Every industry has its own vocabulary, necessary for those who work in it but rarely used by those on the outside. They all have jargon too, sometimes created for shorthand, to dress up trivial things, sell projects and sometimes simply to sound cool, maybe mysterious. The trick is to know which are which.
Value proposition, though it may sound esoteric, is a term that firmly belongs to the former category. Get it right, and you have a statement that not only sounds good and conjures a meaningful image, but delivers immediate clarity about why your audience should care. This will help with every decision in the medium to long term, depending on its longevity and business strategy: it provides the framework for all of your marketing and product or service design decisions. Unfortunately, this is not often the case.
Three main factors are holding back companies from getting the most out of their first impressions:
- the idea that it is enough if a VP sounds right, in fact the vaguer the more serious it sounds;
- the difficulty of finding one strong message that can stand out on a crowded market or being able to commit to one;
- and the lack of a clear process to arrive to the proposition.
The third challenge is key to helping fix the formers. Following a process that draws on data and clear reasoning for each step helps demystify the term, thereby resulting in a value proposition that resonates better with the target audiences. An efficient and logical method also makes a better case for focus and prioritisation. Finally, practical outputs such as the visual identity will help to get the organisation on board.
Why is a strong value proposition important?
We live in a connected world with countless options to help consumers solve their problems, fulfil needs or find entertainment. Choice is something that our audience has in abundance. In theory, this is a great thing. In reality, it leads to confusion and information overload, sometimes even to decision-making paralyses. And of course, it leads to a tremendous amount of noise in the shape of constant advertising and marketing directed at them. A meaningful, interesting and relevant value proposition can cut through this rubble and provide a beacon in the midst of confusion, aiding the customer to make the right decision.
This is even more pronounced in the B2B space: value propositions are often vague, but procurement processes can be complex and involve multiple stakeholders who have little time to decipher poorly worded website homepages. As such, a clear value proposition becomes even more critical. It provides decision makers with a compelling reason to choose one company over another, helping to simplify their selection process.
Unfortunately, companies can fall into the trap of buzzwords, industry jargon, or empty phrases. The urge to put a shine on what our company does with “serious” or lofty sentences is understandable - it may feel like the only way to stand out. However, this mystification can lead to customer frustration, hesitation, and ultimately, loss of interest. Simple and clear (but not simplistic and bland) is always better than visitors bouncing from your website after a handful of seconds of trying to understand what you could do for them, and failing at that.
What does a good value proposition look like?
Clear and to the point. We discussed the pitfalls of confusing messaging in the previous paragraphs, but it bears repeating: value propositions shouldn’t present a puzzle. Headlines and straplines can venture into more playful or even cryptic territory so long as they resonate with the target audience, but value propositions can not. It is crucial to get meaning across and fast, to attract clients with very little time and so much to do. If they don’t understand how your offer is to benefit them or what it does exactly, in a few seconds you may have completely lost them before the sales funnel even has a chance to start.
Connects with the customers’ needs, goals and motivations. Understanding what your customer wants or how they perceive the problem you are solving is the Alpha and Omega of marketing. Of course, sometimes the alleged Henry Ford quote is right and they don’t know that your product or service offers a superior solution - but this is information in and of itself, an argument for even more clarity and education. Often what we need to understand is not what solution the client wants. Good value propositions build on the need, a precise understanding of the problem and the audience’s motivations.
Introduces a unique or interesting reason to choose your company. In an era where customers can research suppliers all over the world and competition is abundant, it is hard to find truly unique features and solutions. One may not be able to truthfully claim a USP, but it is still possible to find an interesting angle or convey an attractive corporate personality through a good value proposition.
And of course, if you do have a true USP, it is still imperative to catch the eye of your target audience and gain enough time to explain why your solution is truly the best for the need they have.
How to get there?
During our work with clients, we follow a structured but flexible process to gather data, understand the competitor plus consumer space, and facilitate fruitful conversations about the mission and purpose of the organisation. The exact methodology and exercises vary, and will depend on where the client is in their brand definition journey. To help our readers follow our steps, the steps below describe the entirety of the process at a high level.
Digital Competitive Analyses
No companies and brands exist in a vacuum. Hence the first step in the process is exploring the competitive environment. From mapping out the key contenders’ positioning via their websites and current ads to SEO gap analyses, there is a wealth of information to aid our quest for a VP that stands out and differentiates.
The key questions to ask are:
- How are competitors positioning themselves? Are they more aspirational or functional, reward or risk-oriented in their messaging?
- What are the powerful and impactful words they assert in the language they use? What remains and where do we have a greater claim for certain promises or benefits?
- How well do their branding and website represent the positioning?
- How is the social media universe divided between these players and what are the key messages and follower attitudes?
Target Audience Analyses
We suggest to combine quantitative and qualitative methods, starting with an analyses of client endorsements, search terms and social media trends. Interviewing sales teams and the customers themselves can be extremely helpful to identify the key arguments, blockers, triggers in the decision-making process. Wider trends in public opinions, policies, and value systems are also taken into consideration.
