Liz Wainger is a communications strategist, author, serial connector – I help businesses and nonprofits clarify their messaging and purpose.
In this episode, Liz shares one tool she uses that helps her create a message that cuts through the noise, solely focused on your target audience and what truly resonates with them.
Why you have to check out today’s podcast:
- Learn how to create a messaging architecture that is customized but has an overarching message across all audiences
- Find out a process of figuring out customer value statement
- Discover what the most smart marketers mistakes are and learn how to create something that truly resonates with your audience
“Understand the emotional driver of the purchase, what they really want in the end. It’s like Ted Levitt, who was a professor of marketing, says, ‘When people buy a drill, they don’t want the drill. They want the hole.’”
– Liz Wainger
01:54 – Relating a story about his brother’s death and the importance of the concept of value
04:48 – People pays for whatever they value
05:28 – What value does she offer
08:21 – What you need to look into for people to buy your product
10:30 – Figuring out customer value
14:14 – Using a triangle to create your positioning platform
17:34 – What is so special about creating ‘three’ pillar messages
20:17 – Leading the discussion with what is truly valuable to the customer
21:49 – Focusing on what you are targeting and leaving something out
22:18 – How to communicate something that genuinely resonate with your audience
24:25 – Turning your presentation into a sales pitch
26:11 – Asking probing and not threatening questions
27:24 – Liz’s pricing advice that greatly impacts one’s business
“The way I do messaging is we use a triangle. Depending on where you customize and what is most interesting to your audience, you lead with different triangle points. But the underlying message about what makes this product tick, or why you want to use this should be true, according to all your audiences.” – Liz Wainger
“We live in a world where we’re over-communicating, we are getting so much information. So, the ability to cut through and really get to the core and simplify is so important. Because people have very short attention spans.” – Liz Wainger
“At some point, there’s what I call the porosity of information. So, you want to be consistent because it’s the consistency that builds equity — attention equity, brand equity, value equity over time.” – Liz Wainger
“A big part of, and I think everybody should think about this, that no matter what your product is, or services, that you should be coming at it from the perspective of I want to help these people get better at whatever it is that they want to do. Not that I want to get the work.” – Liz Wainger
- Prism of Value by Liz Wainger: https://waingergroup.com/in-the-news/book/
Connect with Liz Wainger:
- Website: https://waingergroup.com
- LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/lizwainger
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Connect with Mark Stiving:
- LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/stiving/
- Email: email@example.com
Full Interview Transcript
(Note: This transcript was created with an AI transcription service. Please forgive any transcription or grammatical errors. We probably sounded better in real life.)
Understand the emotional driver of the purchase, what they really want in the end, it’s like Ted Levitt, who was a professor of marketing, says, “When people buy a drill, they don’t want the drill. They want the hole.”
Welcome to Impact Pricing, the podcast where we discuss pricing, value, and the high-level relationship between them. I’m Mark Stiving; today, our guest is Liz Wainger. And here are three things you want to know about Liz before we start. She started as a reporter and a writer. So, this will be interesting. For 21 years, she’s been running her own company Wainger Group, focusing on strategic communication. And she wrote a book called ‘The Prism of Value: Connect, Convince and Influence When It Matters Most.’ And what you really need to know is, I invited her on this podcast because I think she’s going to give us a very fresh and interesting perspective on this word called value. Welcome, Liz. It’s great to be here with you this afternoon. I’d like to start with how did you get into pricing, but you’re not in pricing? So how did you get to this concept of value being so important in the world?
