A powerful customer proposition can make or break a marketing communications campaign. It’s certainly the crux of a good client brief to the agency – but what does the term actually mean? I like to define the customer proposition as a concise expression of the problem faced by your prospective customer coupled with the solution your product can offer them. It’s the single-minded promise that will engage your prospective customer with your communication. This single-mindedness is important because it concentrates your forces in order to create ‘impact’. Think of it as the spearhead of your communication – a single, relevant and compellingly conveyed proposition that can pierce though the media-clutter to enter into the consciousness of your target audience.

In order to be effective, the customer proposition must be based on two things: the single core customer insight (ie why people do what they do), coupled with a clear understanding of the core product truth (ie what do your target audience feel makes your product special or different?) Can your competitors make stronger claims to what you are offering? If so – tread very carefully… Whilst it is possible for you to ‘own’ a proposition in an area that has so far been ignored by your competition, they may well retaliate strongly if they feel they have a stronger claim to what you are promising (particularly if they are the established big players.)

Your proposition must reflect an underlying truth, which resonates well with how your audience perceives their world. For example, Marmite’s proposition is based on the core consumer insight that you either love it or hate it, a simple human insight that sparks immediate recognition. This proposition has provided the spring-board for a rich and long-lived creative approach (with the latest iteration being the 2017 ‘Marmite Gene Project’).

Do bear in mind though that the customer proposition is specific to your particular target audience. As soon as you start looking at different target audiences, you need to recognise that they have different characteristics and different needs, and hence a different problem to be solved or different benefits they are seeking. Hence the requirement for a new customer proposition – and consequently a new marketing communications brief. A mistake I see far too often is trying to force-fit a new target audience into an existing brief: it’s extremely unlikely to work…

A final point to bear in mind – I have been talking here about the ‘customer proposition’ (usually written by the client-side marketing communications team) not the ‘campaign proposition’. The campaign proposition is the next stage of the process, developed by your agency or in-house creative team – it’s the ‘big marketing idea’ which expresses the essence of the customer proposition in one inspiring sentence (or even just one word). The actual wording becomes much more important for the campaign proposition, but for the customer proposition the content is the key focus at this stage. Refining down to a pithy campaign proposition is a specialised skill in itself – and a post for another day!

So having appreciated the vital importance of the customer proposition, let’s look in the next post at how we go about actually writing one…

If you’re interested in delving into this area in more detail (together with relevant examples), you might like my recent book ‘Successful Marketing Communications’.  If you have any thoughts or comments, do drop me a line below.

Written by Rob H

I’m a Chartered Marketer with over 20 years’ experience working in digital and offline marketing communications across the financial services, leisure, education and technology sectors – most recently working for a large financial services organisation, managing the acquisition marketing communications team. I gained an MSc in Strategic Marketing from Cranfield Business School in 2005 and the CIM Diploma in Digital Marketing in 2012. In 2012 I became the part-time course tutor at the Cambridge Marketing College for the CIM diploma in ‘Principles of Mobile Marketing’ – also authoring the accompanying Mobile Marketing study materials for the college. In March 2017 I published ‘Successful Marketing Communications‘ (available on Amazon Kindle and Apple iBooks), which has become recommended reading for delegates at the IDM (Institute of Direct Marketing). When I’m not knee-deeping in reading/ writing the latest marketing communications articles I enjoy outdoor swimming and anything involving snow – with my goal for next year being to combine the two…