Value Props and Pour-Over Palaver

by Chris Harges | Director of Strategy | Tank

Every afternoon I get a coffee. The conversation is always the same:

Me: “Can I get a small dark roast?”

Starbucks: “We’ll have to do a pour-over. Is that all right?”

It took me three trips to figure out what was going on:

  1. Starbucks doesn’t brew dark roast in the afternoon. 
  2. They can make me a pour-over dark roast as an alternative. 
  3. Pour-overs take longer to serve than brewed. 

This is an example of a common problem in brand-consumer communications: the insider/outsider information gap. Too many brands do too poor a job of bridging that gap. Here’s why:

Employees live in company cultures. Cultures have their own languages, customs and rules of engagement. Consumers live outside that culture. Brands have to be careful to craft translations when communicating from inside to outside.

In the case of my dark roast, I had no knowledge of any of the operational constraints standing between me and my coffee. But the Starbucks associate had long-ago internalized them. You can imagine the training: “If someone asks for a coffee we’re not brewing, you can do a pour over but you better make sure they’re OK with waiting.” 

Crafting inside/outside translations means more than just avoiding company jargon or trade lingo. It means understanding that insiders and outsiders don’t share the same story. Insiders know the prequel, the whole narrative of business mechanics that frame and inform a transaction. But customers are coming to the conversation cold. 

Outside of awkward retail conversations, the most frequent place I encounter the insider/outsider information gap is in value propositions. Over the past few years, B2C brands have adopted the B2B trope of starting customer conversations with a list of the brand’s primary value propositions. It happens all the time on home pages. Like this:

Or this: 

When it works the go-straight-to-value-props approach is great. But when it falls flat, as in the above examples, it’s because the props are more meaningful to insiders than to the outside audience. We’ll revisit the perils of props in a later post. Until then, mind the gap. 


Read part II  of Chris’ article here.


Chris Harges is Director of Strategy at Tank Design. He brings 20 years of experience as a brand marketer and strategist, helping build awareness and drive sales through story-driven, omni-channel, go-to-market strategies. 

Read more at Tank Design

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