The COVID-19 pandemic is acting as a catalyst for businesses to rapidly redefine the offers they position to consumers seeking goods and services. Layoffs, pay cuts, and furloughs are driving people like us to reposition our value propositions to the needs of the current market.
For the majority of professionals that derive income from organizations, we need to rethink the “product offer” we are positioning to potential companies in our job search. The entrepreneurial-minded are launching side hustles with offers to mitigate the impact and bring in a new source of income.
Your path and timeline to employment may be influenced by the quality of your offer.
This article studies the anatomy of an offer and shares perspectives from leading strategists to help you design an offer. An offer template is provided as are books that I recommend for those of you who want to go deeper.
Before you can design an offer, you first need to evaluate where there are opportunities and select a target market. This requires analysis and awareness to spot unmet needs.
A popular definition of a “market” outlined in Crossing the Chasm by Geoffrey A. Moore:
- a set of actual or potential customers
- for a given set of products or services
- who have a common set of needs or wants, and
- who reference each other when making a buying decision
Decomposing the landscape into fine-grain segments is critical to crafting marketing messages that will position a specific product to address the needs or wants of the buyer. Given this definition of a market, you can’t be everything to everybody.
The February post “How to Find Product-Market Fit for Your Career” offers a mental model to help you strategically narrow into a target for your career path.
Seth Godin in his book, This is Marketing, recommends forcing a focus on a concept called the smallest viable market. What’s the minimum number of people you would need to influence to make it worth the effort?
Godin describes the goal of the smallest viable market as to “find people who will understand you and will fall in love with where you hope to take them”.
The following passage offers essential guidance to shape the selection of your target market:
“Once you identified the scale, then find a corner of the market that can’t wait for your attention. Go to their extremes. Find a position on the map where you, and you alone, are the perfect answer. Overwhelm this group’s wants and dreams and desires with your care, attention, and your focus. Make change happen. Change that’s so profound, people can’t help but talk about it” – Seth Godin
To emphasize the importance of market selection, other world-renown strategists share similar views:
“Conserve your forces and energies by keeping them concentrated at there strongest point. You gain more by finding a rich mine and mining it deeper, than by flitting from one shallow mine to other – intensity defeats extensity every time” – Law 23: Concentrate Your Forces from The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene
“The most common error of all is that competitive success comes from “being the best”. This mindset is highly intuitive. It is also self-destructive, leading to a zero-sum race to the bottom. Only by competing to be unique can an organization achieve sustained, superior performance.” – Understanding Michael Porter – The Essential Guide to Competition and Strategy by Joan Magretta
Let’s assume we found a market segment that is specific, untapped and our personal capabilities are well-aligned to serve that market. To reach that market segment, we need a marketing message in the form of an offer that speaks to prospective buyers.
Lucky 7 Offer Formula
OK, right up front – I will be breaking the standard “list of three” rule. As an engineer and scientist, I need to decompose things down to the core elements that ultimately influence the quality of the offer.
The offer formula is composed of seven core variables. Seven is luckier than three anyway!
We will discuss a few best practices for each of them and then bring it all together in an offer template.
Offer = Buyer + Problem + Promise + Pitch + Price + Call-To-Action + Authority
1 – The Buyer
The buyer persona, is the precise description of the person that will purchase your product or service. They are the person who has an urgent need now to exchange money for the value you promise to deliver.
It’s essential that you can visualize the archetype buyer including demographics (age, sex, economic status, social groups), geography, and other characteristics such as what they dream, believe and want (psychographics).
In the book Side Hustle: From Idea to Income in 27 Days by Chris Guillebeau describes this as “have imaginary coffee with your ideal customer”. Speak to the person to create an emotional connection.
You need to be able to easily answer the question: “Who are you seeking to change” – Seth Godin. “Who do you have empathy for?
You can group people based on the stories they tell themselves – “worldviews” (George Lakoff). Worldviews are assumptions, biases, and stereotypes about the world around us.
For my career coaching business, I have narrowed my ideal buyer as a professional in the technology sector – ideally an engineer, product manager, data scientist, or leader. My last client found me on LinkedIn given our shared expertise in product and data.
2 – The Problem
The problem describes the pain or friction that the buyer is experiencing and has an urgency to solve right now. It’s critical that you evaluate the problem landscape and identify a market segment where you can offer something unique.
Marketing strategist Geoffrey A. Moore recommends that if you want marketing leadership early on, the “only right strategy is to take a big fish, small pond approach“.
He recommends describing the situation using a “day in the life approach (before)” and understanding the desired outcomes of the buyer.
