How well do you know the people who make up your target audience?
Do you know why your existing customers decided to buy from your firm and not your competition? Do you know your customer buying criteria? How about your target audience, do you know their buying criteria?
It may surprise a Manufacturing Marketer to learn that most senior executives cannot answer these questions definitively. And, if the senior executives are not able to answer these questions, how can they expect the organization as a whole to be able to articulate a common, differentiated value proposition?
It's not easy.
The only way you will really know about your market's buying criteria is to survey qualified people in your target audience. When I was a Marketing Director at an electronics manufacturing company, we conducted primary research to verify that the brand was well known amongst the people in the life science industries (our target audience). The results did not confirm the tightly held belief. The common understanding within the company from the CEO on down to the technical level was that the brand and the products were "the standard" in the industry. Further, the belief was that this company was top of mind for the particular solution in the life science industry.
The results were quite the opposite. Keeping in mind the survey was directed at a job title and it was conducted live via phone interview. Only those respondents who claimed to be decision makers or major influencers of purchasing this product were interviewed. Unaided awareness of the brand was a measly 3%. Aided awareness wasn't much better at 5%. Wow! Talk about a wake up call!
My point is that you may not know the people in your target audience as well as you think you do.
Do the research. Don't assume that the common wisdom within the company is accurate. Don't rely on a few existing customers for your research. Existing customers will not give you the complete picture.
Once you do understand your audience, you are in a good position to develop the messaging. I just read a fantastic paper published by Openview Labs, A Guide to Competitive Messaging, that offers a really good framework for analyzing your market, defining a message and making it known throughout the organization. You can register to download your own copy here if you like. Just so you know, I don't have any affiliation with Openview, I just like the paper.
Buying criteria is not the same as importance.
If you ask someone what is most important when choosing an airline, most people will say 'safety'. When you ask the same person what criteria they use when purchasing a ticket, the answer will not be 'safety' because safety is assumed. Safety is table stakes. Buying criteria could be any number of things; price, speed of delivery, availability of service, where it's made, etc. You should also understand the relative weight each criteria carries with the market. Perhaps low price is a criteria, but it is weighted less than speed of delivery.
Once you know the criteria and the relative weights of each criteria, you are ready to align your message, core competencies and differentiation with the buying criteria of the target audience. You may look at several different segments and find different results. For example, head of a family of 4 living in the suburbs may value fuel efficiency as number 1 and price as number 2 when purchasing a new vehicle. Whereas a single male in an upper income bracket may value power as number 1 and prestige as number 2. Once you know the market's criteria, you should focus on the markets where you fit or develop competencies in markets that are attractive but you do not fit at the present time.
I ask once more, how well do you know the people in your target audience?