How to create an effective value proposition

What a value proposition is and the tools for discovering your own.

Nov 23, 2021
Colter Huacuja
Colter Huacuja
Web Design
SEO
Digital Ads
Image of a tablet with an article page open.

When you make a living helping clients across a wide range of industries achieve greater business success, you get to see a broad spectrum of marketing practices in action. We’ve noticed at Smart Rabbit that business owners and marketing executives sometimes lose sight of the forest for the trees. They get so focused on carrying out day-to-day plans, failing to step back and reflect on the larger strategic landscape. 

This lack of reflection expresses itself in the absence of a clear value proposition on their websites and marketing materials. A value proposition is arguably one of the most critical elements of a business’s marketing strategy.  It tells potential customers why they should do business with the organization, immediately clarifying why the organization is uniquely suited to solve the customers’ needs and how it will benefit them.

We thought it would be helpful to break down just what a value proposition is, provide tools for discovering your own, and share some examples of ones we think are effective.

What is a value proposition?

Definitions abound, but in essence, a value proposition is a statement about the value a company promises to deliver to customers should they buy its products or services. Also referred to as a unique value proposition or brand value proposition, these positioning statements serve to influence customers as to why they should do business with you rather than your competitors, in part, by touting the distinct benefits that only you deliver. 

At its core, a value proposition is a statement about your unique competitive advantage, what your business does better than anyone else. It should convey why someone would want to buy from your company instead of from a competitor. It’s often, but not always, focused around an anchoring phrase or statement and supported by copy points reflecting the brand’s main competitive advantages or pillars.

Screenshot of Hubspot's homepage.
HubSpot’s value proposition cites its “powerful” features and “ease of use” and promises a “delightful experience” for the customer and their end-users.

A value proposition can easily mean the difference between a high bounce rate vs. a strong landing page conversion rate when crafted artfully. In fact, after taking the time to nail their value proposition, savvy marketers will then conduct plenty of A/B testing to find out what combinations of graphics, copy, and layout will generate the best conversions in their digital materials. That’s because even modest changes to the value proposition, or how it is presented, can dramatically impact lift.

What it is not:

  • A mission statement or core values
  • A slogan or tagline
  • A substitute for an overall brand strategy or copywriting, though it can be a part of it
  • A list of features
  • (Generally) Focused on a single product or service 
  • Full of buzzwords or jargon
  • Everything to everyone

What’s included in a value proposition?

Like most frameworks, there’s no one, single formula, so the answer will vary slightly depending upon whom you ask! In addition, to answer the question, we must consider both what concepts we will include in our value proposition and how we will visually/physically execute those concepts in our marketing materials.

The concepts of a value proposition

Your value proposition should convey your unique competitive advantage vis-à-vis a response to some variation of these questions: 

  • Does it make a clear promise of what you’ll deliver to customers?
  • What are the benefits your customers will enjoy? 
  • What is the reason they should choose you over the competition?
  • What makes your offerings unique and different?
  • Who are your target customers?
  • What unique value does your company provide?
  • What products or services does your company sell?
  • How does your company plan to get that done?

An ambitious value proposition may hit a few of these notes. For example, touching on relevance (e.g., how they solve customers’ problems), quantifiable value (e.g., measurable improvement), differentiation (e.g., how they’re better than their competitor), target (e.g., who the customer is,) or intangible benefits (e.g., bringing joy).

Others may be shorter and to the point. In either case, the value proposition needs to convey a clear, easy-to-understand message and be reinforced throughout the customer’s journey with your brand. 

As marketers, we know it’s always easier to say more. The challenge in creating a value proposition is to cull your brand promise to its essence. If you can get to that point – defining what truly sets you apart, you can begin to build back the supporting elements of the proposition, including the key benefits or points of differentiation you deliver. The goal, ideally, is to discover that core anchoring statement. 

The execution of a value proposition

Again, there is no one-size-fits-all here, but there is a typical style that we see used effectively – which is also echoed in our research for this article – and it includes variations of these elements:

Headline: A short, attention-grabbing primary benefit. It may mention the product or the customer.

Subhead: A one to three-sentence paragraph with key details, such as who it’s for, why it’s useful, what makes it different.

2-4 Bullets: List key features or benefits.

Visual: Hero image. Maybe a product shot. Reinforce your main message. 

Many of the examples we’ve included in this article follow this format.

Screenshot of Angle Oar's homepage of a person in a kayak.
In the example above, the company, Angle Oar, uses a clear product shot at the top of the page immediately followed by the value proposition. The bold headline serves as a double entendre, hinting at the promise that anyone can kayak. The subheader describes the benefits (i.e., independence and adventures) and the target customer (i.e., people with strength and mobility limitations). The remaining verbiage names the specific products and product categories the company offers.

Resources for creating your value proposition

Even though a brand value proposition will evolve, it’s essential to invest the time and resources to get it right. Some of the approaches we include below are premised on engaging in planning sessions, focus groups, and research, while others assume you’ve done much of that leg work and are at the point of crafting language. 

