Value-First Communication

Communication is one of those tricky things that we only notice when it’s done poorly. As a marketer, you know the product you’re positioning has value. But do you know how to effectively communicate that value to your customers and prospects? “Because I told you so” may work for parents, but it won’t get you very far with customers. Have you ever heard “if you build it, they will come”? That approach is a permission slip to avoid defining customer value and it will steer you wrong every time.

So how do we get it right? Let me walk you through a simple but powerful framework for building content that prioritizes your customer and drives them to take the action you want: it’s called value-first communication.

Value-First Communication

Let’s start out by making sure we’re talking about the same thing. When I say “value,” I’m referring to the quality of being useful, helpful, delightful, or beneficial (because that’s what your customers can always expect out of their interactions with you, right?)

Good. We know what value is. Now let’s talk about how to communicate it. And in-case you loathe the “just make it compelling” instruction just as much as I do, here’s a Content Planning Exercise to guide you step-by-step toward some impeccably communicated, value-based content.

4 Steps And You’re Done:

Communicate These Last: Features

“Here is what our product does”

We’re moving backwards here because while features are the perfect starting point for crafting content pieces, they should never be the focal point of your value-driven content. They should actually be the last thing you communicate, although they’re most likely the thing you already have listed on your website (possibly underneath some charming icons on a sleek, bootstrapped web template).

Look, you put blood, sweat, and tears into the features that make your product great, and so it only makes sense you want to put those features front and center. The problem is, customers do not care about your blood, sweat and tears. In fact, they probably think those things are gross.

All is not lost. We can turn that feature list into a list of benefits (which is where the magic “value-driven” adjective starts to apply), but let’s first start with a list of features to build from.

In this example, I’ve listed out a handful of features from a travel app I use.

Travel App Example:

Features Customer Perspective Benefits
Search for and book flights, hotels, and rental cars from multiple carriers
Save and share itinerary
Add reservations booked on other sites to your itinerary
Get flight status updates
Save searches and set alerts on price drops

Notice that none of these features make great headlines. What would you do if you saw a site that just said “save and share your itinerary” in big letters? Your thought process would go something like: “hm, do I need this? If I got this, what would I do with it? Look! A squirrel!” Don’t make your customers think, and don’t lose their attention. Instead, dive into details last.

Communicate These Second: Customer Perspectives

“Here is what is going on with you. We get it”

Empathy is key to getting your customers on your side. While you never want to drill into the painful details of their problems and evoke negative emotions for the sake of pushing a sale (which is something we frown on in the world of user experience), you do want to make sure your customers know you care about them and their needs.

Remember, just like you, customers have jobs they are trying to accomplish and pain points along the way. And while it’s great if your product solves their challenges, that’s not quite enough. Above all, your customer wants to feel cared about. Every piece of content you write should consider their perspective, acknowledge their needs, and demonstrate your devotion to helping them (and not just pushing a solution on them).

Returning to our content planning exercise, think through the situation customers are facing when using each of your product’s features. Consider: What goals are they trying to accomplish, or how are they feeling in that moment?

Travel App Example:

Features Customer Perspective Benefits
Search for and book flights, hotels, and rental cars from multiple carriers
  • Find schedule that works for me
  • Get a good price from whichever carrier is offering a deal
Save and share itinerary
  • Keep track of what my schedule is
  • Keep friends/family in the loop with what my plans are
  • Pat myself on the back because I’m glad I just finished making decisions/accomplished the purchasing step
Add reservations booked on other sites to your itinerary
  • Consolidate everything to keep it organized and in one place
  • Relieve anxious feelings of “I’m missing something”
Get flight status updates
  • Monitor my flights’ carriers’ and airports’ sites for updates (and compare to existing travel to see if it is a change or just new info)
Save searches and set alerts on price drops
  • Plan trips without committing just yet, but save the work I’ve done to start the planning process
  • Monitor changes in price over time and compare that to past prices to see if it is a good deal

Communicate These First: Benefits

“Here is utopia after applying our product to your situation”

Remember how customers are self-centered, and they don’t care what your time and effort went into? They want to know what is in it for them. Unless they are side-by-side comparing you to a competitor, customers don’t want to be bogged down with a long list of the features you identified in the first step of our exercise. They want to know what happens for them when they use your product.

We run through a full-blown value proposition exercise with clients in our workshop which makes these statements write themselves; but if you’re looking for a few quick tips, here they are:

The focus here is not on the product (or features), nor is it on the customer’s pain that you are solving: it is on the (super awesome, earth-shattering) final picture of what happens once the customer has the product. The customer and product are both ingredients in the recipe. Do not talk about the ingredients. Talk about the taste and smell of the brownie.

Travel App Example:

Features Customer Perspective Benefits
Search for and book flights, hotels and rental cars from multiple carriers
  • Find schedule that works for me
  • Get a good price from whichever carrier is offering a deal
Find flights, hotels and rental cars that fit into your schedule, and reserve them without leaving the app. Save money by seeing all carriers in one place
Save and share itinerary
  • Keep track of what my schedule is
  • Keep friends/family in the loop with what my plans are
  • Pat myself on the back because I’m glad I just finished making decisions/accomplished the purchasing step
You’ve planned it – hoorah. Your confirmed itinerary is here on one page where keep friends in the loop with the click of a button
Add reservations booked on other sites to your itinerary
  • Consolidate everything to keep it organized and in one place
  • Relieve anxious feelings of “I’m missing something”
Stay organized with by keeping all your itinerary items in one, easily accessible place – regardless of where it was booked – so no details go unnoticed
Get flight status updates
  • Monitor my flights’ carriers’ and airports’ sites for updates (and compare to existing travel to see if it is a change or just new info)
Avoid stress of last minute changes and constantly checking schedules – get notifications as soon as anything changes
Save searches and set alerts on price drops
  • Plan trips without committing just yet, but save the work I’ve done to start the planning process
  • Monitor changes in price over time and compare that to past prices to see if it is a good deal
Make your dream trips a reality by monitoring prices, and saving your work once you find a search you like

Visual Learner? Value in the Wild

Having solid content is the first step to value-first communication, and we’ve gotten there together with the Feature/Customer Perspective/Benefit writing exercises. Now, you have to actually put the content out there for users to see. Now that you know what to say and when to say it, here is a bonus sample layout of how the content could be organized on the page:

Value-first communication leads with benefits and customer perspectives before mentioning features

There you have it. You now know how to prioritize your customer in your written communications. No more excuses for that getting a C- on your content report card. If you want to get real with your business model and investigate actual value propositions, contact us about setting up a workshop. In the meantime, you’re off to a great start with updating your landing page content with benefit-driven, value-first copy. Keep providing value, friends — and communicating like your sales depend on it.