When it comes down to it, your business exists to deliver value to your customers. If your customers don’t value your product or service, they won’t buy it. To succeed, therefore, it is critical for your marketing team to have a deep understanding of the value proposition of each product or service you sell.
What is a value proposition?
The Merriam-Webster dictionary offers the following (among others) definitions of value:
Value: The monetary worth of something
Value: Relative worth, utility, or importance
So, what is a value proposition? Price (monetary worth) is an expression of the relative worth or importance of your product or service to customers. Your value proposition captures and expresses what your customers value about what you are delivering to the market. Your brand message is how you communicate this value to your target audience.
We believe that value is not the same as utility. Many marketers feel very comfortable talking about what their product or service does, how it works, what the features and functionality are. What they often overlook to their peril, is why their customers should care. What transformation are they enabling for their customers? How will their customers be better off after using their product/service?
Do I care more that your team has 16 patents between them or that your product saves me time by reducing the steps it takes me to complete a time-consuming task. Am I moved by the fact that your product has 3 features more than your competitors or that it puts more money back in my pocket?
PRODUCT LAUNCH FACTS AND FIGURES
According to Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen, each year more than 30,000 new consumer products are launched and 80% of them fail.
On average, the cost of launching a new product is in the neighborhood of $15 million.
Eighty-four percent of customers say it is somewhat or very important that the company they buy from is innovative.
Why do products fail?
Failure to understand customer wants and needs
Fixing a non-existent problem
Targeting the wrong market
VALUE PROPOSITION DEFINITION
Value is always relative
In the second value proposition definition offered by Merriam-Webster, we focus on a key phrase: relative worth. Your value proposition should always be an expression of the unique value you deliver relative to alternatives available to the customer. That’s is why some marketers refer to it as a unique selling proposition. Your unique value proposition should be a key part of your strategy to differentiate from your competitors.
What this means is that discovering your value is more than a bake-off with your competitors. It is not enough to create a feature matrix and then check off which features your competitors have. Rather, it is about understanding if you are offering more of what the customer values. How you deliver that value is of lesser interest to the customer. It is also important to understand if your value drivers are defensible or easily replicable by competitors. Price, for example, is not a defensible differentiator and competitors can easily reduce their prices as well.
Discovering your differentiated value is more than just a marketing exercise. It should be the foundation of your product/service development strategy too. It requires your team to understand what your competitors offer and how it is valued by their customers. Then, explore how they communicate this value to their customers on their website and other external messaging platforms.
CREATING A VALUE PROPOSITION
Is there a problem?
Research shows that new products fail when they don’t fill a real customer need in the market. Considering that a study from Harvard Business School estimates that 95 percent of consumer products fail, the price of not identifying a real customer need is extremely high.
Developing a unique selling proposition, therefore, requires a deep understanding of the target customer and the meaningful problems they face. If your product or service doesn’t solve a real problem for them, they will not value it.
In our work with clients, we are always surprised how challenging it is for marketing teams to answer the question: “What problems does your product/service solve for clients?” Nine times out of ten, the response we get is something like: “We help them do X.” When we push back and ask what problem this solves for the client, they get visibly uncomfortable. It often takes multiple attempts to get them to get to the crux of what the actual problem is. This is why it is often extremely helpful to bring in an outsider to guide your team through this process.
The challenge is to put yourself in your customer’s shoes and experience the pain and frustration they are feeling by not having your product or service. How is not having your product stopping them from succeeding?
At Sugarbird Marketing, we have created the following problem statement for our brand messaging services:
When a marketing team launches a new product or service without first discovering its value proposition, prospective customers don’t buy it because they don’t understand why they should. We know this is a problem because our customers tell us it is.
Talking directly to your customers is the best way to develop a deeper understanding of the context in which your product/service operates as well as the real world problems they experience.
“If I had only one hour to save the world, I would spend fifty-five minutes defining the problem, and only five minutes finding the solution.”
CRAFTING A VALUE PROPOSITION
What value promises is your company making to your customers?
If you accept our premise that value is experienced as possible transformation, a better future by your target market rather than a set of features, then the next question should be, how do you identify the value you deliver?
Answering this question requires a willingness to be honest about what your product or service really delivers. This requires talking to people inside and outside your organization who interface directly with customers. It also, of course, requires talking to customers themselves and listening with an open mind to their feedback.
Over many years of working with organizations of all sizes and types – for-profit and nonprofit, we have developed a structured approach we called “Value Proposition Discovery” which offers a step-by-step approach for gathering information from your team as well as inside and outside stakeholders. Using our Value Proposition Discovery Workbook, we work with your team to gain a deeper understanding of who your customers are and the problems you solve for them.
