A Weak Value Proposition Is A Symptom, Not A Disease

by nils  - June 19, 2014

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


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Your host and author, Nils Davis, is a long-time product manager, consultant, trainer, and coach. He is the author of The Secret Product Manager Handbook, many blog posts, a series of video trainings on product management, and the occasional grilled pizza.

  • The Geoffrey Moore template is great, because it captures the essential ingredients you enumerated. It's also true that you have fundamental problems if you can't articulate a value proposition in this format.

    However, the template comes at the later stages of formulating a unique value proposition. First, you need to look at the competitive landscape in the mind of the prospect. To do so, you can use this method and diagram for a competitive mindshare map. It applies the thought processes of Ries and Trout, who literally wrote the book on positioning.

    • Roger, whenever we can bring in Trout and Ries I'm happy! On the other hand, I think there's a lot of value in formulating (and then testing) a value proposition according to the template at any stage in your process. The more you learn about the competitive landscape *and* the positions and categories already existing in the prospect's mind, the better your value prop can get.

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