Value proposition: Belling the Cat

An apt idiom for CEOs who talk innovation, but don’t walk the talk. In my experience, most CEOs’ public statements contain the magic word, innovation. In private, their actions on innovation don’t match their talk.

These actions present a daunting predicament for strategists in their firm. Many strategists follow Alexander Osterwalder’s 2014 value proposition design canvas. In it, they play a dynamic game against competitors and across many dimensions.

As a customer research consultant, I hear objections from CEOs about the 2014 canvas. Why? They believe that competition is a game with stable products/services and competitors. To support this belief, they pose nonsense objections.

Objections posed by CEOs and our comments

  • CEOs know the stock market doesn’t like surprises. So, they operate with a “don’t rock the boat” mindset.
    • Pricing is a powerful profit lever. Our data shows that unique economic value of a product/service feature is important to long-term investors.
  • CEOs try to move to a competitive arena where luck governs success.
    • Hope is not a plan. We say CEOs are responsible for how well their plan works; not how they worked the plan. We find that thinking like a skilled poker player removes Hope from the decision-making process.
  • CEOs believe that studying what users want results in too many product/service features.
    • We find that powerful value propositions use only one or two unique, economic value features.
  • A value proposition is the formal expression of the firm’s marketing strategy. It identifies the significance of the product’s unique characteristics relative to competitors.
    Prof. Utpal Dholakia

Nevertheless, the smartest and most experienced CEOs won’t move from status quo. That is until they feel threatened.

  • Lack of congruence between CEOs’ innovation talk and their walk, drives internal change agents crazy or out the door.
    As a product manager, I spent a year battling powers that be for a plant test of our innovative catalyst. Then, undercover, a desperate, plant manager gave the catalyst its first plant test.
    The test made a major antibiotic, a multimillion dollar commercial success. And, the one year’s intransigence of the powers that be, left $5m on the table.

Lack of congruence made me crazy. I went out the door and have spent the past 35 years as a customer research consultant.

For my clients’ projects, I use:

  • Prof. Dholakia’s definition of value proposition.
  • Successful poker players’ process. It removes Hope from decisions made under conditions of uncertainty.