Anyone marketing a product or a service is tasked with writing a strong value proposition. That phrase has been thrown around so much without many taking time to explain its key purpose. A value proposition is a brief statement that describes something you offer (service, product) in a way that people will want to pay you for it.
They need to recognize–without needing to translate jargon–why you matter to them.
Setting your value proposition is of mammoth importance. As you strengthen your landing pages and develop content, a strong value proposition can guide your messaging. On a landing page, it's important that visitors easily grasp exactly what makes your services (or product) stand apart. Even more, that reason has to matter to that visitor. They need to care. A strong value proposition--the backbone of your messaging--should make them care.
In this article, I'll show you exactly how to identify the strongest part of your value proposition. The first place to start is to show you where everyone goes wrong so you can avoid that path.
We mess up the basics
Good marketers learn early to promote benefits over features.
- Feature: shirt is made from 100% Pima cotton.
- Benefit: breathable, soft fabric feels amazing on your skin and holds its shape wash after wash.)
It’s a solid rule, so where do we go wrong?
We use broad, vague benefits in place of a value proposition:
- Make your staffing process easier...
- Find web solutions...
- Get more out of your meetings…
They might seem like they nail the idea, but they're just so...meaningless. Vague statements like these are harder to believe. There's no substance to latch onto. These are flimsy statements that readers forget seconds after seeing them.
It’s not limited to services, either. How many products could claim that they make you “Feel more confident”?
That’s the struggle. These messages just turn into noise because they do nothing to light up a connection in the customer’s mind.
Here’s how to change that.
Give that pendulum a tiny push
Maybe these broad benefit statements come from our excitement to cover a lot of ground. "Our product does SO much!" We marketers understand how to work with short attention spans. We keep things short and punchy, especially up front in the introduction stage where the value proposition lives. All of that means that if you lean too far toward broad benefits, they land with a boring thud.
Now swing to the other side. If "too broad" won't work, then the opposite must be the way to go, right?
Well, no. Going with extremes on the other end will have you swimming in a list of features. Those aren’t too helpful, either. To keep yourself from over-correcting, start with a little nudge.
Let the Questions Guide You
Ask your team why someone would buy your product (or use your services). Keep it simple. This is your starting point. Then, putting on the hat that magically turns you into a 4 year old with a curious mind, ask “How?”
"We help you get more leads."
– How does it do that?
When those answers just call up the product’s features, ask “Why?”
The point is to find that sweet spot that isn’t too abstract, but people hearing it will get why it matters.
Let’s try an example
Work with a concept like Post It Notes. Ask the starting question: Why would you buy these?
Initial answer. “They’re great for communication!”
(What, like a phone? Toastmasters classes?) This is where the critical questioning matters. Here come your follow-up questions.
How are they great for communication?
You can write on them, and they stick to things.
How is that different from what I can do with paper and tape?
They un-stick and stick again.
Why is that important?
There’s no permanence. You can write notes that stay somewhere until they’re easily removed.
OK, I get it.
There’s room for improvement on it, but that is worlds better than the bland and vague “great for communication.”
It’s a bit like a sliding scale of specificity. HOW is on one end and WHY is on the other. When you move too far to one side–making vague claims–ask how your product arrives at those claims. Now you’ve moved a bit down the scale to the sweet spot. Keep going back and forth.
- Too feature-y? Ask why it’s important.
- Too vague? Ask how they make that conclusion.
It lets you bounce from one end to another until that “OK, I get it now” moment becomes clear. That keeps you from missing the point and funneling all your efforts into the wrong thing.
I don’t know, I think big ideas are better.
You’re in good company. Wide-reaching benefits are exciting. A few years ago at SpyFu our team was putting together ideas of how to explain one of our new products. We started with “What does this do?” The big answer out of the chute: “It makes you money.” We went with the idea.
You could almost hear the crickets. People usually love the idea of making money, so why didn’t this work?
The concept was so disconnected, it felt like we still had a massive bridge to cross until the idea of making money seemed like it was a true outcome of this approach.
This is where the “How and Why exercise” comes in. It’s an internal practice we use. You can tell it’s internal because the name isn’t catchy or memorable, but the name reminds our team about focus. We remember that it might take a few nudges and tweaks to get our message right.
Find a Non-dilutable Position
Yes, some things do save you time or money, and that’s their key point. Groupon saves you money. Microwave ovens save you time. Groupon also knew that the “saving money” point could get so diluted by other businesses that they shifted their message. Groupon embraces the concept of enjoying experiences at a great deal.
Here’s a challenge: be like Groupon. Find that non-dilutable position. If you feel like the key immediate benefit of your product is to save someone time or money, ask how and why.
Original position #1: Prepackaged salads save you time.
Why do you need to have a salad prepackaged?
Improved position: A healthy lunch choice to keep fast food temptations at bay
Original position #2: Our social media management platform saves you time and keeps you organized
How does it save me time?
It has all of your accounts in one place.
Why is that important?
Improved position: You can share content across multiple channels without having to juggle passwords and open new apps each time.
This could be especially helpful for businesses that pitch themselves to potential customers. I’ve written before about the fluff we all see online from companies describing themselves. It might be the “About Us” page on their website or part of the sales brochure. You’ve seen it in the wild:
Original position: We are the leading solutions provider of XYZ.
Why does that matter?
Because you know you’re getting quality.
How do I know this?
We win lots of awards.
Because we get results for our clients.
We spend hours in research and one-on-one interviews with them.
We create customized plans built on their history and current needs.
Better. That’s more valuable than being a “Leading XYZ.”
It’s easy in marketing to get hyper focused on a detail of our product when we are trying to find that one defining value that makes the customer say yes. If you emphasize it in your messaging, you’re taking your customers down a path they won’t care about. Start with these questions to get a critical conversation started.
Enlist friends or colleagues who don’t usually sit in on your marketing meetings. Get a fresh set of ears to question you. Let them pepper you with “how does it do that” and “why does it matter” until you’ve found your sweet spot.
If you're looking for inspiration, check out this collection of value propositions done right. This should help you see how they nail that perfect spot to make people listen and to make them care.
Oh, and one more thing
Now that you've got your concept down, you might like some inspiration on how to phrase it. We like this ad history tool to browse some of the more successful Google Ads for any search. (Just name the keyword.) Here's a tutorial on how to dig up the most successful ads for copy ideas.