But the core of the work is to identify three value promises your product or service makes to customers. These value promises are written from the customer’s perspective and describe the positive change or outcomes the customer can expect. For each of these promises, we start by describing the problem that is solved. Then, we identify three capabilities or features your product/service delivers that enables this transformation. If possible, we identify measurable outcomes customers can expect.
The output of this work is a structured messaging framework which allows your team to communicate your strong value proposition to customers clearly and consistently across all your communications platforms including your website, printed materials, social media campaigns, presentations and more.
VALUE PROPOSITION EXAMPLE
What is Uber’s value proposition?
Up until now, we’ve been talking about understanding the value you deliver to customers. Customers, however, are only one of the important audiences your organization delivers value to and needs to communicate with. In addition to customers, other audiences may include potential hires, employees, investors, partners and more.
Let’s use Uber as a value proposition example at the time of writing this article. Like most for-profit and non-profit organizations, Uber has multiple audiences. Uber offers value to drivers as well as passengers.
For drivers, Uber promises the following:
Drive when you want. Find opportunities around you.
The value promises are clear: Get the flexibility work when it suits you, not us. And, find work right where you are.
Tap your phone. Get where you’re headed. Riders have the convenience of easily ordering a ride by tapping their phone and are delivered to their desired destination.
It is interesting to note that Uber assumes that every person that visits their site knows what business they are in. No attempt is made to explain that Uber is a ridesharing company and what ridesharing is. We believe that every company, however well-known their brand is, should offer the courtesy of describing to audiences what they do and why it is important.
Because value statements should always be differentiated, let’s take a look at Uber’s competitor, Lyft. The company has decided to prioritize their driver audience on their home page. However, they do direct riders to a separate section via their top right-hand navigation. For Lyft, the driver value proposition is”
Grab the wheel and start earning. Where Uber promises work and location flexibility, Lyft promises earnings potential.
Lyft does, however, present three value promises to riders on their dedicated rider page:
1. Convenience – get a ride fast
2. Cost – compare pricing for ride types to get the best price for you
3. Safety – drivers are carefully vetted
VALUE PROPOSITION EXAMPLE
Slack’s value proposition
Here is another value proposition example at the time of writing this article. For teams of all sizes, Slack is an important tool for facilitating collaboration. Our team at Sugarbird Marketing uses it throughout the day to share thoughts, ideas and documents. Because we are a virtual company, we also use it to make calls to each other. So, we get why Slack is an important tool by using it. We understand what problems it solves for us.
However, if we were still in the process of searching for a team collaboration tool and happened to hit Slack’s homepage, we may not have been compelled to learn more.
Above-the-fold on Slack’s website, we learn very little about what Slack is and why we should care. All we know is that Slack is relevant if you or your team need to do one of a series of activities. We are not sure what Slack will do to help or why we need help in the first place. The company is counting on the audience being curious enough to scroll down and then learn more.
Below-the-fold, we discover that Slack is a hub where teams work together. Here again, the marketing team at Slack has chosen not to tell us why we should care. The product’s value proposition is entirely absent. Instead, we are presented with four features. A value proposition-driven website would lead with the change that is delivered supported by the feature that enables it. In each of the feature descriptions, Slack hints at the benefits but doesn’t go far enough to really tap into how Slack changes and improves the way people work together.
When to develop a value proposition
Defining value should be integrated into your company’s innovation process. Once a product has been conceived and is ready for early validation, it is time to develop a customer-focused value proposition. This exercise should be repeated when the product concept has been finalized and the marketing team is gearing up to launch it.
It is also important for marketing teams to revisit value props for products that are already in market. We find that products are often launched in a rush without taking on this vital foundational exercise. In some cases, the way that customers use this product once in market changes over time which alters the value they receive from it.
Expressing your value proposition on your website
It is our experience that most marketers confuse what with why when it comes to describing their value on their website. As an example, we found an article that presented the following as an example of a company that has integrated its value proposition well into its website:
We think this company does a great job of telling you what it does. It automates inside sales. It helps you find customers and it allows you to upload a list into your CRM system fast. But what is left out is why customers should care. What value is being created for them that they can’t get from a different product? Some questions to consider:
What problems does automating inside sales solve? Is inside sales very time-consuming? Resource intensive? Expensive? Does it deliver a low ROI? Does it produce too few leads? Too many leads? Low quality leads?
How will the customer’s situation be better after using this product to automate inside sales? Close more business? Simpler processes? Increased revenue? Lower cost of sales?
What kind of measurable results/outcomes can the client expect? 20% higher sales conversation rate? 30% more high-quality leads? 25% reduction in time?
Clearly, these are hard questions to answer. But they are critical if your team wants to understand and communicate real value to your customers. They also provide invaluable insights that will drive many aspects of your product launch.
CREATING A VALUE PROPOSITION
Look before you leap
However you slice