Value proposition canvas

This mapping tool by Peter Thomson gets people from different teams working together to test assumptions and thinking through the customer’s end-user experience.  

3 Essential questions for defining the value proposition

This model from Harvard Business School asks teams to address three areas, honing in more deeply on the demand side of operations around pricing and product mix. 

Mine existing data

Since a significant emphasis on a value proposition is on your customers’ needs, desires, and fears that your products and services address, your research must include their voice. That may very well involve conducting focus groups, one-on-one interviews, or user testing. Still, there’s also a very good chance you have an abundance of rich data already in your possession.

Spend time scouring customer feedback, reading online reviews, poring through comments on social media accounts. You’ll find a bounty of verbatim words, ideas, and feelings about why customers do (and do not) like your products. 

What can be particularly interesting is that they will often use different terminology or touch on entirely different benefits than you or your marketing team would’ve thought. For example, when our colleagues at the adaptive kayak paddle company featured in this article first started, their marketing materials focused a lot on benefits such as being able to kayak after rotator cuff surgery or being able to kayak even with a significant disability. After their products were in circulation for a while, they began getting testimonials from their customers that featured words like “freedom” and “independence” and “feeling like myself again.”  These powerful, emotionally-charged benefits began to influence the way they shaped their value proposition. 

Structured formulas

Often leaders will gravitate to including product features when forming their value proposition rather than benefits. A former Google employee, Steve Blank, came up with this formula to help executives distill their insights into value-based statements.  

Headline 1: We help (X) do (Y) by doing (Z). 

We help small business owners be successful by providing them with simple, affordable websites.

In this case, X is the target audience, Y is the value or benefit, and Z is what the company does uniquely well. 

Headline 2: The best way for (target) to (the task you make easier).

Subhead 2: (Your brand) makes (task) simple and effective with (competitive advantage #1), (competitive advantage #2), and (competitive advantage #3). 

The best way for small marketing departments to create designs.

Quick Designs makes creating beautiful graphic designs simple and affordable with easy-to-use templates and multiple file formats. 

Headline 3: Take the hassle out of (process).

Subhead 3: We know that (process) is often a drag – but it doesn’t have to be. Thanks to (brand), (unique feature) makes it easier than ever to (task).

Take the headache out of scheduling your next haircut.

We know playing phone tag to book your next haircut sucks – but it doesn’t have to. With GoodHairDay, just pick a date, tap pay, and get ready for your next ‘do! It’s that easy.  

Headline 4: The (superlative) (product) you’ll ever have. 

Subhead 4: (Your brand) painstakingly (action you take) (action you take) to ensure you have the (superlative) (product) that no one can duplicate. 

The best-tasting coffee to ever pass your lips.  

Coastal Peak Roasters painstakingly source our beans from the finest organic Colombian farms and gently slow roasts them to perfection to ensure you have a perfect cup. Every time.

A picture containing text, outdoor, grass, and a building found on Anderson Burton's website.
In this example, the construction company Anderson Burton uses an attractive homepage image of one of the commercial properties they built. Their value proposition describes their target audience (i.e., large-scale construction projects), and the phrase “nationally recognized” both hints at their target audience and differentiates them from competitors. Finally, the statement in bold describes their core services (i.e., design build and EPC).

Where should you include the value proposition?

You should aim to include the value proposition on the homepage of your website, above the scroll, where it will have the highest level of visibility. As mentioned earlier, we encourage you to conduct A/B testing to determine the most effective layout.

For instance, some of the examples we’ve included in this article are combined with a Call To Action (CTA), and others are not. This example from Crazy Egg, for instance, is tremendously effective at pairing their proposition with a form field that prompts the user to take action. Because of its prominent placement, a CTA is (and should) be present in most cases. Landing pages are another logical place to include your value proposition on the website, particularly if they are tied to product-specific campaigns.

Graphical user interface found on Crazy Egg's website.
Crazy Egg cuts straight to the point, letting their customers (300,000 of them) know right away the benefit (i.e., your website will be instantly better) of using their service. Their main visual isn’t particularly relevant to their value proposition, but the CTA does prompt the user to take action.

The value proposition should also be reinforced throughout all touchpoints of the customer’s journey. That includes other digital channels, such as PPC campaigns, social channel profiles, posts, emails, videos, etc. 

One important thing to remember:  even though the main thrust of your value proposition will remain constant – at least for a while – the supporting benefits or competitive advantages that you use to support that main statement may vary, depending on the objective and audience for that particular campaign.  So, in the earlier Headline 3 example of “taking the hassle out of scheduling haircuts,” copy geared to the consumer would tout the user-friendly features of the mobile app, but copy directed to salon owners might focus on improving customer retention or reaching a younger customer demographic.

Get started

Although the idea of developing a value proposition might sound simple, more teams than you can imagine have pulled their hair out trying to do just that. It may be challenging, but we believe it’s a very worthwhile endeavor, and we hope we’ve given you some practical tools that will help.