Create a compelling point of difference

What makes customers buy or use your services? This fundamental question is the driving force behind every aspect of your marketing strategy – from acquiring new customers through referral programs or advertising, to retaining your existing customers by consistently meeting – and exceeding – their expectations.

A value proposition is a short statement that clearly explains the benefits your customers experience when they do business with you. It's not a catchy slogan (although it can be turned into one, if that's important to you). It's not a mission statement or long list of capabilities. It can be a few bullet points and it can be visual.

So why do some businesses find it so hard to articulate what their value proposition is?

"The key word to focus on is value", says Charryse Scarpignato, Head of Marketing, Macquarie Business Banking. "What do customers and potential customers value about you? How do you add value to their business and how do you meet their needs?"

The best way to find out is to ask, but position the question from their perspective. Ask them ‘What do you feel you've been able to accomplish from working with my company?'

Ask your staff what they think makes your business distinctive and what is that point of difference.

The best people are more in demand than ever before – in every sector, not just property. Unarguably, this is a people business – we’re selling advice, energy and commitment, not widgets.
John McGrath, Chief Executive, McGrath Estate Agents

As Macquarie's Business Banking benchmarking data consistently highlights, finding and keeping the best staff is a constant challenge for businesses of all sizes. PwC's latest Annual Global CEO Survey found 73 per cent of CEOs are concerned about the availability of key skills, and a recent article in the Harvard Business Review called for leaders to focus on strengthening their ‘employer brand' if they want to win the ‘new war for talent'.

McGrath says he describes what it's like to work for his business to new employees during their first few days. "We see it as a ‘life success company'," he explains. "It's a high energy environment with high expectations, and I want them to be able to rise to their highest ability. If they ever leave us, I want them to leave as a better person – not just a better real estate agent."

He says an emphasis on personal growth helps him attract the right people. "The best people are more in demand than ever before – in every sector, not just property," he comments. "But unarguably, this is a people business – we're selling advice, energy and commitment, not widgets."

It's about more than money

So how do you go about defining and communicating what it's like to work for your business? One of the core components of an external-facing employer brand is your ‘employee value proposition', or EVP.

"An employee value proposition clearly articulates the implicit agreement between employee and employer around ‘what it's like to work here', explains Rosalind Coffey, Macquarie's Banking and Financial Services Group's Global Human Resources Director.

"It helps both potential and current employees understand what it's like to work here - what do we expect you to give and what should you expect to get in return?"

This means it's about much more than money. It answers the most important question for staff: what's in it for me? Experiences, opportunities, values and culture are often far more motivating than salary, incentives and benefits. All these things come together in a succinct, clear employee value proposition.

"People aren't just looking for the biggest pay cheque any more," McGrath comments. "Increasingly, they're looking for what we might see as old fashioned values: respect, care and family, balance and community."

So how do you define an EVP that holds true for all staff and all levels of the business, and empowers their performance?

1. Talk to employees

Whether through a formal focus group, survey or in a casual chat, the most valuable insights will come through open feedback. Ask what they like most about working there and what would they change to be more effective. Ask prospective staff what they have heard about you as an employer.

2. Find common themes, then test for what resonates

When Macquarie undertook this task a few years ago, it interviewed employees in all offices around the world. Coffey explains; "we then had to synthesise the feedback into key themes that reflected the employee experience of working at Macquarie."

McGrath says his business is part of his DNA, and the way it's positioned as an employer reflects his own philosophy. "For me, it's all about flexibility, high standards, fast growth and passionate customer service."

3. Re-test for more feedback

Next, you may have to consider if the insights provided by employees reflects what you want the employee experience to be at your company, and whether there are aspects of feedback you need to act upon for a more positive EVP. It may be worth engaging an organisational culture change professional to help you ensure that your stated employee value proposition actually holds true for the employee experience.

4. Ready for launch

Macquarie's employee value proposition is just two words: ‘Own it'.

"Our code of conduct asserts opportunity, accountability and integrity, so we say you own all of those things," explains Coffey. "You are accountable, you have lots of opportunity – and you own your career, your clients and your outcomes."

She says it has been embraced as a sentiment of empowerment as well as a way that Macquarie expects employees to act in their day to day, and that it particularly appeals to the next generation of graduates who want to be in charge of their own destiny.

5. Embed it within your employee experience

Just like launching a marketing brand, your employee value proposition needs to be part of all your staff and recruitment messaging. Coffey says it's very important to incorporate it into social media activities, as you can then build a pipeline of potential talent who will be attracted to your business for all the right reasons.

"Include your EVP in your social media strategy, so even if you're not actively recruiting, you'll find people will want to work with you before you ask them."

This will also make it visible to potential customers, bringing your company values to life through your people.

"If you've defined it correctly, your EVP should also appeal to your clients, because it will form expectations of their experience as a customer," Coffey comments.

McGrath says it's important to him personally to know he has "a group of people working together happily, and telling their friends and family what they do. If they really feel it, and they're talking about it, that means the environment is in a healthy state. And that's important for every business."

Finally, you need to keep checking your EVP matches the actual employee experience. Coffey describes your most recent recruits as the canary in the coalmine.

"You know you have a problem when you have high turnover in lower tenured employees, because something's not connecting. What you're telling them on the way in isn't what they're experiencing when they get there."

The business case for an EVP

  1. Attract the right talent for the right reasons
  2. Staff are more motivated and engaged when they understand ‘what's in it for them'
  3. Retain talented staff for longer, reducing the costs of recruitment

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Additional information

This material has been prepared by Macquarie Bank Limited ABN 46 008 583 542 AFSL & Australian Credit Licence 237502 ("Macquarie") for general discussion purposes only, without taking into account your personal objectives, financial situation or needs. Before acting on this general information, you must consider its appropriateness having regard to your own objectives, financial situation and needs. The information provided is not intended to replace or serve as a substitute for any accounting, tax or other professional advice, consultation or service.