Daniel Burstein

Value Proposition: How to use social media to help discover why customers buy from you

Hey buddy, why should I buy anything from you? OK, that’s a harsh way to start a blog post, but, essentially, what value do your products or offerings have to your buyers? Unless you nail that down, any marketing you do is just puffery (and ineffective puffery at that), not really communications.

As we continue to dive deeper into value proposition for an upcoming book we’re working on, we see an increased need to help marketers discover what value they truly offer customers. That word – discover – is key. You simply cannot dictate your value to your customers. You have to determine what truly works for them.

One of the biggest untapped resources for making that discovery is social media.

So in today’s blog post, let’s take a quick look at a few ways you can use social media to help discover your value proposition. And by help, I mean social media will not give you THE answer. But it will help you come up with a few ideas that you can then test which will ultimately lead to your most effective value proposition.

First, while social media can essentially be a huge and cheap focus group, let’s be clear on its limitations. As a marketer, you can basically do three things using social media:

  1. Listen
  2. Engage
  3. Respond

The first two can help you discover your value proposition. The third one is basically customer service.

Next, let’s get on the same page about exactly what we mean by value proposition. The way MarketingExperiments defines value proposition is – the primary reason why your ideal prospect should buy from you rather than any of your competitors.

Now, to the Twitterverse…

How to listen

The great thing about social media is you can be what message board aficionados derisively call a “lurker.” You can passively observe the way your potential customers talk about your overall industry, your specific business, as well as your products and marketing campaigns behind your back.

Before social media, most of this information was secret. Someone bragging over a new way to use your product (and thus a new value that you never thought of) over beer at a barbecue. A dissatisfied customer complaining that your competitor doesn’t serve a niche that you fill so well but rarely communicate. Social media has brought all of these conversations out into the open.

Here’s a few ideas about how to listen for value proposition triggers using social media:

  • Set up searches for your brand and product names on Twitter, the same for your competitors, as well as searches about key hashtags and words customers might use to describe a problem your product solves or category your product is in. You can do this manually in Twitter, but more easily in free programs like Tweetdeck or HootSuite. And, of course, paid programs like Radian6 offer even more advanced options.
  • Also note, you might want to try a few variations if your company or product name is commonly misspelled. There are no copy editors on Twitter. For example, the search query I have set up in Tweetdeck for MarketingExperiments is – “Marketing Experiments OR MktgExperiments OR MarketingExperiments” (@MktgExperiments is our Twitter handle, which explains the abbreviation).
  • Join LinkedIn Groups and/or Facebook Groups that your ideal customers might use. How can you find these groups? Start by asking current customers what groups they are members of. And don’t forget to join your competitors’ groups or “like” their fan pages to see what their customers are saying. (Really, the same could be said for old-school forums or message boards, but I don’t think they really count as social media.)
  • Don’t overlook Google Alerts. You can set up alerts using the same type of keywords as you did for Twitter in step #1. Pay special attention to the “Type” field. Blogs, video, and discussions can be especially helpful. But the realtime search will likely be of limited value since Google dropped Twitter from that search – which is why the first bullet point is important.

How to engage

Once you’ve lurked enough, you’ve probably got some pretty good ideas for important elements of your value proposition. Yet this is where it can get tricky. By engaging your audience, and this includes everything from actively sending a message out on social media to even just having a social media profile, you can’t help but influence their response. This is known as priming in psychology. You can’t avoid it, but it helps to be cognizant of this effect.

In fact, I’ll take it one level deeper. You are essentially engaging in what social scientists call ethnography. Our resident anthropologist and research analyst, Stonie Clark, gave me a book on the subject entitled “The Professional Stranger.”

From talking to Stonie and reading the book…title, I can tell you the biggest challenge in such research. You must be enough of an outsider not to influence your research yet get in well enough with your subjects to learn what’s really going on. So it helps to engage with your potential customers as from a (clearly labeled) personal account as well as a brand account as you will likely get different results. [Think: Jane Goodall and the apes. Although, in this case the apes would be people with opposable thumbs constantly tweeting from their iPhone.]

So how can you engage…without being overly engaging so to speak? I’ll mention some general tactics in just a moment, but first let’s consider the two-edged sword that is incentives.

Freebies, sweepstakes, contests, and the like are an excellent way to increase the amount of feedback you get. Just take the results with a grain of salt. Your respondents may be more interested in the incentive than the offer they’re discussing.

A few ideas on how to engage your audience to flesh out value proposition triggers using social media:

At a very base level, do something. Anything. And see what response you get. For example, Zuzia Soldenhoff-Thorpe, Research Manager, MECLABS, found this interaction on a Facebook fan page where Happy Cup Frozen Yogurt Bar was able to check people’s favorite flavors without influencing the outcome too heavily by asking a leading question. They simply announced what flavors they were offering in a given week:

happy cup facebook page

The above example shows some passive engagement and the response. But what about active engagement? Zuzia recommends simply asking customers what you want to know.

