SuperOrdinate Propositions

SuperOrdinate PropositionsLet’s go back in time a few hundred years to a village market, and imagine that you and I are trying to conduct a business transaction. I say to you “I will give you this sheep if you give me ten of your chickens”.

There may be some haggling and I may eventually give you my sheep for just seven of your chickens. But in the end both you and I feel that there was a fair exchange of value at that moment in time. Our business has been successfully concluded.

Conducting business has always been a really simple concept. You sell something to the customer and they pay you something in return. It’s a mutually acceptable value exchange, and if one party doesn’t feel that the there is a fair value exchange, the transaction doesn’t take place.

This perceived fair exchange of value has been the essence of how business has worked since trade first began thousands of years ago. The item being sold is what we will call the functional proposition. It’s what the customer actually pays their money for, and it’s the core of any business transaction. But it’s getting harder and harder to sell purely functional propositions.

Let’s go back to our original sheep and chickens trade that you and I conducted earlier. We both walked to the market place to do our trade and we will both walk home with our newly acquired goods. Now imagine if you’d offered a different proposition to me instead. What if you’d said that in exchange for my sheep you will give me one chicken and six fresh eggs every Friday? And that you will hand the eggs over to me in the local ale house at midday on each Friday.

I may place a lot of value on the opportunity to have to leave my wife to meet someone at the local ale house every Friday lunchtime. And then my wife would be very grateful to me for bringing home six fresh eggs – even if I did smell of cheap ale. Now a lot more intangible aspects are entering the business negotiations over and above the core functional proposition of my sheep and your chickens.

Today, every transaction of a functional proposition takes place within a rich ecosystem of knowledge and perceptions which are different and unique to every single customer. Every potential customer is pre-armed with a personalised knowledge set absolutely relevant to the potential transaction they are considering. If they believe they don’t have all the information they need to make a trade, then they can quickly and accurately access it.

This knowledge set consists of many facets, each of which assumes a greater or lesser importance as an influencer on not only the value the customer puts on your service, but even to the extent of whether they will do business with you in the first place.

As well as checking out your price, range, guarantee and delivery time, they may start taking into account issues such as the press you garner from using overseas sweat-shops to manufacture your goods, the comments posted on social network sites, and the degree to which you actively demonstrate your carbon footprint.

Your functional proposition can wilt under the onslaught of such customer requirements, unless it is aligned to match the positive facets, and to allay the negative facets of the customer’s knowledge set. To achieve this alignment you need to be boosting your functional propositions to become more compelling SuperOrdinate Propositions.

SuperOrdinate Propositions aim to leverage as many of the potential positives as possible and to minimise the negatives to give maximum chance for a successful transaction to take place.

Traditionally, the product team defined what the functional proposition would be; the brand team created a good market perception of the brand, and the marketing department would put all the right messages in all the right places. Now you need an integrated approach to design SuperOrdinate Propositions that have much greater and wider appeal to the customer’s total requirements. They offer more for the customer to embrace, and in a busy world, the bigger the target you offer, the easier it is for them to embrace you.

A well-structured SuperOrdinate Proposition consists of six elements:

  1. A valued transactional proposition: The core value exchange must be fair to both parties and be meaningful to the customer.
  2. The perception of you as a supplier: Why should a customer even want to deal with you in the first place? Ideally you will have some differentiator that customers find appealing in some way. Often, your company or your industry has some negative perceptions in the mind of the customer. Target your transaction to operate in a positive perception environment.
  3. Your customer experience ‘wrapper’: Whatever you offer, the customer must be able to do it easily. At the end of the transaction it’s the impact your staff and systems have left on the customer which determines the overall opinion they have of you. The end of one purchase cycle is by default the start of the next – so start the next cycle off from a positive perspective.
  4. How you make the offer appealing to customers: Use smart persuasion techniques to encourage the customer to buy. We do it all the time, so make the most of any opportunity to persuade the customer to buy from you. Be ethical – but be edgy in your approach,
  5. Willingness and ease of sharing their story: Advocacy is the ultimate goal of any transaction, so design hooks into your products and service that are naturally designed to create talking points for your customers. Make it easy for them to share.
  6. Novelty and differentiation to the existing: What’s your point of differentiation here? If you don’t have one, then you’d better create one quickly.


Your functional propositions compete with those of your competitors, and together they can act to crowd the customer and cause confusion. Superordinate propositions, however, have outreach and can subtly engage the customer even when the customer is unaware it is happening. They start to interact with the customer even before the customer has the slightest awareness that they want one of your products. The future of business success lies in the design of compelling SuperOrdinate Propositions.

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