On the surface, value propositions seem simple and very straightforward. That’s why most entrepreneurs don’t invest that much time in digging into this subject, formulating and re-formulating their value proposition until they hit the right one.
If given enough attention, you will see how a value proposition can breathe clarity into your startup and your own mind, as someone who makes a promise to deliver that value.
“Writing and speaking in plain language is surprisingly hard if you know your product very well,” says Joe Wilson, senior education strategist at MaRS.
A good value proposition is the keystone to developing a strong marketing strategy and moving everyone in the right direction.
What Is A Unique Value Proposition?
A unique value proposition is a promise to deliver value, the unique part is about differentiating yourself from others.
According to Michael Skok: “a value proposition is a positioning statement that explains what benefit you provide for who and how you do it uniquely well. It describes your target buyer, the problem you solve, and why you’re distinctly better than the alternatives.”
Generally, people have problems, problems that arise from the trying to accomplish their needs or aspirations.
You are promising them to solve these problems, and so is everybody else in the market. Most often, there’s several ways of solving the same problems. And this is where competition comes in.
So you can do it cheaper and faster than everybody else, but not better. If you want to be the best and the fastest, you expenses will magically go up.
Want to do everything cheap while providing high quality? Sure, you can. But not only will it time a long time to complete, but you will be missing out on a lot.
This is why your unique value proposition will dictate and influence your marketing and overall business strategy. Because the promise you make to your customers is the one you have to keep.
Think of your favorite companies out there. Think of the ones you keep buying from repeatedly. Why is that?
I bet you they have two of these qualities: faster, better, cheaper.
And that’s because no matter how hard you try, you can only focus on two of these. Sure, in theory we aim for all three. In practice, however, you’ll have to give one up. In the end, who doesn’t want their project to be cheaper, faster and better?
What A Unique Value Proposition Is Not
For the sake of avoiding confusion, I’m going to go over several terms that might be mistaken for being the same as a value proposition.
Unique Selling Proposition – According to Entrepreneur, “The factor or consideration presented by a seller as the reason that one product or service is different from and better than that of the competition.”
Here’s an example of a unique selling proposition, from FedEx:
“When your package absolutely, positively has to get there overnight.”
Positioning Statement – As Doug Stayman describes it in this eCornell article: “A positioning statement is a concise description of your target market as well as a compelling picture of how you want that market to perceive your brand.”
Here’s an example of a positioning statement that was used by Amazon back in 2001:
“For World Wide Web users who enjoy books, Amazon.com is a retail bookseller that provides instant access to over 1.1 million books. Unlike traditional book retailers, Amazon.com provides a combination of extraordinary convenience, low prices, and comprehensive selection.”
That’s how positioning statements typically look like.
Elevator Pitch (Also known as an Elevator Speech or Elevator Statement) – A short, persuasive speech about your company that should spark an interest in people, typically investors. It should be short enough that you can say it in an elevator ride in a way that is easy to understand.
This is what an elevator pitch might look like (although it’s typically shorter):
Slogan – According to Wikipedia, “A slogan is a memorable motto or phrase used in a political, commercial, religious, and other context as a repetitive expression of an idea or purpose.”
Everybody knows at least a dozen slogans. Mc Donald’s “I’m lovin’ it” probably being the most well-known slogan out there.
– 5 Ways to Develop a Unique Selling Proposition (Convince & Convert article)
– What a value proposition is, what it isn’t and the 5 questions it must answer
Why having a strong value proposition is important
In the MarketingSherpa Website Optimization Benchmark Survey, when CMOs were asked, “Are you confident that each member of your marketing team can clearly and succinctly state your company or product value proposition?” nearly half of the survey’s respondents were not confident that each member of their marketing team could state their organization’s value proposition.
In his book “The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People”, Stephen Covey discusses “Sharpening Your Saw”.
Although it’s a personal development, this principle applies to your business. By being clear upfront about what your business does, how and for who, you’re on to a good start.
