As a social media advocate I often discuss adding value to the conversations, to the communities or to the relationships. I guess I assumed everyone already knew what the term means and how it applies to them until I started to get questions from people.
So what exactly is adding value and how? Is it just an over-used marketing jargon? An illusion of a feel-good emotion? The more I use the term "value" the more I feel like it's loosing its soul (I'm guilty as charge at times).
One of my favorite artists, the awesome Hugh MacLeod had a great piece about Adding Value with the quote, "The aim of "adding value" is a hard one to argue with- who doesn't want to add value to their current enterprise? But it's also utterly meaningless..."
Well, obviously there are many ways to look at it but here is how I perceive the meaning of adding value.
Let's face it, most businesses wants to add value to the bottom line which means making sales. In sales, adding value used to mean networking in the best interest of your company or your career which is to sell, sell, sell! Today it means helping people to make informed decisions, finding out their needs first and showing an interest to solve their problems not yours. The one way sales pitch broadcasting simply becomes part of the meaningless noise in a sea of noises.
The Meaning of Knowledge
In sales, either the product sells itself (more of an affirmation and emotional validation) or it's selling via education (information and data). A Porsche salesman don't sell the 911 Turbo, they sell the experience of buying a Porsche (great products drives emotions). On the other hand, a Honda salesman sells the features and benefits against competitors like Toyota and Nissan (value proposition, more needs than wants).
In both scenarios, the goal is to ensure that the person feels good about the decisions that they've made (or going to make) on the purchase which leads to trust building. And trust is built on relationships from knowledge and actions.
The more knowledge you have, the less fear you have, the less stress you feel and the better you feel about your decision process. You could think of having knowledge as freedom from limitations and having information is empowerment. The ability to make your own decision is valuable because who wants to be pressured into buying?
Emotion Trumps Logic
Now you know the importance of adding value through knowledge transfer, you then need to know how to take action with your knowledge. Besides physically helping someone, the action part comes down to communication. And because emotions are the essence of the communication, marketers need to focus on the emotional needs of the customers at the time when feelings are vivid. This mean to empathize with your customers and truly focus on how to make their lives better. You can't make people's lives better if you don't understand their lives.
When you solve someone's problem, they'll usually remember it not because of the facts but because of how they felt when it was happening. Simply put, memory is tied to emotions and emotions are more real than thoughts.
Now apply that to marketing and you'll realize that providing useful and meaningful information does exactly that - it makes people remember you if you satisfy their needs by providing value!
This is why the increasingly Social Web is a great place to find those that are in need of knowledge (also why information product sells). When you need an answer, you want it now, you Google it (you can Yahoo or Bing it too of course). The online conversation across all social networks are as authentic as it gets, besides the offline in-person engagements, because it's taking place when people are still feeling the emotions dealing with their problem - what is, how-to, why is, who can...you get the point.
The rest of it is about the context of adding value at the right place at the right time. The optimal time to email your subscribers, the suitable LinkedIn group to contribute knowledge or the people you engage on Twitter - they're all channels to add your value to the conversation within the communities to forge relationships.
Motives and Actions
The last point in adding value is the motives behind such action. Why are you doing this? Why are businesses embracing the freemium model?
Most of the time the goal is to create brand awareness, build credibility and what I keep pounding the table on: to create social proof around the topics of health, wealth and relationships. However; there is always a trade-off, you get free Gmail with all the awesome features of other Google Apps because Google advertises around your inbox. The same applies to most of the social networks like Facebook and LinkedIn. You're exchanging personal information to use their product.
My take is that if you're honest about your intentions and focus on serving only those that matters to your business, you will attract the customers you want. Like what Seth Godin wrote in his book Purple Cow, "the key to failure is trying to please everyone." Well, he's right, everyone is NOT your customers.
And the science behind motivation isn't as clear cut as features and benefits or even monetary rewards. Checkout this video by RSA animation adapted from Dan Pink's talk at the RSA on "The surprising truth about what motivates us."
The take away: Identify your customer's problem is where adding value starts. And listening when they talk is how you'll get the opportunities to fill the value gaps. Think of it as facilitating the process of buying on their terms not yours. You have to create the right environment that entices people, and if you do it well, then they will show up and join the party. It is only by adding value you will be remembered, reciprocated and passed on (via word-of-mouth).
There are simply too much information and too little time. Marketing messages are everywhere and people have developed ad blindness, seeing doesn't mean retaining.
Are you adding value?
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