Your value proposition—a single sentence that helps communicate what you do, who you do it for, and why you do it—defines your product. Not only does it communicate the literal definition of your product or app, but it can also help guide you as you continue the development of your product, providing clarity and direction as you consider new features and iterate.
As you dive into this article, you’ll see why having a well-formed value proposition is helpful throughout the development process, but also as you consider how to market and talk about your app to investors, stakeholders, and customers.
Why Do You Need a Value Proposition?
It’s important that you’re able to articulate how you're better than the competition, and the only way to do that is by being able to define clearly what your offering is in the first place. Keep in mind that your value proposition is not the same thing as a slogan or a mission statement. It should be in clear, straightforward language, and focused on a specific product. A slogan is intended to inspire potential customers but doesn’t necessarily speak to the product offering, while a mission statement is meant to encompass the entire company and bigger organizational goals.
Your value proposition delivers a synopsis of what you are offering to customers and why they should choose it.
How Will You Use Your Value Proposition?
• App Store Description – App stores are incredibly noisy places, and might be the only place a potential customer comes across your product. Your value prop will be the basis of a app store copy that tells your customer everything they need to know about your app succinctly when it counts.
• Presentations and Emails – Whenever you have an opportunity to tell people about your product, you'll use your value prop to explain it quickly and clearly. This will come into play when you want to get funding and attract advertisers and customers.
• North Star for Development – When new potential features come up, you can review the value proposition to help determine if they align with your goal for your product. If a feature helps improve the product offering as defined, great! If not, save that feature for another product.
• To Stay on the Same Page – A good value prop will also ensure that everyone in your organization is on the same page for PR, getting funding, and for evangelism. If you can’t communicate who you are and what you're doing, no one else will be able to do it for you. This is a key component to establishing word of mouth.
Developing Your Value Proposition: Clarify Your Vision and Ask Questions
So now you know why you need a value proposition and where you’ll use it. But how do you create one?
Before you can clearly explain what you’re offering to the world, you have to first understand it yourself. The process of defining your value proposition—asking questions of relevant target groups, considering the different benefits levels, understanding what features your customers care about most—helps you do that. Once you put something into words, you’ll have a much clearer picture of it and a much better sense of its worth.
This process also can help you generate interest, buzz, and curiosity in your offering. It allows anyone you work with to understand your vision, including external partners and potential customers. No one but the most invested partner or friend is going to bother listening to a long rambling explanation of what you’re building and what it might be able to offer them. So to maximize your offering and get the most interest—you need to be able to explain it in one sentence.
To go about creating your value prop, consider taking the following steps.
Brainstorm to clarify your vision.
First, take a good look at what you believe you're building, and what your intentions are. Put those words on paper, and brainstorm different variations. Continue to review and iterate until you are confident that you’ve:
- Communicated the main purpose or intention for your product or app
- Pinpointed who your product or app is for
- Highlighted the problems you are trying to solve
Tip: Try creating a mind map to visualize how your product fits into the bigger picture or create a word cloud of all the relevant features as you try to piece together a cohesive message.
Then ask yourself these questions.
- What are your competitors saying about themselves?
Do research in the app store and check out the competition’s marketing materials. See how they describe their products. You’ll need to stand out from the crowd, but you also want to be sure you’re using clear, familiar language that your customers understand.
- How would customers explain your product’s worth?
Sometimes the answers here are surprising. You thought you were providing a digital level for home improvement projects, but your actual audience has discovered that it’s the perfect guide to drawing straight lines. Asking them helps you understand the reality of your product. If your product hasn’t been released, talk to potential customers during your market validation phase. And if you’ve already launched, reach out to current customers and get their thoughts. Why are they interested in your product, or a similar product? What do they understand the benefits to be?
- How does your team envision what you’re doing?
When you’re working on something, you have plenty of time to think about what your product is and how to explain it to others. Your internal team—whether it’s a full staff, or your closest friends and relatives—can shed some interesting light on how they perceive your product. They need to understand it in plain language and be able to explain it in plain language. Their description of the product and its benefits can help you identify and define its true value.
Using the Benefits Ladder as a Guide
Another approach is to use a tool called the benefits ladder framework as a guide. Rather than starting with your customers, the benefits ladder asks you to start with your product features and build upward from there.
First, list the main features of your product. Then think about what each feature does for the customer. For example, a photo editor might include custom filters that allow users to change the photo into an illustration or painting. The next step is to figure out how that function benefits the user. In this case, she can make any photo into a work of art. This may seem like a great stopping point, but take the process a step further and determine the emotional reward that comes from that benefit. In this case, the emotional reward may be that she can express her creativity.
To use the benefits ladder to create a value proposition, try answering the questions about your product as a whole, rather than about specific features. The resulting customer benefit and emotional reward becomes the heart of your value proposition and should tie in directly to your customers’ pain points.
Download our benefits ladder worksheet to use as a guide for creating yours.
Common Pitfalls to Avoid
Not being authentic. When you write a value prop, it can sometimes seem like you have to speak in “business language”—which results in something full of buzzwords and jargon that doesn’t mean anything to your customer. It probably also isn’t actually true to your offering. Use simple, straightforward language, and stay true to the product.
Being too broad or generic. If the benefits of your product are too generic, you might not be solving anything for anyone. Be specific!
Not validating the value prop. It's important to reach out and validate your assumptions. Internally, you can find yourself in an echo chamber, where it’s easy to miss a simple fix. Ask friends, family, professors, colleagues, and strangers if your idea resonates with them.
Don’t Forget to Iterate!
You’ll soon realize there is no "final" right answer, so remember that your value proposition is something that can change over time, through development, and even after launch. As we’ve explained, your value proposition is an important part of guiding creation and development, and it’s also important to measure actual results and make necessary adjustments. And if nothing else, you can think of writing one as a hypothesis—to explain what you do and why people might value it, and see if it’s true.
What’s the hardest thing about communicating your product idea to an external stakeholder, customer, or friend? Can you think of an example of a great value proposition that you’ve seen?