So, I come at it through a communications lens. And what often happens is that people, when they’re trying to market their products, or communicate about their brand, they tend to speak in terms of what is important to them, or what they value instead of what other people value and so the people that they’re trying to reach. And so, I had a light bulb, and if I can tell you a quick story that will explain how I got to this notion of the prism of value. My brother passed away a few years ago, very unexpectedly in his sleep. And when we were cleaning out all his effects, and so on, my other brother called me from the bank and said, ‘You are not going to believe what’s in Dave’s safe deposit box.’ And so, I’m thinking, I can retire, you know that there’s a whole lot of wow, a lot of money that, you know, I’m thinking Island, you know, buying an island, whatever. And what was in his safe deposit box were Attaboys from the boss, pictures of cards from people, you know, funny things that friends had sent him. And he valued those things so much that he put them in a safe deposit box. He was living in a neighborhood that wasn’t that great, I guess, but he didn’t want them to get lost. And so, I started to think, well, what, when we communicate with other people, what messages, what do we say about ourselves that’s so valuable to somebody else, that they’d want to put it in a metaphorical safe deposit box? And that’s when I started to say, well, how often could we apply that prism, a prism of value in the way that we relate to other people, whether we’re marketing a product or just trying to be friends with people. And that led me to this whole concept of a prism of value, and I can explain that.
We will definitely get there. I absolutely love that story. And what I love about that story is, you started out by saying, ‘Oh, here’s what I think is valuable.’ And that isn’t really what your brother thought was valuable. So different people value different things pretty dramatically. And then, since I care about products, and you care a lot more about companies and messages, from a product perspective. Go, look at anybody’s webpage, you know, 90% of the web pages out there, we’re talking about our features; we’re talking about the things that we do, that we’re good at. And that’s certainly not what we’re going to put in our safety deposit box; our customers are going to put in their safety deposit box. So, a fabulous, fabulous story.
And what I was going to say is that people will pay more and you know this for things that they really value. Right? People will pay more for, you know, for things that, you know, I’m not going to date myself, but you know, the pet rock, you know, this guy took a rock, and you put it in a box and you call it a pet rock, and people paid for that because it fulfilled some emotional need for them or desire. And so, they were willing to pay for it.
Yeah, absolutely. And so, what is that you do today, that has to do with value.
So, what I do that has to do with value is to help companies and executive leadership — figure out what it is about what they offer, or who they are. In case of, you know, leadership branding, you know, taking what they feel is valuable or what they have to offer. And helping them frame it so that the people they want to buy that product or engage in that product or feel good about that company see that value, as well. But it’s putting it in terms that matter to the people you’re trying to engage, not just what you want to say. So, for example, and you were talking about websites, so many sites have what I call lists speak, you know. We have between us 90 years of experience, we went to these colleges, we won these awards, you say you’re trying to say yeah, I’m credible. But that’s not necessarily what your customer, I mean, your customer expects you to be credible. Right? They expect you to have a, you know, a good product. So, then it’s well, then why does that matter to me? And so, it’s really helping people pull out of them and marry what they have to offer with what people need? And looking at it from the perspective of, in what way are you making someone’s life better, easier? What way are you taking away something difficult, and there are flip sides of the messaging coin because making someone’s life better is more aspirational; taking away pain is about protection. And depending on where your audience is, sometimes you have to look at both sides of that coin. And knowing when to do that and how to do that. So that people see what you want them to see about what you’re offering.
Yeah. When I’m coaching customers on products and product value, I often, in fact, almost always say, look, we’re going to fill out this thing called a value table where we’re going to understand what’s your product, what’s your feature, I don’t care what it is. And then what problem do you solve with that? And what’s the result a customer should expect to get from that. And so, I could see that as the pain and the pleasure, right? The positive and the negative side of that one problem. So, it’s consistent. Now I focus on products; I get the feeling that you know, let’s pick a big company. IBM, right, so I might help IBM deal with a computer deal with a specific product they will sell. And yet you’re there saying, IBM, here’s why you want to buy from IBM, is that true or not?
That’s true. And it might be, and here’s why you want to buy that thing from IBM. So, because so I can’t really disclose who it is. But I am working with a fairly large company right now. And it is around a particular aspect of their business. And it’s a side of their business; it’s a new part of their business that they’re not used to. It’s a new area for them; let’s put it that way, a new category for them. And so one is, first explaining or helping them message around. Why them in this new category? And pulling from their experience and what they bring to the table in other lines of business. And how this is an extension of that line of business. And then specifically, what’s differentiating? What’s interesting, and what’s the, how are we making the world better? By doing this, or how are we making, you know, the target audience’s world better? And what are we taking away that has been challenging and that they haven’t been able to solve? And so, it’s really helping them put this new product line into context and make sure that that context matches and amplifies what they’ve already been saying about themselves. So, it’s actually, it sounds really simple, and it’s more than just pains and gains. You know, it’s about stepping back and really understanding your customer base and the external world, and what’s going on there and how and trying to stay ahead of where the trends are, and where your customer, what your customer may be feeling now, but what they might be feeling six, eight months from now. So, it’s a combination of both.
