Given the importance of having a value proposition, it's surprising how many in-house agency leaders admit to not having one when they're asked about it at training events. The value proposition can be a powerful factor contributing to an IHA's success and continuing evolution, and creating one is not as labor intensive as people might think. It does, however, require careful thought and consideration.
The Value Prop Defined
Before listing the various benefits of having a value proposition, it's helpful to review the definition of a value prop and the components it should have. Simply put, a value proposition is "a clear statement of specific, tangible benefits that a customer receives from using a product/service rather than a competing alternative, in which Value = Benefits - Cost and which answers the question, 'Why use us?' ".
The value proposition is typically comprised of:
Target Customer + Benefit to Customer + Quantified Value + Capability + Differentiation Factor.
As it would apply to an in-house agency, the value prop would declare whom the IHA is supporting, how it's supporting them, what benefits this partnership brings to the company and, unfortunately, the most often ignored component, what makes the IHA a better choice when compared to its competitors.
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A generic proposition for a company we'll call "Newco" might look like this:
"Using Newco's IHA, Newco business units and internal organizations can get creative deliverables and marketing materials that are higher quality, on brand and on message, faster and 50% less expensively than external agencies can provide. The Newco IHA is the foremost authority on Newco's brand, design standards, products and key audiences, thus eliminating the time and effort required when working with an external agency."
Note the specificity of the proposition regarding the benefits of the IHA being "faster and 50% less expensive" than the IHA's competitors," due to the IHA's authoritative understanding of the company's "brand, design standards, products and key audiences." It's critical to include these details, and calling out "external agencies" in the statement really throws down the gauntlet in no uncertain terms by defining who the competitors are and why the IHA is better than they are.
Make sure to really think through the differentiators. Often IHAs will be attempting to sell their services to potential clients who are already working with other sources to fulfill their creative needs. The most typical differentiators include:
- The IHA team's intimate familiarity with the company's brand
- The team's deep understanding of and ability to work with other internal departments - particularly regulatory groups
- The agency's accessibility
- Existing relationships with the clients and an understanding of their business
- The fact that the in-house agency is essentially a non-profit enterprise focused on saving the company money through a lower hourly rate and increased efficiencies
Tangible Benefits Generated by a Value Proposition
There are many facets to the merits of having a value proposition. First and foremost is that it becomes a team's and its spokesperson's de facto elevator pitch when meeting with and selling the IHA to new and potential clients. Beyond that, however, it serves as a foundational rationale for why the group even exists--one that can be referred to if and when the agency's viability is questioned by Finance, Procurement or even the C-suite.
Another benefit to having a value proposition? It clarifies for the team what their mandate is and what leadership and the company at large expect from them. Like a vision statement, it helps guide the attitudes and behaviors of the team by providing a "north star" for them. The value proposition can define the level of client service they provide, the quality of the deliverables they produce and the importance they should put on creating great work as efficiently and effectively as possible.
Putting Your Value Prop Into Action
If you have a proposition that includes all of the above, congratulations! Now make sure it's understood and embraced by your team and is clearly articulated to your IHA's clients and key stakeholders. If your proposition is incomplete, work with IHA leadership and representatives from a group of individual contributors to refine it. Finally, if you don't have a value prop, form a group of key internal and external stakeholders to draft a proposition, present it to clients and upper management for validation and feedback, and when it's completed, disseminate it to your team, partner departments and clients. Make sure to include it in capabilities presentations as well as hiring, onboarding and reference materials. Your value proposition should and will become engrained in your IHA's culture if you adhere to these tactics.
It's also a good practice to pressure test your value proposition every couple of years to keep it relevant and current with any new services your IHA may be offering or organizational and operational changes experienced by your team. The competitive landscape and business needs of your company are also in a constant state of flux; your value proposition should be adapted appropriately to these shifts as well.
Bottom line, your value proposition is your bottom line, and offers a rationale, in the clearest of terms, as to why you exist and the unique benefits you bring to your organization. When everyone in your agency is communicating the same clear and concise message, and it's well understood by both internal team members and external stakeholders, something powerful happens. Your value proposition will drive the performance of your team and position your agency as a strategic partner whose merits and value far outweigh any and all costs associated with the IHA