These 10 formulas will make you rethink how you write value propositions
Discover the simple hacks to writing persuasive value propositions in no time
Writing matters in marketing, business, and life - it is essential for moving your ideas, brand, and company forward. But writing brief sentences that match your goals and propositions with the needs, struggles, and desires of your audience can be a painful exercise. Author Ernest Hemingway knew. When he had difficulties writing, he reminded himself*:
“Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.”
Ernest’s one-sentence technique is useful whether you are writing a brand tagline, unique selling point, positioning statement, value statement, website copy, or advertisement. To get you a head start, I have made a collection of ten value proposition formulas derived from my previous posts here and here. Some are purpose-driven, and others a functional. Feel free to remix.
Here’s the round-up.
1. Moore’s Value Positioning Statement
Perhaps the best known to date. In the book Crossing the Chasm, Geoffrey Moore (drawing on the legacy of Everett Rogers and Regis McKenna’s team) provides a Mad Libs-style template for outlining your market positioning. In addition to the below part, Moore also introduces a second statement focused on competitive positioning.
For ____________ (target customer)
who ____________ (statement of the need or opportunity)
our (product/service name) is ____________ (product category)
that (statement of benefit) ____________ .
For non-technical marketers
who struggle to find a return on investment in social media
our product is a web-based analytics software that translates engagement metrics into actionable revenue metrics.
2. Heats’ High-Concept Pitch
In the book Made to Stick, brothers Dan and Chip Heath point to how high-concept pitches such as ‘Jaws on a spaceship’ (Alien) and ‘Die Hard on a bus’ (Speed) have convinced movie executives to invest vast sums of money on the basis of almost no information. In Pitching Hacks, Nivi and Navel from AngelList build on the Heath brothers’ idea and share examples of how this technique can be applied to startups and early-stage products.
[Proven industry example] for/of [new domain].
Flickr for video.
Friendster for dogs.
The Firefox of media players.
3. Blank’s XYZ formula
Lean startup and customer development guru Steve Blank refers to the value proposition as a ‘ten-dollar phrase’ describing a company’s product or service; the ‘what are you building and selling?’ Blank suggests using the following form for creating a value proposition statement that people truly can understand.
“We help X do Y doing Z”.
We help non-technical marketers discover a return on investment in social media by turning engagement metrics into revenue metrics.
4. Vlaskovits & Cooper’s Customer-Problem-Solution
In their Cheat Guide to Customer Development booklet, Brant Cooper and Patrick Vlaskovits applied what they call a Customer-Problem-Solution presentation. Here’s their system.
Customer: ____________ (who your customer is).
Problem: ____________(what problem you’re solving for the customer).
Solution: ____________ (what is your solution for the problem).
Customer: I believe my best customers are small and medium-sized business (SMB) markets.
Problem: Who cannot easily measure campaign ROI because existing solutions are too expensive, complicated to deploy, and display a dizzying array of non-actionable charts?
Solution: Low-cost, easy-to-deploy analytics system designed for non-technical marketers who need actionable metrics.
5. McClure’s Elevator Ride
In his popular How to Pitch a VC presentation, investor and founder of the global 500 Startups startup accelerator, Dave McClure provides a three-step checklist for creating efficient positioning statements.
- Short, simple, memorable; what, how, why.
- 3 keywords or phrases
- KISS (no expert jargon)
- “Mint.com is the free, easy way to manage your money online.”
6. Cowan’s Pitchcraft
Although more elaborative than the former formulas and examples, David Cowan shares some useful heuristics for developing pitches in Practicing the Art of Pitchcraft. Here, I have put together a summary and example derived from personal experience.
- Highlight the enormity of the problem you are tackling.
- Tell the audience up front what your company sells.
- Distill the differentiation down to one, easy-to-comprehend sentence.
- Establish credibility by sharing the pedigree of the entrepreneurs, customers, or investors.
One person dies of melanoma every 62 minutes.
We offer a dermatoscopy app for iPhone that enables people to easily diagnose their skin,
leveraging patented pattern recognition technology trusted by the World Health Organization.
7. Sink’s Value Positioning Statement
Eric Sink compares your value proposition to a marketing iceberg; that part sticking out of the water is highly visible. With that in mind, Sink suggests using the following format for crafting value positioning statements.
Superlative (“why choose this product”).
Label (“what is this product”).
Qualifiers (“who should choose this product”).
The easiest operating system for netbook PCs.
The most secure payment gateway for mobile e-commerce.
8. Christensen’s Jobs-to-be-done Statement
According to HBS Professor Clayton Christensen, designing an innovative customer value proposition begins with genuinely understanding the customer’s jobs-to-be-done (JTBD). Its premise is that customers don’t really buy products. Instead, they hire them to get a situational job done. For instance, rather than asking customers what products they want to buy or segmenting them by demographics or product categories, you would dig into the obstacles they face as they struggle to achieve a goal and make progress in their lives. In an MIT Sloan Management Review article, Ulwick and Bettencourt suggest using a “job statement” as follows.
Action verb: _________
Object of action: _________
Contextual identifier: _________.
“Manage [action verb] personal finances [object of action] at home [contextual identifier]”. (Mint.com)
“Preserving fun memories.” (Kodak’s Funsaver)
“Listen to music while jogging.” (iPod)
9. Sinek’s Golden Circle
According to Simon Sinek, “People don’t buy what you do, people buy why you do it.” With the Golden Circle framework, Sinek wants to teach you how to turn an idea into a social movement by focusing on your purpose — your Why — before drilling into the how and what of your value proposition. This step-by-step process helps you clarify your Why, articulate your How, and the importance of being consistent in What you do.
Why: In everything we do, we believe in challenging the status quo. We believe in thinking differently.
How: The way we challenge the status quo is by making our products beautifully designed, simple to use, and user-friendly.
What: We just happen to make computers.
10. Minto’s Pyramid aka SCQA
The SCQA (Situation, Complication, Question, and Answer) framework by Barbara Minto, also known as The Minto Pyramid, helps you organize your ideas to write compelling texts and business documents: memos, presentations, emails, blog posts, or — key to all the former — value propositions.
Situation — describe what is the current situation
Complication — describe the issue in the situation
Question — describe the question in response to the issue
Answer — suggest an answer to ease out or mitigate the issue
With the rise of smartphones and online video the use of data has exploded.
Consequently, wireless networks become congested and slow.
How can mobile operators increase their quality of service?
Our patented routing algorithm helps mobile operators radically increase throughput.
Bonus: Kawasaki’s VAD approach
In a previous blog post on value propositions, I set out to learn from Guy Kawasaki’s evangelism approaches. On Guy’s blog, I found that he tends to take something like a verb-application-differentiator approach when describing the startups that he’s working with.
[verb; application; differentiator]
Share PowerPoint and Keynote slides including audio (Slideshare).
Create and write blogs via email (Posterous).
Make VOIP calls easily and cheaply (JaJah).
Often one size doesn’t fit all. So pick the template that fits your project or remix two or more to make it your own. Once you have sketched your value proposition, use A/B testing or run experiments with it on your website, in ads, social media, or in in-person meetings to see what sticks. Next, consider elevating your business model and strategy around your value proposition.
For more on value propositions and jobs-to-be-done marketing, feel free to join The #1 LinkedIn Group on Disruptive Innovation.
Quote extracted from Hemingway, E. (2014). Moveable Feast: The restored edition. Simon and Schuster.