Here are three reasons why it is so important:
1. It helps you focus on the right aspects of your business. Remember the faster, better, cheaper rule? You can only compete on some things, not everything. A clear value proposition can act as a basis for deciding what to focus on.
2. It can help you develop the right marketing strategy. That is consistent with your value proposition. This is important because marketing and promotional activities can be an extension of your value proposition. So you’re extending the message because you can’t tell everything in your value proposition statement, but if you know what’s important to you you will continue to focus on that and mention that in your marketing.
3. Understand who you are in the market and how people see you. If you did your research, used your customer’s words and emotions to arrive at your unique value proposition, then that is a statement based on what people actually think of you and expect from you.
That’s important because if you don’t know how people see you, you might talk to them in a way that doesn’t appeal to their interests.
And if they feel misunderstood, they’re unlikely to buy.
4. It can help “sell” the company to new hires. As well as retain and motivate existing employees. This is what’s referred to as “employee value proposition“.
– Why Value Propositions Are Important (And How To Create Them)
– Why is a Value Proposition Important?
– Why Your Unique Value Proposition is Killing Your Landing Page Conversions and How to Fix It
How To Craft A Compelling Value Proposition
The secret to writing a value proposition that is effective lies in collecting real customer feedback. When creating a unique value proposition, you typically go through several phases:
The Discovery Phase
This is step number one. You want to find out everything you can about who you’re targeting, what their problems are and how you can solve them in a unique way.
Identify & understand your target audience
Who are the people you really care about?
That’s going to have implications throughout the rest of the value proposition statement. The value proposition is going to act as a road map to planning your business strategy
Understanding who your customer is determines a bunch of other elements of your business strategy.
Part of knowing your target audience is knowing their language and meeting them where they are.
There are many ways you can familiarize yourself with how your customers speak about their problem and describe your product. I’m going to tell you about 3 of them:
1. Testimonials & reviews – for example, when I was looking for UVP ideas to test for Omniconvert, the first place I looked was G2Crowd. It’s amazing how much people will say in those reviews. Here are my favorites:
Or this comment I found on Rob Sobers article:
I couldn’t have said it better.
If you have reviews left by your customers, that’s the first place I’d look. They might know a lot more than you do.
If, however, you’re a brand new startup or you’re still in the validation stage, there are other places you can look…
2. Forums and discussion boards – They can be a gold mine of valuable information about your target customer. Pay attention to the questions and complaints these users have, and the recommendations they make to products in your category as well as what words and phrases they use. Perform the following searches to find forums that are relevant to you.
“Powered by Phbb” + your keyword
“Powered by vBulletin” + your keyword
“Powered by SMF” + your keyword
“powered by IPB” + your keyword
“powered by PunBB” + your keyword
“inurl:/forum” + your keyword
“inurl:/community” + your keyword
“forum” + your keyword
“discussion board” + your keyword
Or just go to Find A Forum and search for your niche. If there’s enough interest for that subject, you’ll find it there.
3. Social media – Same thing as with the forums, except it is easier to enter any discussion and every user involved will get notified. Look for hashtags that are trending right now, in your product category. You can also search for your competitors or for frequently used keywords in your industry.
4. Talk to them! Run surveys on your website, email them, conduct interviews or meet them face-to-face (bribe them with coffee).
Why go through all this for a value proposition?
Don’t, if you’re confident you can nail your value proposition. But remember, your customers often describe the problem you are solving differently than you do, and you risk ending up sounding like this:
“Get rid of your (complicated medical term for knee problem)”
When your customers are actually saying things like:
“Man, my knee hurts so bad after that accident. I can’t even play with my kids anymore.”
“I can’t enjoy anything anymore, since that car accident. I want my life back.”
Now that you identified who your target audience is and learned more about them, it’s time to …
Define The Problem
Obviously the problem you are solving is crucial. And there’s a framework I learned from Michael Skok’s Harvard i-lab speech that does a really good job of pinpointing the right problems for you to solve.
He mentions the 4U’s, as he calls them, of identifying whether the problem you are trying to solve is:
There are certain things you can do to influence your customer’s perception of you product.