Okay, this sounds really hard and fascinating. What’s the process that you go through to figure out what your customers value, your market values? How do you do that?
So firstly, we start with what they think is important, right? I mean, what do they feel is what they want to communicate? What do they feel is unique about their product? Often, they can’t answer that, or they think they know. And then we often do, we’ll start by doing some one-on-one interviews with likely subjects, or past clients, and we like to hear the words that the target use, and sometimes what the target says they value is not at all what they think they’re selling, you know.
Do you mean sometimes they actually do match?
Very rarely. And then we’ll do things like, you know, we’ll do surveys, but we also will do what we call a prism of value 360. And we actually, it’s a little questionnaire, and we have them, whether it’s you know, a team, or an individual, but we have them fill out well, depending on who are all the different audiences that are going to be involved in delivering this product and using this product? What would they say, you know, are the positives and negatives? What are you taking away? What are you adding? And then, you start to see themes that emerge through that questionnaire. And asking your clients or your potential the same thing, certain themes start to emerge, and you see where you can where the alignment is almost like a Venn diagram; where’s the intersection? And that’s where you start. That’s where you then say, ‘Okay, let’s look at how we then deal with that and frame that.’ And it’s really important and you can do, you can, I mean, I really like to do interviews on focus groups, because I want to hear the words. And you can do; obviously, you’re only reaching smaller numbers that way. And then usually we do a larger survey based on what we’ve heard from that. But there’s no substitute for actually seeing where’s the passion? Do people get really excited? Do they? Are they just sort of flat talking about it? Because so it’s not just the words, but also the tone? And where you can see that people are getting excited, or not, or asking questions about what would you use? Now, I always use this example. And I think a lot of people have, you know, if Steve Jobs had asked people, if you want one of these phones, right, that has email, and you can take pictures and you can do all these things. I don’t know that, you know, many people said, ‘Yeah, I want that.’ But they weren’t really selling a phone. They were selling an ability for you to connect, when you want, where you want, with whomever you want to get what you want. That’s really what the iPhone is about. Its convenience. And so, it’s not about, you know, I mean, yes, it’s about the camera, and yes, you know, the speed and all of those kinds of things, but it’s really about connection, and they were marketing it that way.
I think that’s spot on. When you do this work, are you trying to get to a single value statement? Or are you trying to get to multiple different value statements depending on who the market segment is? Or who are the audiences that we’re talking to?
So, this is always a question that people ask about messaging or creating a messaging platform or messaging architecture or positioning platform, however, you want to call it. I feel it’s really important that most people message from the bottom of a pyramid. Then message about all the facts, the figures, the stories, you know, the customer stories and put those out there, but they haven’t put them in a wrapper, a bigger wrapper that ties it all together. And yes, you have to customize your message, your value statement, to different audiences, but the way I do messaging is we use a triangle. And this is something I actually developed many years ago. For media interviews, we would put in the middle of the triangle the core, overarching main message, three supporting messages, one word on each point of the triangle so that when people went into a TV interview or whatever, they could have that picture in their head. And know that, depending where you customize and what is most interesting to your audience, you lead with different triangle points. But the underlying message about what makes this product tick, or why you want to use this should be true, according to all your audiences. It may be that I mean, the clearest example I can give is that we were working with a group fighting homelessness. So, they thought that their message was getting home for everybody. When we talked to people they were helping, one woman said it this way, she said, they didn’t get me out of the cold, they got me out of the situation, that got me into the cold in the first place. So, the message wasn’t so much about finding homes. It was more about building independence, building self-sufficiency, and how they did that: provided housing, provided training, and a connection to community, so they didn’t feel lonely. Now, donors could use that same message. We’re about, see you give your money, you’re helping people become independent. You’re doing that by helping them build a home, you’re supporting training, and you’re connected, and they’re connected to a community. So, it worked for donors; it worked for potential residents. It worked for the government, the regulator, you know, agencies that provided funding. And it was a powerful message about building independence and self-sufficiency, as opposed to just focusing on finding people homes.