Segments with broad market problems with many competitors such as “life coaching” are challenging to get traction in. You will be more effective by narrowing your focus on a target segment using the definition above.
3 – The Promise
Seth Godin, describes a promise as: “If you do X, you will get Y”. Godin provides a marketing promise template:
My product is for people who believe _______________.
I will focus on people who want _______________.
I promise that engaging with what I make will help you get _______________.
The promise should focus on the benefits people will receive from whatever you’re selling (Side Hustle: From Idea to Income in 27 Days by Chris Guillebeau).
Describe the promise as a “day in the life (after)” when the buyer has used your product or service.
4 – The Pitch
Chris Guillebeau describes the pitch as:
“The pitch should provide everything someone needs to know, without getting bogged down in a bunch of irrelevant details. A key part of the pitch is urgency.
Why should they take action right now?”
5 – The Price
The price should tell prospects how much the product or service costs and what is included. There are many factors that go into setting a price so the best I can do is to share a few perspectives I am familiar with.
Derek Sivers offers his fun and provocative suggestions:
Seth Godin’s core position is that “pricing is a marketing tool, not simply a way to get money“. Godin offers other pricing strategy advice:
“Marketing changes your pricing. Pricing changes your marketing”
“People form assumptions and associations based on your pricing, and your pricing shapes what people believe about your service, it’s important to be close about how you position yourself. Your price should be aligned with the extremes you claimed as a part of your positioning”
“Price is a signal”.
“Price determines what we stand for, who we’re designing for, and the story we tell.”
“When you’re the cheapest, you’re not promising change”.
“Low price is the last refuge of a marketer who has run out of generous ideas”
Godin also provides us with a solution to the “free vs. paid” dilemma by combining two offerings that are linked to each other:
- Free ideas that spread.
- Expensive expressions of those ideas that are worth paying for.
For example, songs are free on the radio, but the artist is compensated when you purchase tickets to a live concert.
Remember the basics that price is generally a function of supply vs. demand. You will not be able to command a high price to invest in your business when you are in a commodity market with many other suppliers. This reinforces why market selection and going “to the extreme” is so important.
6 – The Call-to-Action
The Call-to-Action or CTA, is exactly what the prospective customer needs to do to receive the product or service. Examples include clicking on a web button or link, filling out a form, selecting an appointment timeslot, and so on.
The CTA and workflow need to be clear, easy and obvious.
7 – Authority
Would you get a root canal from somebody that was not a dentist? Of course not.
Would you pause or perhaps delay purchasing a product or service until you could see reviews from other customers? It’s possible.
To make your offer credible and enticing, potential customers need to quickly see that you are qualified to deliver on your promise. Credibility is backed up with testimonials that make the promise believable. Testimonials are a great way for potential buyers to see other people in their tribe.
Draw potential customers in with an origins story – a compelling and inspiring narrative of the “why” behind what product or service you offer. It’s critical that you establish an emotional connection with your prospect. Make your origin story unique, personal, and memorable.
Ultimately, the offer should weave together your creative spirit and personality. Talk directly to a person in your minimal viable audience with positive emotions.
Here is a basic template to help you craft a compelling offer:
You are <buyer description>,
my <product> is for people that believe <their worldview, dream>,
I focus on people who want <the change you are seeking to make>,
I promise that by engaging with <product> will help you get <buyer desired outcome>,
<pitch -> the key details and why they need to purchase right now>,
The <product> is <price> and this includes <what the customer gets>,
to <the “to-be” state they will experience>, <call-to-action>,
see my <credentials>, why I do what I do <origins story> and how other people just like you became part of the movement <testimonials>.
For those of you who are unemployed or furloughed, and seek employment through an organization: write an offer you would give to a hiring manager of the company you want to work for.
For those of you who are employed, but are seeking to take more control of your destiny through a side hustle: write an offer for your amazing idea that will create new income.
What about the scenario where you are unemployed AND want to start a side hustle? That’s me, but I have an idea.
There is no better time to be creative, unique and think out-of-box.
Put every offer you have on the shelf up for sale.
For coders, it’s refactoring the software into the fewest lines of code.
For data scientists, it’s the simplificity to find the fewest set of features for the model to generalize well.
For product managers, it’s the fewest features to get the minimal viable product into market.
It’s about refinement, not perfection.
For the rest of you, it’s an opportunity to tell the world who you are and the difference you can make during this short life.
For those on the buy-side, give the gift of feedback to let sellers know how they can improve their offer. We are all in this together.
Finally, be open to a Surrender Experiment – you never know where this may take you.