Jun 14

A Weak Value Proposition Is A Symptom, Not A Disease

Templates – powerful when appropriate – like the one I describe in this post. (Image by Bill Bradform, CC 2.0 licensed)

This post was inspired by an article about positioning that Gabriel Steinhardt (@blackblot) posted on LinkedIn recently. One of the best tools for coming up with good positioning is a good value proposition.

This term, “value proposition,” is thrown around a lot by product managers and product marketers, but as far as I can tell, mostly they don’t mean anything specific by it. There’s a lot of value in putting some structure around the value proposition and in this post I will tell you how I write one.

Recalling from Product Management 101 (you took that, right?) your product needs to:

  • Solve a problem
  • For a segment that’s willing to pay for the solution, and
  • Be better in a meaningful way from competitors

The value proposition should capture all that.

I use the value proposition template from Crossing the Chasm, by Geoffrey Moore. The template is:

<Product> is a <category>, for <segment>, that provides <benefits>. Unlike other offers in the category, <product> does/has <differentiators>.”

(Obviously, as you fill in the blanks here, you can do some wordsmithing.)

For example:

The iPod is a digital music player for everyone who wants to listen to their own music. It can hold 10,000 of your own songs and play them in any order you want. Unlike other music players, it’s simple and intuitive to use, and it’s connected to Apple’s iTunes, giving you instant access to millions of songs, including the latest hits, your favorite classics, and everything in between.

You want to capture the category into which the product fits, who the product is solving a problem for (the segment) and the problem it solves for them (the benefits), and why it’s better than the competitors. If you can do all that clearly, not only do you have an excellent basis for all the more detailed marketing you need to do, but you also have an excellent elevator pitch.

The value proposition has another benefit for you, though. If you can’t create a good one, it’s a good indicator that your product either isn’t solving a meaningful problem for a segment, or that it can’t be differentiated. The things that enable products to win – solving a market problem, differentiating from competitors – are laid bare in the value proposition. And if you can’t articulate them, how is your salesperson going to be able to pitch it – or your prospect understand why they should pay money or time for it?

Feb 14

The Best Way To Engage Your Audience Is To Help Them Kick Ass

I’ve been reviewing competitor websites recently for an enterprise software client who needs to improve their value proposition and market positioning. It’s been interesting, primarily for how terrible these websites all are. (Not to say that they aren’t pretty, or that the companies aren’t successful – but with a few exceptions the marketing is not great.)


Most of the sites, the more enterprise-oriented products, have very similar messages. 90% of the marketing content on these sites is interchangeable.

The basic benefits claims are of the form:

  • [Product] is a [category] to provide [business goal]
  • [Feature] does [X] to provide [business goal]
  • [Business problem] is bad. Use [product] to prevent it {using [feature]}

These sites talk a lot about “you” – but “you” on these sites means “your business,” not you as an individual user or role. Even though the CIO is often the purchaser of these products, it’s never the CIO’s interests that are addressed, much less an IT manager or operator, but the business’s.

Likewise, all the goals and benefits mentioned are to the enterprise or business, not individuals.

Bottom line, these sites focus on “business goals” – be more efficient, sell more, reduce downtime, increase availability.

Talk About Practical Goals To Be More Human-oriented

However, some of the sites get more personal, and start to bring in what Alan Cooper calls “practical goals” and “personal goals” in his book The Inmates Are Running The Asylum. Roughly, you can think of practical and personal goals as follows:

  • Practical goal = make one of the things in your job description easier – e.g., “see all the data you need in one window.”
  • Personal goal = address something that gives me (or takes away) job or personal satisfaction or motivation – e.g., “be a hero” or “we automate things so you don’t have to figure them out.”

These sites and products are less oriented to enterprises, which is not a coincidence. While none abandon business goals as “benefits”, some of them mention practical goals as benefits as well, usually in the form:

  • You can achieve [a practical goal] using [product]

The other big change on these sites is that “you” often means the developer, tester, or ops person, rather than the business. These changes definitely make these sites more engaging, but adding in personal goals is more powerful.

Personal Goals Are The Most Engaging

The bright spot was one site that actually talks about personal goals (sometimes):

  • You can achieve [a personal goal] by using [product]
  • [Feature] addresses [a personal pain point]

This site actually used the “Be a hero” line, as well as describing a set of features that let you “kick ass.”

Customer success stories

I was fascinated to see that all the characteristics of these websites carried through into their customer success stories as well. If the website focused solely on business goals, then so did the success stories. If the website talked about personal goals, then the success stories did as well. In fact, there seems to be a more powerful effect – not only were the success stories oriented around achieving personal goals, but they also did a much better job of talking about differentiators, such as order of magnitude improvements and better ability to link to other business processes in the company.

What can you do today?

Here are two things you can do immediately to start improving your messaging based on these observations.

  1. When you find yourself writing down a benefit in the form of a business goal (“[Feature] does [X] to provide [business goal]”), ask “Why?” five times to drill down until you discover one or more personal goals. And then use the personal goal as part of the benefit.
  2. When you are interviewing a customer for a success story, look for how the customer achieved a personal goal, eliminated a personal pain point, achieved an order of magnitude improvement, or can now work better with other organizations. You can use questions like:
    • “What are you no longer worried about now that you are using [product]?”
    • “What unexpected benefits did you get when you started using [product]?”
    • “How has [product] changed the way you interact with other organizations in the company?”
    • “Compare your work life for me now that you have [product] versus how it used to be”