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Yeah, so it sounds to me, in that example, that you said, we found a single high-level message that truly resonated, and that’s independence. And then we found three, let’s call them supporting activities, supporting pieces of evidence that we’re going to lean to all the time to say, here’s how, or here’s why, anything magical about the number three?
Well, I just think that you know, you can have four, and you can have five, but the thing is, people will remember three, a lot easier to remember, three, it’s not that you and underneath those big pillars, those three points of the triangle, you know, there are sub-messages to be sure. But, you know, we live in a world where we’re over-communicating, we are getting so much information. So, the ability to cut through and really get to the core and simplify is so important. Because people have very short attention spans, and the other thing that people forget is that just because you message one way, let’s say on social media. Another way in advertising, you don’t think people see both messages. At some point, there’s what I call the porosity of information. So, you want to be consistent because it’s the consistency that builds equity — attention, equity, brand equity, value equity over time. And when people have so many different messages, you don’t know, people who don’t really know what it is. So, and it’s hard to find that overarching, you know, sometimes it’s really hard to find that overarching message. And sometimes, that’s where when you get into promoting a particular part of a product, you know, plugging in a different product line or a different division. It’s okay, understanding the value of that, and then tying back to, but it comes from here, which gives it gravitas, credibility, whatever. Now, sometimes it just depends. You know, sometimes when you’re talking about a really, really big organization, people don’t really care about the mothership, right? So, you have to really understand when it is valuable, makes sense to invoke the mothership, which may provide you with credibility, you know, authenticity, authority, whatever. So, you really have to understand the audience and what you’re trying to do, and that’s where there’s no one-size-fits-all. And you may start out with one approach, and then you may have to shift it, depending on what’s happening in your world and with other trends.
Okay, Liz, I have to say that I absolutely love what you just described to us. And I think I’m going to go change my entire marketing now. Two to three things. I got it.
Yeah, I mean, I was once working with an incredibly brilliant man. And he would write these position papers, and they’d have 10 ideas. And I’d say, let’s get it down to five. Now, I would say, let’s get it down to three, and then we would negotiate to five. I said, because your audience is, what are we going to remember? And you really have to think about, and this is where we apply a lot of the things that we’ve learned in communication to the marketing mix is to say, look if there’s one thing that people are going to remember if there’s one thing you want people to take away, what is it? What’s the most important thing? And people, it’s a lot easier. People don’t do this because it’s really hard. And it also means that you have to leave things out. You have to make decisions about well; this is really what’s important. It’s not that the other thing isn’t important, but it’s not what we’re going to emphasize. It’s not what’s going to lead our discussion of why we’re valuable.
I think that makes sense. It’s okay to leave something out. That reminds me of when I coach people about market segmentation. I say, look, you got to pick a market segment and go focus on it. And they say, ‘Yeah, but what if someone else who’s not in my market segment needs my product?’ And I say, well, it’s really easy. If they come to you and say, ‘Can I buy your product?’ You say, ‘Yes, it’s okay. It’s just not who we’re marketing to. It’s not who we’re targeting to.’
Right? That’s right, and you have to start in one; you really have to focus. Because, again, many people are just so overwhelmed with communication, we have more ways to communicate now than we ever have had in human history, and we’re doing a poor job of it.
So, in other words, if I expect anybody to listen to me, I have to say something that truly resonates with them.