Your product is solving a problem, but you can use words and visuals to make that problem seem bigger than it is.
And that’s something copywriters do really well. Which is why it can be helpful for any marketer to study copywriting to some extent.
Once you’ve identified the problem, there are a few questions that can help you better articulate your value proposition.
The 4 Questions Every UVP Must Answer
Forrester Consulting identified that on average, consumers will visit three websites before making a purchase. You should be able to answer these questions if you want to stand a chance against the competition:
1. Who are your customers?
2. How can you help them?
3. How are you different?
4. Where do you excel?
9 Tips For Crafting A Powerful Unique Value Proposition
1. Keep it simple
Or as Frank Luntz puts it, “The more simply and plainly an idea is presented, the more understandable it is – therefore the more credible it is.” and “Don’t use big words when small ones will do.”
There’s an issue among entrepreneurs when it comes to this topic, as most of this are really familiar with the intricate parts of their business and struggle to put it in simple words.
If you can’t do it yourself, let someone else do it or leverage customer reviews to extract simple words and put them into a compelling value proposition.
2. Crystal clear
This isn’t the same thing as keeping it simple. Your UVP might be simple but vague and unclear. Here’s a simple, but vague statement:
“Start making more money.”
When MarketingSherpa surveyed 1,745 B2B marketers about the top tactics they use for developing the most effective value proposition for their organization, the number one tactic was CLARITY.
Here’s a simple, but CLEAR value proposition statement:
“Become a master negotiator and double your salary in 30 days.”
3. Stay consistent
If you’re running PPC ads, make sure the message displayed in the ads is consistent with the one they will see on the destination landing page. Inconsistencies in your communication can lead to confusion on the part of the visitor and higher bounce rates.
How do you distinguish your brand in a few words or phrases? You can differentiate on price, product, benefit, value, customer service, etc.
Everyone can’t be the same. There must be something about each player in the market that the customer can look at and evaluate them differently. Your competitors have their own features and benefits, you need to find your strongest one. The one benefit that is most important to your target customers and will make you stand out.
5. Social proof
Social proof indicators lead to more credibility in your brand. It breeds confidence, trust and ultimately leads to more purchases.
Think who are the companies or people that your target customers would follow? If you have them using your product, include their testimonials and new customer are likely to follow.
6. Ask a question
Have you ever considered this? Instead of stating your value proposition, put forth a rhetorical question.
My favorite example of this is CrazyEgg:
They do a fantastic job of appealing to visitors’ fears and motivations that, in the form of a question can make it even more personal and thus emotionally engaging.
7. Use visuals
People are wired to process visuals much faster than words.
60,000 times faster.
Presenting your value proposition in combination with the right visuals can have a much more powerful effect on the customer’s perception.
8. Use quotes
Earlier I showed you how the customer reviews I found on G2Crowd, for our product. Well, you can take your customers’ words and use them to develop your unique value proposition, or even better, you can quote them directly.
Here’s what I mean:
This is a review left by one of our customers:
And this is our current value proposition:
Now let’s quote the customer, instead:
As you can see, now it not only communicates our value, but it shows credibility and social proof. “Don’t trust our word for it.” is what you’re saying, in a way.
9. Provide context
Show how people use your product. Use suggestive images.
Value proposition is tied directly to the context in which it is being used. You can’t split those two apart.
Because value is decided by the customer, it’s directly tied to their costs and benefits.
We’ll talk more about value in a moment.
Now, how do you sell your product or service?
There’s a few ways you can do it. You can sell your features, you can sell your benefits or you can sell value.
First, let’s look at features.
Selling on features is arguably the worst, most ineffective way to do it.
When selling features, you’re selling people on something your product does, or an inherent quality that your product has. This puts your visitors in a position where they have to figure out how to use that feature to benefit themselves.
This is a highly ineffective and lazy way to communicate a value proposition.