As we identify needs and wants, it is important to stay empathetic and focus on what the audience has to say. (Don’t fall into the trap of looking to prove your own theories and leading questions.) This will provide valuable insight for the creative processes, help to keep the focus on customer centricity and illuminates what job the value proposition has to perform. The more relevant and connected to your auidences’ needs it is, the more it can capture attention and communicate benefits efficiently.
The key questions to ask are:
- What is the real problem we are solving for the customer? Is there a pain hierarchy?
Sometimes we can focus on the immediate functional benefit, but in others, we want to focus on the bigger picture. For example, the true pain experienced by the client may be having to waste hours and hours consolidating data from different sources and formats. But if the decision maker is the manager of this analyst team, maybe the real pain is perceived as an impossibility to scale due to those long hours wasted and the number of people needed to do the job manually.
Great strategy can at times completely reframe problems and create a entirely new category to own, if audience insights are collected carefully. For example, Evryman reframed therapy from “finding yourself” to creating yourself”, presumably to appeal to an audience that prefers a more active approach to all things in life..
- What are the key motivations of the audience?
What do they value most? Time, money, growth, practicality, or maybe the elegance of a solution? Do they want to look good in front of the board or save time to get to do the things they enjoy? You might discover different segments which will help later, working out digital strategies to reach and attract them.
- What is their value system?
When it comes to B2C, 82% of people prefer to shop from brands whose values are aligned with their own. This might be less pronounced in B2B, but considering how long our partnerships might last and how sometimes the value system of a company may be the strongest differentiator, it stands to reason that similar value systems are a factor in the choice.
Company & Product Discovery
This phase of the work requires teams to look inward honestly, assess their capabilities and benefits, dig deep to understand the purpose of the company, and then prioritise, prioritise, prioritise. Easy, right?
When we design the workshop for this specific stage, exercises and the overall journey will differ. For example, some clients are very clear on their purpose, others not so much. Some companies are built on well-defined customer pains, others are so innovative that the client is not even aware there is a better way to do things. During the onboarding, we assess what is already shaped and what is missing to make the most of our time together.
Some of the key questions you want an answer for:
- What does your company stand for?
What is your purpose, the driving force behind all the effort to create an amazing product or service?
- What is the most important benefit for the customer?
- What is the real differentiating factor when it comes to your offer?
Some of our favourite exercises to help clients get there include using the Golden Circle of What, How, Why?, Aspiration vs. Function sliders and Dot Voting to drive democratic decisions and prioritisation.
There are very few shortcuts and easy fixes: prepare for facilitating open conversation and set aside ample time.
Crafting the Value Proposition
Writing the right value proposition is a two-part job, one of logic, prioritisation and empathy, and one of copywriting.
The Value Proposition Canvas is a valuable tool to complete part one, and entirely dependent on data from the Audience Analyses and Company Discovery phases. Using the canvas the team or their facilitator can organise all that we learned and collected into:
- audience jobs to be done - What it is that they really want to achieve in connection to our product or service?
- audience gains - What elements will delight them? What benefits are most likely to make them become our clients?
- audience pains - What problems, irritations, and difficulties do they experience related to the problem we are solving for them?
The other side of the canvas is all about how you respond to these with:
- products or services - What it is that you do in plain terms?
- gain creators - What factors inspire delight?
- pain relievers - What features and elements solve problems and pains?
You might run the exercise by only adding features to the Value Map on the left side that are corresponding to the key audience needs and wants. Or, you might want to add everything that came out of the discovery session then promote or eliminate each benefit and value based on the customer priorities on the right side of the canvas.
This can be a challenging process of course. The temptation to list all of the features and benefits will be strong. However, on the long run, a value proposition that is to the point and directly derived from the key customer pains and gains, will make for stronger messaging and more effective marketing overall.
When all the data is collected and all the decisions are made, it is time for the magic to happen. This is when you (or a good strategist/copywriter) transform that information into a clear, captivating sentence that not only demonstrates your understanding of your audience's problems and pains but also telegraphs that indeed, you can solve them.
NB: The value proposition work is often done as part of a branding or brand transformation exercise. In this case, of course, achieving your powerful sentence is not the last step, “only” the foundation for exploring brand personalities, styles, and creative territories.
Test & Refine
When many stakeholders are involved and mission/benefit answers are not clear, one can consider it a minor miracle if we have arrived to a value proposition that everyone can buy into, sounds good, seems to respond to customer gains, and sets your business apart. But we can’t lean back just yet.
This is the time to test and optimise. There are many options in the research toolbox to explore client attitudes and meaning - we recommend tests that measure real life prospects responding to the message, for example through a rigorously observed test campaign. After all, the proof of the right value proposition is customer action and company growth.
In conclusion, a clear value proposition plays a pivotal role in driving business success. As you embark on this value proposition journey, we encourage you to apply the workshop steps to your own business. Adapt them to your specific industry, products, and target audience. Continuously test and refine your value proposition based on customer feedback, market trends, and evolving business landscapes. A logical process like this - and possibly the help of experienced facilitators - can take the pain away from the complex job of writing an effective value proposition.
And finally, make sure it is not only a sentence you use on your website or put it in a frame on the wall. Value propositions are useful and crucial tools in everyday decisions, whether it is related to marketing or developing your offering in the right direction.
Would you like to know more about SmallGiants and our processes? Get in touch at email@example.com and our friendly team will be in touch.