  • You can do this on your Facebook fan page specifically about your brand. Or, if you’re a B2B marketer, you can use LinkedIn’s Answers feature to ask broader, industry-related questions.
  • Remember, the more active you get, the more you’re priming your audience, and the more skewed your response will be. But at this point, you’re only engaging in qualitative research to get some ideas you wouldn’t have thought of in the four corners of your office. Later, you should test with quantitative research.

Here’s an example from The Veggie Bin:

Veggie Bin Facebook Page

How to use this information

So what should you do with all of this information? Mandi Frishman, Marketing Manager, Make Me Social, recommends that you structure it around the customer first.

Build a comprehensive customer profile that includes data like:

  • Tips about their sense of humor
  • Information about their lifestyle
  • What they value in life, their struggles
  • Their concerns
  • Their expectations

She also suggests you document influencers in each market and note suggested conversation topics and tactics.

Following the social market analysis of the target market, Mandi suggests you begin a competitive analysis using similar tactics. Listen for:

  • Missed opportunities and niche topics that your company may be overlooking
  • Identify what messaging is resonating with the audiences
  • What is driving engagement
  • What questions people are asking and searching for

Now analyze and test

Now that you have all of this market data, Mandi suggests you, “Identify whether the existing messaging and stated value proposition align with what the market has shown.”

Hopefully, you’ve learned something to improve your value prop. So sit down with a whiteboard and your team and begin to craft some new value propositions. You’re not looking for the perfect phrase. You’re looking for some general ideas that you can further analyze and test.

You can begin your analysis of them at a very high level by broadcasting these potential value propositions into the marketplace using social media. “You can use social media intentionally to test the appeal,” according to Flint McGlaughlin, Managing Director, MECLABS. “Good value propositions have a viral component and those with the strongest viral component are very, very promising.”

Mandi Frishman agrees. “Social represents an excellent opportunity for anyone who wants a better understanding of whether their value proposition is on target,” she said. “Build campaigns that test the strength of the value proposition by gauging engagement, awareness and purchases related to different types of messaging.”

Finally, it’s time to get scientific. Wave goodbye to social media, and use PPC ads and landing pages to actually test your value propositions and get some hard data and quantitative results.

Related Resources

Make Me Social – a social media strategy company

The 2nd annual CMO’s guide to the social landscape

New Marketing Research: 3 profitable traffic sources most marketers are ignoring

Social Media Marketing: To tweet or to convert, that is the question

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  1. July 25th, 2011 at 12:38 | #1

    This post attracted my attention (I saw your tweet) because of the focus on “discovering why buyers buy from you”. This is the fundamental question that should keep every marketer awake at night. But I’ve spent more than a decade helping B2B marketers gain access to the insights that drive value propositions (and other marketing strategies), and most of the needed information is unavailable through social media.

    Your examples are consumer-focused, and the products you show suggest that the target buyers are (perhaps) relatively well-represented on social media. So perhaps your target marketer is different than mine. But I would like to see a word of caution, at a minimum, about the value of this approach when the buyers are not active on social media

    I’ve written an ebook — The Buyer Persona Manifesto — (free, no registration) about the insights that marketers need and how to discover them http://bit.ly/lqEo7B. I’d love to hear your thoughts Daniel.

    • July 25th, 2011 at 16:35 | #2

      Excellent point Adele,
      By no means was I trying to say that using social media is the only way to discover your value proposition, simply that it is a way to discover your value proposition.

      And then, once you’ve crafted some value propositions that you think may be effective, you must test them.

  2. September 17th, 2011 at 05:50 | #3

    Beautifully written, well done. I’m very glad to see a reputable source such as MarketingExperiments to make (yet again) a strong case of psychology and ethnography as an integral part of online marketing.
    Too many people out there are still push-marketing oriented, and obsess with funny concepts such as keyword density and metadata, and forget to build a webpage for the actual user.
    As we’ve seen too many times on the MarketingExperiments webinars, there are tons of pages yelling all kinds of stuff to all kinds of people, without sitting down to think things through and create a cohesive corporate persona that speaks clearly to their target audience.
    In such a climate of quick-fixes and get-there-quickly, Unique Value Proposition is as vague of a concept as it gets. They say “Who cares about quality, right? Just do what J.C Penney did last year, buy your way to the top.” Well… um.. NO, don’t do what JCP did. Instead, get to know your clients, and speak to them in their slang. Otherwise, you may be speaking greek to them.
    Again, thanks for the lesson, and all the good work you guys are doing.

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