Correct. And the way you do that is by asking them questions and taking the time to understand what might resonate. And, you know, I always use this example; when I talk about this is, I put a picture of a cupcake up. And I say, you know, I know, because marketing people notice that if I want to lose weight, I should not eat that cupcake, I probably shouldn’t eat that cupcake. But it’s a lot easier for me to simply eat the cupcake than to change the way I see that cupcake. And the way I think about that cupcake and how that cupcake relates to me. And that’s what we’re talking about with this. I, you know, you mentioned earlier about websites. And if you go even on sites that really smart marketing people produce, they are all about the company and not about the company and me. So, you know, sometimes people want that. They want to know, well, I just want to know, do you do this? Do you know, I want to check a box or whatever? But the most successful communication really speaks to my emotional need — my aspiration, what I’m really scared about. So, if you can help me look good, I mean, and I’m not just physically but just look good. If you can help me, gosh, you know, this has been a real challenge or takes too much time, and you can save me time and all of those things, but really speaking to what might I be experiencing? As opposed to I have this great thing, and you should buy? And that’s how most people approach the way they talk about themselves?
Yeah, I like to say it as experts buy features because they know what they need or want. Very few people are experts. And so, the rest of us are looking for benefits or translate that into my world. Would you please? Yeah, so we can make decisions.
I once went in to do a pitch to an organization. And I walked in, and they said, ‘Is it just you, you don’t have like a whole team of people?’ And I said, ‘No, we’re going to have a conversation.’ ‘Do you have a PowerPoint?’ I said, ‘No, it’s a PowerPoint free zone.’ They said, ‘Oh, okay. This will tell us about your firm.’ And I said, ‘Well, I’m going to tell you about our firm.’ But before I do that, ‘I’m going to tell you what I know about you.’ And they went, ‘What?’ I said, ‘Well, I talked to about four of your clients.’ ‘Do you want to know what they said about you?’ And they said, okay, and so I’ve talked about that. And then they said, now I’m going to tell you. So, they identify these things. Now I’m going to tell you about our firm, and how we can help you bridge this gap. They didn’t even know they had; they thought they needed one thing. And so again, it was because I started with them. We ended up getting the work, but it was not the way they, you know, they were hoping that you know, they were expecting, we would stand up there with the PowerPoint, and I’d have like five people there. And we’d all go around and talk about our multiple years of experience, and blah blah blah. So yeah, and I didn’t actually, I didn’t intend to start that way. But it just, I had talked to people to understand if I even want if we wanted to work with them. And it just hit me at that moment. So that’s how I do a lot of my presentations, now my pitches.
Nice. And what’s funny, I didn’t even realize this or think about this until you just told that story. As a buyer, we think we’re experts. And we’re looking for feature information, even though we have no idea how to translate it, how to use that to make a really good decision. And so, we don’t know what we want.
We think we know, based on our experience or what other people have told us. Yeah, and so a big part of and I think everybody should think about this, that no matter what your product is, or services, that you should be coming at it from the perspective of I want to help these people get better at whatever it is that they want to do. Not that I want to get the work. But if you go, this is the prism of value where you say, ‘I want to help you be successful. So let me listen to you because… let me hear what you’re saying. And then say, okay, this is what you think you want. But maybe you want to, and that’s doing that through questions, probing questions, not threatening questions, because then people run away. You don’t want to threaten.
Right, Liz, this has just been absolutely fabulous. But we are running out of time. I am going to ask my standard last question, even though you’re not a pricing person. What’s one piece of pricing advice you would give our listeners that you think could have a big impact on their business?
Understand the emotional driver of the purchase, what they really want in the end, it’s like Ted Levitt, who was a professor of marketing, says, “When people buy a drill, they don’t want the drill. They want the hole.” They want the hole because they want to hang grandma’s picture. So, you have to understand that what they really want is, grandma’s picture on the wall because they love Grandma, and you’re helping them do that.
Nice. That was beautiful. Thank you so much for your time today, Liz. If anybody wants to contact you, how can they do that?
They can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org, that’s W A I N G E R group, or on our website, which is also waingergroup.com.
And we’ll also have that in the show notes. It’ll be easy to find, as well. All right, Episode 136 is all done. Thank you very much for listening. If you enjoyed this, would you please leave us a rating and a review? They’re very valuable to us. And finally, if you have any questions or comments about the podcast or pricing in general, feel free to email me at email@example.com. Now, go make an impact!