However, you might sometimes combine your value proposition with a list of features (link to peep laja’s elements of a uvp + screenshot of that section). If you decide to do this, ideally you’d want to start with a list of all your features. Choose the top 3 features that are most valuable to your target audience and go with those.
I know, it’s tempting to go with everything. You might have 1,000 features you want your customers to know about.
Heck, our product has at least 70 features, most of which our customers are likely to use at one point or another.
But are they all the most important? No.
The second part was selling on benefits.
Using benefit statements instead of talking about features provides another advantage for products that possess many features.
Here’s an example…
Millions of people use Evernote to organize their files, write books, blog posts, and who knows what else.
If you dig down into the software itself, you will find a text editor, notes, notebooks, a chat window, tags, sharing, attachments, and the list goes on.
Using a benefit lets you put all of these into one or two sentences.
When selling on benefits, you’re showing your customers how exactly they will benefit from your product.
If you’re selling a phone, the benefit is that …they want to talk to their friends or family, and your product is the solution to that. “Using our phones you can talk anyone, anywhere.” That’s a benefit statement.
Now, what’s the cost of them not using your product?
Value = Benefit – Cost
Let’s say phones haven’t been invented yet.
It costs you $50/month to travel to a different city where your family is. And somebody invented the phone, sold it for $50 and there’s a $10/month plan that you can call anyone who uses a phone and talk as much as you’d like.
How many trips would that save you?
What about money?
Let’s say you’d spend $100/month on travel and other expenses to meet people, before the invention of the phone. That’s $1,200/year.
What if you bought a phone at $50, combined with the $10/month plan that would be $170/year.
Subtract the $170 and the free time you could win back by using a phone, from the cost of $1,200 and the time-wasting travel and meetings and you have the value your customer is getting from using your product.
The significance of your value proposition is another factor. It’s not just a question of “Why would somebody care?” But also “How much do they care?”
5 Templates To Help You Write Your Unique Value Proposition
As with the headline swipe file from our headlines article, I’m going to present you with a collection of templates that you can use to articulate your unique value proposition.
Some templates might not be the right fit for you. In some cases, you might come up with something that doesn’t look like any of the templates below but still gets the point across.
Still, you’ll get a ton of value from looking at these templates and it might spark your creativity.
1. The VAD approach
On his blog, Tor Gronsund explains how Guy Kawasaki takes a verb-application-differentiator approach to describing the startups he works with.
Verb – Application – Differentiator
Alltop: “Stay on top of all the topics.”
CoTweet: “Manage Twitter with a CRM service.”
Posterous: “Create and write blogs via email.”
Another really good example of this is Github’s “Build software better, together.” headline.
2. Steve Blank’s XYZ
In his article, Steve suggests writing a value proposition statement that people understand. He puts forth the following format to write your UVP:
“We help X do Y by doing Z”
“We help e-commerce websites increase their sales through A/B testing, surveys and personalization.“
3. Geoff Moore’s Value Positioning Statement
By far the most popular one. Geoffrey Moore’s value positioning statement was first introduced in his book – Crossing the Chasm. Moore’s template is often used by Fortune 500 companies to describe their unique value proposition.
For (target customer) who (need or opportunity), our (product/service name) is (product category) that (benefit).
“For non-technical marketers who struggle with A/B Testing, Omniconvert is a Conversion Rate Optimization platform that enables you to optimize your website and increase conversions.”
4. Dave McClure’s Elevator Ride
In his How to Pitch a VC presentation, Dave McClure outlined the following 3-step check list for creating value proposition statements:
– Short, Simple, Memorable: “What, How, Why.”
– 3 keywords or phrases: “Mint.com is the free, easy way to manage your money online.”
– KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid)
5. Eric Sink’s Value Positioning
Eric Sink suggests the following format for value positioning statements:
Superlative (why choose this product?) + Label (what is the product?) + Qualifiers (who should use this product?).
One easy way to remember this is to think of the 3Ws: Why, What, Who:
“The easiest social media management app for small businesses.”
“The fastest hosting solution for bloggers.”
