Do Your Theme Statements Pass the Litmus Test?

Could an evaluator cut-and-paste your theme statement into the evaluation form to justify giving you the highest score for a factor or sub factor? Could your competitor make the same claim you are making in your theme statement? If you can’t answer “Yes” to the first question and “no” to the second, your theme statement needs improvement.

Theme statements may be the single most valuable tool in proposal writing. They are actually mini-summaries of what will follow in the section. They tell evaluators what you want them to know or believe when finished reading the section.  They guide the reader toward the desired conclusion. The most powerful ones contain the most important and unique discriminators and link the customer benefit to the discriminating features of your offer. Proofs in these theme statements will increase the credibility of the theme statement in the reader’s mind.

The use of theme statements in proposals has evolved as a starting point to introduce a key idea or facet early in a document or paper and is followed by additional information to expand on the early theme. This order provides a dominant introduction followed by supporting documentation or explanation.  They are the principal idea that will be followed by additional information and proof.

Discriminators in theme statements make them even more powerful. Discriminators are features of your offer or solution that differ from a competitor’s offer and are acknowledged by the customer as important. Both conditions must be met. Differentiators, on the other hand, only meet the first condition. Discriminators provide proof that corroborate your claims and give the customer reasons to believe you are better than your competitors.

Theme statements are the building blocks for the offer you want to convey to the customer. Theoretically, a reader should be able to get the gist of the entire proposal simply by reading the theme statements throughout the proposal. Some general guidelines for developing effective theme statements are:

  • Use a logical process to develop powerful theme statements. Why should the customer be impressed with your offer? As a customer, does your offer answer the question, “So What?”
  • Use theme statements consistently throughout the proposal. Place them at the beginning of every major section, subsection, or summary.
  • Link the benefits to the features and state the benefit first. Customers buy benefits, not features. Tell the customer what they are going to get when they select you.
  • Quantify benefits when you can and make sure the quantified benefit claims are supportable.
  • Write theme statements in one single complete sentence. The longer the statement, the more likely the evaluator will lose interest and not read it.
  • Differentiate theme statements and summaries. Theme statements are concise sentences that focus on the primary benefit tied to the primary feature. Summaries contain all the features and benefits discussion in the entire section or subsection.
  • Make sure benefits go beyond advantages. Advantages are how, in the seller’s opinion, the product or service can help the customer. Benefits are advantages that can solve a problem for the customer.
  • Tailor your theme structure to the evaluation process. Depending on the proposal response format, theme statements may appear at the beginning of sections, within the proposal body, or at the top of every page.

In summary, theme statements should get the attention of the evaluator and quickly give them the message you want delivered; you are not just saying how good your offer is, you are telling how it is.

For more detailed information, see the Shipley Proposal Guide, Fourth Edition.