Value propositions often seem to be misunderstood as a concept. This can be highly problematic as building strong value propositions is one of the key foundational points to any coherent business plan and go-to-market strategy.
Our preferred clear-language explanation of value propositions is as follows:
"An extremely good and clear explanation of why anyone should pay for your product or service."
A value proposition is essentially a description of the value that an organisation provides to its customers. It tries to answer key questions:
- What value do I provide?
- Who are my customers?
When we use the word value, we're normally trying to describe something's worth, importance, or usefulness to us.
Values can be tangible, like lower prices, faster delivery, or higher quality. They can also more abstract like better customer service or a unique magical experience – something that Disney has managed to capitalize on over the years.
We can actually further break this down into four key steps to go through when creating your value propositions:
- Who is my customer? I.e. Who is the value for?
- What is the problem that we are solving for the customer?
- What is your solution, and how does it solve the problem?
- How is the solution different to what's already available?
Before we get into detail on crafting a value proposition, it is also worth thinking what happens when you don't have a clear value proposition. Without thinking about value, you can risk developing products and services that customers don't need or want – which increases your go-to-market risk.
This is one of the main reasons why startups die, they just didn't provide anything of value or solve a particular pressing problem for customers.
So, it's really important to have validated value propositions in place, so you don't have this high-level risk that invalidates everything your doing.
Who Is My Customer?
The worst mistake that can be made when answering this question is to say that everyone can theoretically be your customer. This is bad because it means you essentially have no idea who will specifically be your customer and how you can reach them in a coherent and cost-effective manner.
The three main questions to ask are:
- What are their jobs? By this, we do not mean their literal occupations, but the jobs in their life that they are trying to accomplish (i.e. Get fitter and lose fat, get into college, have an enjoyable Friday night, etc)
- What pains do they experience? What are the key risks, obstacles, or bad outcomes that customers may have when trying to complete their jobs?
- What positive outcomes are they looking for? Do you provide these? Can you provide even better outcomes?
Defining your audience articulately will help you communicate with purpose. A one-size-fits-all solution tends to be bland, but if you carve out a niche you can speak powerfully—and with understanding—to a market segment that will be excited to listen.
As an example, a plant-based meat substitute could be marketed to vegans and meat-eaters a like... but the key value propositions will change for each audience. Meat eaters won't be instantly enthused that it's meat-free...because, that's not an issue for them. However they might be excited about the potential health benefits that they'd experience by using the product as a direct substitute. In comparison, many vegans might not resonate with 'fake meat' messaging as to them meat simply isn't desirable. The value here might be the difference in price-point compared to competitors or the ease of access to the product due to wide adoption from major supermarkets. Either way, defining your audience first and narrowing down is advantageous when crafting and communicating your value propositions.
What Key Problem Are You Solving?
You need to be very clear about what the problem that you are solving for the customer. This is why a lot of great startups are built by individuals who started out by solving their own problem. They went out in the market and didn't find any products or services that could effectively solve their problem, and so they made their own.
The reason why startups that have this founding story are significantly more likely to be successful, is because the founding team have an extremely good understanding of the fundamental problem that lead to the creation of the startup and they don't lose sight of this problem.
However, if you're solving someone else's problem then the use of user personas can be a great reference point—allowing your team to check in and ensure their work is continually recalibrated to suit the intended user!
What Is Your Answer to the Problem & How Does It Work?
Being able to explain, in a simple manner, how your solution to the problem works is absolutely essential. Often, you'll know your product or service so well that it is easy to overlook that someone who encounters it the first time does not have the same context, and they need to understand it quickly and easily.
As an example, Unbounce answer the problem of low conversion rates by improving the design of landing pages. They explain how it works by clearly stating how users can adopt their solution, with simple, concise language:
'Design Beautiful Landing Pages That Convert More,
'While websites are great for information and exploration, they're duds at turning traffic into revenue. With Unbounce, you can create and optimize dedicated landing pages that prompt your visitors with one focused goal instead of leaving them to wander a site full of distractions.'
There's a lot going on in just a few simple sentences. Not only does this brand highlight an issue and solve it, but they explain it in a way that shows how their solution adds value compared to the norm, or alternatives.
We've spoken before about the 'curse of knowledge', which refers to a state of assumptions when you've became too learned on a subject—i.e. you assume that your audience will understand elements that actually may be technical or advanced. This is where the Feynman technique can prove useful.
When explaining what your answer or value is, imagine you're explaining it to a 5th grader. This exercise will force you to simplify language and prevent you from leaning on related conceptual subject matter...you'll have to keep it concise and accessible. It's commonplace in modern copywriting to adopt this approach with hero text and CTA's as it cuts through any unnecessary jargon and waffling.
How Is Your Product/Service Different to What's Already Available?
In other words, why should customers pick your product or service? Why should they care? Markets are often already very crowded, so if you come in with something that is 10% better, customers might not even notice or care enough to have the hassle of trying something new.
If you come in with something that is several times better, let's say 2x better than what is already available, then you stand a real chance at being able to easily communicate and convert customers from other products/services to your own.