– 13 EASY TEMPLATES FOR WRITING A COMPELLING VALUE PROPOSITION
– Value Proposition Cascade
– How to use the business model canvas correctly
– 7 Proven Templates for Writing Value Propositions That Work
Unique Value Proposition Examples From 10 Companies [Reviewed]
Below I’m going to briefly review several unique value proposition examples.
– The headline is benefit-driven, short and clear.
– Sub-headline starts with a superlative (not good) but does a good job of qualifying the user.
– Relevant image.
– Specific, benefit-oriented call-to-action.
– Headlines doesn’t say much. It communicates who it’s for but doesn’t say what it is or what problem they’re solving.
– The sub-headline communicates a benefit but doesn’t say how you can accomplish it. What is this software and what can I do with it, exactly? I would like to see a product image or a bullet list somewhere.
– Headline is highly relevant and benefit-oriented. The proposition itself is clear BUT visually, it’s not the first thing you see. Instead…
– The first thing you notice is the second headline that reads “Browse Popular Categories”.
– Background image is relevant but short in height, which contributes to people noticing the second headline instead of the first.
– Headline clearly states value, reliability and ease of use. It’s also highly relevant for its target audience.
– Sub-headline takes it a step further and explains how, while also highlighting more benefits.
– Call-to-action is clear and makes use of the word “FREE”. I wonder how “START SHIPPING” would perform, though. (professional curiosity)
– Simple headline
– Clear sub-headline, benefit-oriented. I would remove the second line though, make it shorter and to the point.
– The background is animated and too busy. It might make it difficult to read that light font. Try a static, darker image instead.
– Headline is benefit-oriented and communicates that with a question.
– Sub-headline uses simple language, is clear and shows simplicity of the platform.
– The placeholder “What are you looking for?” leads the user to take action and the call-to-action makes it clear what you can look for.
– Headline is short, simple and communicates the final outcome of using their product.
– Action and benefit-oriented sub-headline.
– Relevant image.
– Clear headline, says what it’s for.
– Benefit-driven sub-headline, shows simplicity and ease of use.
– Relevant image.
– Clear headline, benefit oriented
– Lists benefits and features
– Relevant image
– Generic call-to-action. I would test an alternative.
– Benefit-oriented headline
– Sub-headline makes it clear what the product is.
– Relevant image. That’s probably how most people feel when they launch a new landing page. 🙂
How To Test Your Value Proposition
Finally, the best way to arrive at the best possible value proposition is to test it. Throw it out into the market and let the people decide if it’s good enough.
We ran countless A/B Tests on our value proposition before we arrived at the one we have right now, and we’ll continue to do so.
The chart below lists Landing Pages as the top platform for testing value proposition statements, according to CMO’s surveyed by MarketingSherpa.
Not sure how they tested the effectiveness of their value proposition with email, as I imagine it would be very difficult to
There’s two primary ways to test and improve your value proposition statement online:
1. PPC – This really comes in handy for all companies, but especially if you have many different feaures and have no clue as to which ones are more important to your target audience. With PPC ads, you can advertise different features and benefits and identify the strongest ones by measuring CTR (Click Through Rate)
2. A/B Testing – By far the best and mos cost-effective way to test your value proposition. People are visiting your homepage everyday. With A/B Testing, you can show half your visitors one value proposition and show the other half a different one. After running this experiment for a while, it will become clear which one is the winner.
Pro tip: The ideal length of your experiment depends on how much traffic you have. You should, however make sure that your tests achieve statistical significance.
– 10 Examples of Killer Unique Selling Propositions on the Web
– How to Test Your Value Proposition Using a PPC Ad
– Powerful Value Propositions: How to Optimize this Critical Marketing Element – and Lift Your Results
Your first idea won’t be the last, or the best. It can take time to research and write a compelling value proposition, but the rewards are well worth it.
– Know who your customers are,
– What you can do for them,
– How it benefits them,
– And how you are different from the competition.
What are your tips on writing an effective value proposition? Leave a comment below.