The 5 Principles of ValueShaping™

Article by , June 14, 2018

Some consulting providers try to shoehorn customer challenges into a very rigid framework that they are a little bit too proud of – think Donald Trump in a tutu…

In the real world, a rigid approach doesn’t usually work well because no two consulting engagements can ever be precisely the same. After all, while some problems are common to many businesses, every organization has its own unique attributes and situations. So, while there should be some kind of common methodology behind a consulting approach, it needs to be flexible. I try to work in an agile manner that fits different customer requirements in the same way that stylish people manage to fit clothes to their body shape appropriately, whether they are built like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jack Black, Woody Allen or Brad Pitt.

The approach I use for my positioning consulting, which I call ValueShaping™, is based on five core principles that can be applied in a flexible way, depending on the product, market and customer base. I thought it would be helpful to share them with you.

1. Value is what your customer says it is

Most organizations start a positioning project by focusing on themselves. I do exactly the opposite. Before repositioning an existing business or launching a new one, it’s vital to get inside the minds of customers or prospects to find out more about their needs, challenges, goals and desires.

Of course, that doesn’t mean you take everything you learn at face value and act on it. This is especially true if you are proposing a disruptive innovation that may be beyond what most customers can easily imagine. However, if you focus only on your own capabilities and what you think customers want, you are taking unnecessary risks that could result in expensive mistakes.

2. Perception is reality

In order to improve my own self-awareness, someone once suggested that I ask five people that know me well to describe their perceptions of me. I won’t bother you with the details, but let’s just say that some of the responses shocked me. Over the years, numerous projects involving focus groups with customers, partners and suppliers have produced similarly surprising results for my clients.

For example, a repositioning project I completed last year for one of the world’s largest B2B technology vendors revealed that small and medium businesses felt ignored by this particular firm, and they assumed its products were not relevant for them.

This came as a nasty surprise to my client, since he had been investing large sums of money in social media and other online content aimed specifically at SMB audiences for many years. Unfortunately, what our study revealed was that SMBs had no time for social media, and what they actually wanted was more face time with salespeople and technical experts.

This is why a reality check in terms of discovering how customers actually perceive your brand is a vital part of any positioning engagement.

3. Look beyond your product

The majority of sales and marketing activities I see still focus far too much on what a business sells, and not enough on the experience of being a customer. The reality is that, depending on the market, great service, speed, reliability or any number of other factors can do a lot to make up for the imperfections of a product or service. Don’t you visit restaurants, hotels or shops that might not be “the best” because they serve something weird that you love, always accommodate you at short notice, or simply make you laugh? I know I do.

4. Make your message memorable

Too many businesses still communicate about their products and services in dry, technical terms that could make sleeping pills obsolete overnight. Of course, talking about features and capabilities is sometimes appropriate, but in most cases, it’s an emotional response that will get people to act.

Nobody buys a Ferrari because of the way the company builds its V12 engines; they buy one because they want to feel like a rock star.

An appeal to the emotions can also work even if we’re talking about a relatively dull industrial product. Big Ass Fans ( is a case in point. This industrial ceiling fan vendor makes an instant emotional connection with prospects via a memorable name that induces a smile. And although the firm’s messaging is more product-focused than I would ordinarily suggest is optimal, it’s so simple and compelling that it doesn’t matter.

Taking decent product quality as a given, I’m willing to bet Big Ass Fans has won many a customer simply because he or she wants to tell people the name of the company they bought the product from…

5. You must create the change

The biggest mistake I see companies make when it comes to positioning is poor execution. They invest a lot of time and money in nailing down a great value proposition and compelling messages. Then, they ruin all the hard work by not adapting their internal processes, failing to get the sales team on board, sending out conflicting messages to customers and partners, or backtracking at the first sign of resistance to the new order.

One of the main contributors to all of these issues is a simple lack of commitment and a defensive approach to managing change, rather than making a proactive effort to create it. Constant change in an organization and its offering shouldn’t just be a given, it should be something that every employee enjoys and thrives on.

That’s why in my client engagements, I try to impress upon executives that despite this age of political correctness and hypersensitivity, they need to become less scared about implementing change, and more willing to drive it, hard.

This week, I’d like you to think about this:

Which of these principles are you not yet applying, or could be applied better to the positioning of your business? Let me know which one you chose and why. I’d be happy to give you a few suggestions on what action to take.

If you liked this ThoughtShake™, please forward it to your colleagues and encourage them to sign up at