,000+ Ways To Make A Difference (Inside)
  • Does your company care? Thousands of ways to prove it.

Category #3: Ease of use (app)

  • The volunteer app your coworkers will talk about
  • The One App That Can Change The Way Your Company Gives Back

Category #4: Passion (no feature)

  • Spread the Only “Good” Office Virus
  • Spread the Only “Good” Office Virus (I’ll tell you why this subject line is listed twice in the next step)


Step #4: Test with your audience to see which value and messaging combination is the most effective

In this case, my colleague, Jon Powell, Senior Manager, Executive Research and Development, MECLABS Institute, ran a split test with VolunteerMatch’s email list to see which subject lines would be most effective and which value is most appealing to potential customers.

Testing with your potential customers is another way to break down that fourth wall with customers and discover what is really most valuable about your product to inform and improve your copywriting.

Here was the email that was sent. (Note: The last, bolded line was changed for different treatments to correspond to the value expressed in the subject line that was tested.)


I listed the “passion” subject line twice because Jon used it as a double treatment. Essentially, this is a way to make sure the results that you see from an experiment are valid.

There should not be a significant difference between those two treatments since the subject line was the same. If there is a significant difference, it could be an indication of a validity threat, and you must question your data even further before trusting it (an issue we fortunately did not have with this test).

Read more…