Why we B2B marketers need to sharpen our propositions (and how to do it).

Why we B2B marketers need to sharpen our propositions (and how to do it).

A proposition is a very simple thing.

It’s the response to the request: “Give me one good reason why I should buy your product”.

Yet too often in B2B marketing when faced with that request we lapse into what is known as the Elevator Speech.

The Elevator Speech itself is a simple concept. You’re standing in the lobby of an office block. The lift doors open and you step inside. And just as the doors close, the CEO of your biggest target company steps in beside you. And as he or she reaches for the 20th floor button, they turn to you and say: “So…what do you do?”

You then have the time it takes to reach the top floor to convince the CEO to take your business card and agree to a further meeting.

Elevator speeches often tend to lapse into the long and waffly.

Much longer, certainly, than a crisp, powerful proposition.

The concept of the Elevator Speech doesn’t exist in the B2C world, and I believe this forces B2C marketers to be sharper in their proposition thinking than us B2B marketers.

I think we can learn from them.

Back to Basics

Way back in 1970, the Saatchi brothers set up their eponymous advertising agency with a founding principle.

Not “Creativity” as you might expect, but “Ruthless Clarity of Thought”.

The Saatchi brothers applied this principle to everything they did, and that extended to proposition writing.

At Saatchis, they had a rule: before a creative brief could be signed off for presentation to the Creative department, the proposition had to pass certain key criteria.

It had to be:

  • No more than a single sentence
  • Contain only one adjective
  • And only one verb
  • No conjunctions

These rules forced whoever was writing the creative brief to be ruthlessly clear with their thinking.

Which one adjective are you going to use?

Which single verb?

The writing of a Saatchis proposition was as much about what you ruthlessly decided to abandon – as much as what you decided you were actually going to include.

Over the following 30 years or so, the Saatchi brothers successfully built a multi-million pound, globally-renown advertising agency off the back of that ruthlessness thinking.

Sharpening the scalpel

A good 20 years ago, I was the Account Director at the B2B ad agency responsible for all Lloyds Banking Group’s B2B communications.

Press, radio, outdoor, online, direct mail, point of sale, brochures…every piece of B2B communication for Lloyds Banking Group came through my team.

At that time, Lloyds Banking Group’s retail banking ad agency was…Saatchi and Saatchi.

Worried that Saatchis would try and pinch our above-the-line comms off us, I decided to apply Saatchis’ own ruthless clarity of thought to the propositions my own team would put in front of our creatives.

 Same base rules:

  • One sentence
  • One adjective
  • One verb
  • No conjunctions

But on top of this I added three further criteria.

Remember I said that a proposition is the response to the request: “give me one good reason why I should buy your product”.

I defined a “good” reason as having three further qualifying criteria.

A “good” proposition is:

  • Relevant to the target audience
  • Distinctive from what the competition are claiming
  • Believably true

Relevance comes from understanding the end user. If we in B2B are not solving for the key problem our prospect is facing, we are wasting our time and our prospect’s.

Distinctiveness comes from studying the competition. What are their propositions? How does ours stand out from the rest? If we are making the same claim as everyone else, we are never going to stand out from them.

Truth comes from taking time to understand the product itself. What does it solve for? How does the end user benefit? Whilst it’s possible to open a sale with a wild overclaim, I guarantee it is impossible to close a B2B sale with one.

Now try this at home

Fact is that a proposition that fulfils all of the above requirements is an incredibly difficult thing to write.

Indeed I’ve been wrestling with this challenge for my own business for more than a year now.

The closest I’ve got so far is that “I uncover insights that help B2B marketers deliver powerful marketing strategies

Sure, it’s a single sentence. The elevator speech for the CEO who is only going up one floor.

But whilst there might be only one adjective in there – “powerful” – there are at least three verbs.

Yet I would argue that it does at least have the merit of being relevant to my target audience, reasonably distinctive from much of my competition, and – as I hope my clients would attest – evidentially true.

It’s not perfect, then, but it has stood me in good stead so far.

So why bother?

The Saatchi brothers eventually sold their advertising agency stake and were subsequently listed in the Sunday Times Rich List as having a combined worth of £220 million.

So who knows? If we in the B2B world employ Saatchi’s ruthless clarity of thought when developing our own B2B propositions, then maybe this time next year, Rodney, we might all be millionaires.

If you’d like help researching which proposition might be the most relevant, distinctive and believable amongst your own target audience, please get in touch. Always happy to have my brain picked.

[email protected]

Simon Hayhurst

Hayhurst Consultancy

March 2022

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