Posted by: kevinliebl | May 6, 2009

“Curly” Washburn had it right!

Jack Palance as "Curly" Washburn

Jack Palance as "Curly" Washburn

In the 1991 movie, “City Slickers”, Jack Palance’s character “Curly Washburn” taught Billy Crystal’s character that the key to life is “That One Thing”.  He explained that we all need to find the one thing that we are passionate about.  Once you find it, the rest is easy.

Curly had it right!  Marketers need to align market requirements with products and services and then drive the product/market fit into a clear and concise message.  The reason that most businesses fail is not because they don’t have a great widget or there isn’t a market requirement.  The reason they fail is that the product doesn’t align with the market requirement and/or they can’t articulate the fit (also known as “value proposition”).  To use Curly’s language, you have to find “that one thing”.

In B2B (Business-to-Business) marketing, I refer to this as the “cold-sweat test”.  In high-tech marketing, I always ask, “What causes your customer to wake up in the middle of the night in a cold-sweat?”  Find that one item, and then position your product or service as the solution.  Let’s assume your customer (an IT manager) wakes up in the middle of the night saying, “I am going to lose my job unless I figure out a way to keep my email system from crashing!”  Now let’s assume you sell data storage products.  You may think he isn’t a prospect.  Well, the number one reason email crashes is that it runs out of disk space.  Email runs out of space because it is normally very hard to expand disk capacity.  However, your data storage solution can expand capacity “on-the-fly” without taking email offline.  Bingo!  You just solved his problem.  The key is to focus on this specific feature and position your product not as a disk solution, but as a solution to his problem.  The next step is to create a compelling value-proposition that is simple for him to understand.  This sounds simple, but you would be surprised how often sales and marketing teams try to sell products to customers without aligning products to the market.

In consumer marketing, I refer to this as the “wow factor”.  Businesses buy products to solve business problems and grow revenue.  Consumers buy products because they are entertaining.  An excellent case study is the Apple iPod.  The market requirement was for music on the go.  The Walkman proved that people loved to take music with them.  However, carrying around CD cases became cumbersome.  There was clearly a market requirement.  The iPod was the perfect solution.  Now the question was how to clearly communicate the value proposition.  Apple’s response was, “1000 Songs in your Pocket”.  It was simple, accurate, and elegant.  In five words, it communicated the value proposition (product/market fit) in a way everyone could understand.

Action item: If your sales/marketing strategy is struggling.  Go back to the basics. Make sure you are not taking a “shotgun” approach and firing so many different features at your market that no one can figure our your true value proposition.  Take a “rifle shot” approach and find “that one thing” and then create a laser-focused message that communicates the value proposition in a way that every one of your customers can understand.


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