With regards to positioning, it is often a good strategy to perceive all existing solutions in a "broken" light and at the other end of the spectrum, so you appear as completely different. If a customer has tried just one of those products/services, then the alternative is only your product/service, (not anyone else because they are all the same).
Note: Differentiators must be quantifiable and testable, because they can be tested and measured with your customers.
Getting it Right.
Theory is always helpful, but what does this look like in practice?
To help our guide, we've collated some great examples of value propositions communicated expertly.
Many great website building solutions exist, and whilst we personally may argue that there are better solutions available...WordPress has undeniable success as it props up over a third of the internet.
This is communicated as a value proposition in the following way:
Welcome to the world's most popular website builder.
Starting strong, this uses their market dominance as a selling point... strength in numbers.
39% of the web is built on WordPress.
Backing up their claim, they use clear statistics to highlight the value of their platform.
More bloggers, small businesses, and Fortune 500 companies use WordPress than all other options combined.
Next, WordPress communicate their value by associating it with relatable audiences. I.e. If you are a blogger, or work in a small business or Fortune 500 company, you'll feel included in the messaging and in safe hands with their services.
To tie it off, further messaging introduces another value that undoubtably can be attributed to their popularity:
Build simply. Create any kind of website. No code, no manual, no limits.
This is powerful. It removes the perception of website design being overly arduous and technical. It puts power back in the hands of marketing teams rather than back-end developers. Whether you use an agency, freelancer, or in-house website designer to build your website, WordPress lets your websites be 'marketing-owned'. This solves a lot of problems, such as clients being victim to high web design costs for relatively small features like changing a background image.
Save money, without thinking about it.
This personal finance tool emerges in a competitive market with it's value proposition clearly communicated...it's automated. Digit allows users to focus on other things, while their service works in the background and builds savings by analysing the users habits and spending.
Hands-off saving is a fairly unique take on financial management, but you could view it like hiring a professional Financial Expert to follow you and help whenever possible. It's not for everyone, but to their target market they're not just speaking loud and clear—they're shouting great news.
They also combine this with "Take the worry out of your money", to target a particular demographic that may find financial management a tricky topic to navigate.
Finally let's look at our approach. Bloo was the answer to one of our team problems, that managing everything often got messy and less efficient than we wanted to be. Clients and team members were using too many communication channels and files, decisions, and feedback were getting hidden away. The team management solutions on the market varied...vastly...but there just wasn't a single platform that met all our needs simply and at the right price point.
So we built our own.
As the problem was one of our own, the Bloo team fully understood their purpose and mission from conception. As the product has grown in popularity, the team still remain hyperfocused on developing something that truly adds value.
Here's how the Bloo landing page communicates some of the main value propositions:
Simple & affordable online project management software that your team will actually use.
Multiple benefits are mentioned instantly. Firstly that it's simple, which is incredibly advantagous to businesses collaborating with clients or large teams. Fast pace projects would only be slowed by clunky, overbearing UI... so Bloo answers that problem with a simple, accessible software.
By pointing out that the team will actually use Bloo, the audience are reassured that the tried and tested product isn't just a pick-up and put-down toy that entrepreneurs will experiment with for a month—it's robust and built to last.
To expand on the affordable value proposition, Bloo explains this further with supporting copy:
Only $50/month for unlimited users, projects, and file storage.
The price-point is later compared to a huge assortment of competitors to showcase just how excellent this value is—especially as the previous market leaders tended to charge on a per user basis... meaning costs can very quickly pile up.
Finally, Bloo closes the introductory statement with a little nugget of backstory... which adds an additional value proposition.
Bloo is designed from the ground up for small business owners that just need to get things done.
As noted before, the origin of Bloo is not just useful for giving the team long-term focus and deep understanding of their target audience; The fact that the owners use their own product to succeed reiterates its transparency, ambition, and relevance. Any small business owners will be attracted to a solution bespoke for their modern needs—created by likeminded entrepreneurs.
Hopefully by now you have a grounded understanding of the importance, and process, of crafting value propositions. Once you've completed the first steps of defining who your customer is, and the problem you're trying to solve, there's a great relevancy test you can perform.
If there are multiple solutions to a problem, arrange a focus group with some of your target customers and introduce them to the 'buy-a-feature' game.
In this workshop activity, you'll be testing one of two things.
- Which of your solutions is/are most desirable.
- How to strengthen your solution with the most desirable features.
Either way, you'll be aiming to strengthen your product or service with the value propositions that actually matter. The ones that actually add value.
Here's how it works:
- Present all your proposed solutions and/or features.
- Assign costs to each.
- Give your audience some fake cash (often people use monopoly money, or even jellybeans).
- Ask the audience to put their fake cash towards the solutions or features they value most and would hypothetically invest in if the money was real. Note that they can choose to put all of their cash on one item, or spread it around.
The interactive element makes this exercise fun, and also puts your audience in a buying mindset (albeit a playful hypothetical simulation). Performing this workshop before major development can save time and money that otherwise may be wasted pursuing a route of no real interest to your audience.
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