by Tony Vidler
One of the best tips I can give anyone in professional services is “dumb it down- but don’t treat people like dummies“.
There is a big difference between “dumbing it down” and treating people like dummies too. The first is about simplifying the message in order to be effective, whereas the second is about being condescending and patronising. The first is good. The second is bad. That’s pretty much everything you need to know right there if you want prospective future clients to engage with you.
The problem is that professionals of any discipline have a language of their own, which is full of cool technical words and acronyms, and genuinely clever concepts. Our problem is that it may as well be a foreign language as far as most consumers are concerned. It isn’t that they are stupid….they are far from it. It is just a foreign language to them. And like a lot of intelligent people they do not necessarily speak other languages. If we were brutally honest we would have to look at our industry and say we are the dummies for speaking a language we know the customers don’t understand.
The perfect case in point is the way that many financial advisers express their value proposition to the market. For example:
A fellow financial planner hearing this will process it swiftly and comprehend the meaning, and undoubtedly sally forth with a question about Monte Carlo analysis or somesuch.
A typical consumer won’t.
The consumer needs time to process this type of statement and try and analyse it, or interpret it. They are actually going through a laborious process of replaying the words we used and translating them into language they use…where they can figure it out. The end result is we have a consumer who is feeling confused, and a little bit dumb or inadequate, before we have even begun to engage. We then wonder why so few of them appear immediately interested in our value proposition.
When it comes to communicating any message the primary objective is to have the message understood. The secondary objective is to achieve the primary objective as rapidly as possible. So we are aiming for effective understanding (or comprehension), as quickly as we can.
If we achieve that we have at the very least prevented our prospective future customers from feeling inadequate. In fact, we make them feel smarter and can have a conversation as “equals” which is far more likely to lead to engagement. More importantly though, if we can communicate what it is we do effectively then there is far higher likelihood of them understanding the value to them. And communicating the value we can deliver to them is the objective of the value proposition, isn’t it?
To get our message to the point where it is effective we must begin with the jargon-laden phrase that we understand. We know what we mean by it, so we should start with that. To make the message effective though we have to figure out how we would express that same concept to our best friend when we are having a social drink. I am not joking when I say that either…your best friend is a great test of whether you have got the message right (as long as your best friend is not in the same line of business as you, or they won’t notice the jargon creeping in).
Let’s assume your best friend is perhaps an owner of a retail store. They are smart; they understand business; they know you very well….and they will be utterly indifferent (if not outright irreverent) to your sales pitch, and brutally honest in their feedback. That is a great audience to test your value proposition on. So over a beer with our best friend we might describe it this way:
Regardless of whether these particular words feel right to you just at this moment in time, the fact is they are a set of words that still describe what it is you do and the value that you create for clients, but they are now expressed in a way that your friend-the-business-owner can understand immediately without having to translate. Because we have now referenced the outcome that this process creates for the client (which is the “value”) it moves beyond being a simple expression of what it is we do for a job by establishing the relevance of what we do for the client. THAT has meaning for them, and that sparks interest – and that is the over-arching objective isn’t it?
So dumb it down. Take your marketing messages and value proposition and turn them into language that your brutally honest friend would get and understand in seconds when your are relaxing over a beer. If you can achieve that, then you have an effective and simple, yet powerful, value proposition.
You may also find this post useful: The 9 Essentials Of Your Value Proposition0