Value is in the mind of a customer not a persona


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At Social Business One Wim Rampen discusses value:

Most companies (their marketing departments in particular) are stuck in telling Customers what value for their money they get, based on the flawed thinking that the Customer derives value from the product itself. Yet, they are completely ignoring the Customer’s role in the process of value creation.

It’s a theme which resonates with me as I’ve often found that people, even today!, don’t clearly understand:

  1. The difference between value, benefits, advantages, and features; and,
  2. That value is in the mind of the ultimate individual buyer.

What I mean by the second point is that it is a person who ultimately creates a value equation, even if assessed by a team or group. The person who will wear the organisational results is the one who assesses the impact on their career, status, integration capacity etc etc. This is also the person who has to navigate the purchase and the implementation through their business fabric.

Value = Benefits – Cost

So while Value = Benefits – Cost might look like a dry equation there is not only emotion involved but also much subjective assessment of “benefits”.  Even products/services with clear tangible benefits, and those which rank 1st in that regard, may not win at the end of the day because of the personal assessment of “costs” may exceed those which match the buyer’s personal acceptance profile.

Social business and understanding value

Wim makes a couple of key points, namely that marketing messages and departments don’t address value because they ignore the customer’s role in creating value, and that “listening” in social business does not necessarily lead to participation in conversations which help you understand how a customer create’s value from your product.

So energy directed at understanding a potential customer’s use cases in important. Beyond that it is also important to listen and contribute to some additional factors. The buyer’s buying process is key, to understand as much as possible is important, but even more important if you can suggest ways to help buyers through their own buying processes. The way buyer perceives their buying process adds to both the cost and the benefits of a product, so this is a crucial element.

You should also be listening for opportunities to understand the value landscape which the customer can potentially create from your product, as this will not only inform discussions about how value can be created, but whether or not you are capturing your fair share of that value.

In closing, I noticed one comment on Wim’s post which said that social business “only works well for companies that deliver a competitively superior product“. I don’t believe that, or at least I believe something which I think is closely related but in disagreement.

Social business helps you verify and explore (discover) how customers are creating value from your product, and how much.

Can Marketing sell?

And I also noticed a comment which said, after having considered the post, that marketing “should and could focus” on “the customer’s job” i.e. the value the product creates. I’m not sure that “marketing” can ever do that, because of the exact point that marketing cannot get close to an individual, and therefore cannot be aware of the final value = benefits – cost equation. That is Sales.

Marketing deals with features and advantages. Sales has to translate those into benefits with a value for an individual. That’s the tough job which Sales always faces.


Often, “personas” are created to represent buying segments of people, especially where internet sales are the channel e.g. Software as a Service (SaaS). A persona is an approximation to a person and therefore an approximation to a value proposition. Creating personas and associated value propositions is an attempt to automate the sales processes, even though it will also shape the marketing messages. For example the “find” part of a website would be marketing, and the next step towards sales is all about Sales and creating personified value through clear exposition of benefits versus costs.

Because this online attempt to create “value” is devoid of buyer emotion and ignorant of their buying processes then it can never represent true value but is a representation of perceived value to a persona which, in the case of SaaS, can be “tried before you buy” and therefore tested by a real person.

What’s your view of persona, marketing, sales – can Marketing rise above features and advantages?

Image via Wikipedia


Republished with author's permission from original post.

Walter Adamson
I help firms create optimal customer experiences by integrating social data, teams & processes with enterprise systems. The much vaunted 360-view of the customer can be a bottomless pit without a clear data strategy. I help you deliver a greatly improved customer experience starting with a "45-degree" view of the customer, fully utilising social data analytics. I clarify your objectives and what data you need to service them, and guide you to operationalise "social at scale" to consistently deliver valuable customer experience at every social touch point.


  1. Hi Walter

    An interesting post.

    As you remind us, value is truly in the eye of the beholder. For the majority of purchases, most of the value for the seller is created at the point of exchange. The seller collects your money in exchange for their products. But for the customer, most of the value is created during the days, weeks, months or even years of product usage. The customer uses the product to do jobs and achieve desired outcomes.

    So far so good.

    Where the article starts to come unstuck is in your assertion that

    Value = Benefits – Costs

    As a recent review by the University of St Gallen of what we know about Customer Perceived Value points out , the ‘accounting view of value’ is now 20 years out-of-date and has been superceded by a more thorough understanding of how customers perceive value. One based on how product attributes, performance and consequences help facilitate the customer to achieve their goals in different usage situations.

    There is a lot of interest in the customer’s side of the value equation. And a lot of new research in customer perceived value. If we are to help guide others in this evolving landscape, we need to be abreast of the latest thinking, practices and their implications.

    Graham Hill
    Customer-centric Innovator
    Follow me on Twitter

    Interested in Customer Driven Innovation? Join the Customer Driven Innovation groups on LinkedIn or Facebook to learn more.

  2. Walter,

    This is an interesting post on value. I would like to note that personas, while being archetypal representations of buyers, are derived from qualitative and experiential analysis to gain insight into value. Additionally, the buyer persona development process is inclusive of detailed depictions of buying processes and the goals buyers are attempting to accomplish. Personas unfortunately have been misunderstood and misrepresented as “approximation profiles” of a buyer when in fact personas represent an insight gathering methodology with a specific goal orientation focus. Buyer persona development done right can lead to profound deep understanding of patterns that indicate the goals and the values that are in the minds of customers.

    Thanks for an interesting article!
    Tony Zambito

  3. Graham, thanks for your comment. I’m not sure why you would assume that the value = benefits – costs is an accounting one. In fact I would there is often more emotional value than perceived value the buyer’s decision process, but it’s usually convert. As you said “it is in the eye of the beholder” – that’s hardly the ledger.

    I appreciate the broad concepts. Generally the people that I deal with don’t clearly understand the basics, they get confused between features, advantages, benefits and value, and that’s about as deep as it gets. Beyond that, it’s a complex topic as you point out. Thanks.

    Walter Adamson @g2m
    Certified Social Media Consultant
    Melbourne, Australia
    My social spaces and places:

  4. Thanks Tony I wasn’t aware of the deep person process, sounds like it would be quite valuable. Also sounds like social media could have a role to play in the “discovery”. We’re probably stuck with the common misunderstanding as, well, has become common amongst the great unwashed like myself 🙂

    Walter Adamson @g2m
    Certified Social Media Consultant
    Melbourne, Australia
    My social spaces and places:


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