A great value proposition is essential for any business hoping to clearly communicate to customers why they are different, better, and worth purchasing from.

It’s especially important for small business owners making their name in the world, because without brand recognition, you're going to have to paint a very clear picture as to why you are worth people's time.

The problem is, many companies just can’t seem to nail down exactly what a value proposition is and what it should say.

Today we’ll look at the fundamentals of creating a value proposition that truly persuades people, as well as look at what pitfalls you should avoid.

What Is a Value Proposition?

Simply put, a value proposition is “the promise of value to be delivered and the belief from the customer that value will be experienced” (standard definition from Wikipedia).

In reality, a value proposition is the art of communicating “here is why you should buy from us” to your customers, so it can and should permeate your whole site and your customers’ experience.

It’s not solely a single line of text like a slogan, but headlines, sub-headings (such as on this page) and visual elements can be a part of an effective value proposition.

All of this is good to know, but why exactly do value propositions matter? Can they really have a big impact on converting prospects into new customers?

Why Your Value Proposition Matters

“A problem well stated is a problem half solved.”Charles Kettering

Consider this case study on the dangers of bland advertising that showcases a test comparing the following two phrases:

  • Simple Fix for Blown Head Gaskets
  • Repairs Blown Head Gaskets in Just One Hour

Both examples offer a fix for a blown head gasket (a part in an engine), but the value proposition for these two examples is quite different. Which one do you think performed better?

The second example contributed to a whopping 58% increase in conversions, and when we take the time to examine why, the reasoning isn’t all that complicated.

The first value proposition just doesn’t drill down enough on what the customer is getting—the addition of “just one hour” to the second statement adds a very specific benefit to justify why the customer should buy from them.

Sounds simple, but imagine if you had seen this advertisement in the newspaper, next to a bunch of other ads claiming they’ll “Fix your head gasket fast!”

Research has shown that people pay attention to specific facts, especially when they relate to a desired benefit.

So what are some ways you can make sure your value proposition is effective?

How to Create an Amazing Value Proposition

A great value proposition has a number of key responsibilities.

Researchers have found that catchy, yet abstract phrases don’t make decisions easier for customers when they are comparing “apples-to-apples” purchases. In other words, especially for a small company, telling your customers to “just do it” doesn’t make picking a pair of shoes any easier.

Instead, as conversion expert Peep Laja explains here, the following items are what you should be addressing:

  • Give your offering relevancy to customers by saying (outright) what problem it solves, or how it will improve their current situation.
  • Quantify the value for your customers by listing specific benefits (steer clear of “It’ll save you money,” and opt instead for “You’ll save $30/month on your phone bill.”)
  • Place priority on your point of difference, which is the reason why your solution is better than the competition in some notable way.

Here are some other essential best practices you should think about when creating an effective value proposition.

Make It Plain as Day

Have you ever landed on the homepage of a website and thought to yourself, “What the heck are they even selling?”

It’s no wonder that when Eyetrack III published its findings, headlines were the #1 most viewed thing on any website.

Not to pick on Yummy Tummy (a great soup and baked goods company), but landing on their homepage can be quite the confusing experience. What exactly am I buying here?

Yummy Tummy Screenshot

Conversely, look at how Shopify uses the top part of its site to explain to you (in the first few seconds) exactly what sort of offering you’ve come across.

Shopify home page

“Why This Over That?”

In this awesome WiderFunnel article, Chris Goward highlights how some selling points, or your “points of parity,” don’t really differentiate you from competitors. They simply sell benefits that all of your customers expect to see (“Our pencils come with erasers!”).

You must recognize that many companies will be competing for the general problem that you want to solve.

How then, can you stand out? This useful worksheet from MarketingExperiments makes a good point in that you needn’t shy away from your similarities with competitors, only that you must focus on your biggest point of difference when crafting your value proposition:

You may match a competitor on every dimension of value except one. In at least one element of value you need to excel. In this way you become the best choice for your optimum customer.

Thus, your points of parity will be those traits that prospects need to know about but won’t really impress anyone. Your point(s) of difference, however, will be why your solution is clearly the best option.

Use Your Customer’s Language

Jargon is the antithesis of an effective value proposition.

If your company homepage states that you will “create dynamic value through authentic user-centered synergistic architectures,” you’re drinking too much of the startup Kool-Aid (hilarious video) and aren’t thinking about your customers.

Generic, bland language is what conversion expert Michael Aagaard calls “wallpaper” copywriting; instead of incorporating the exact language that customers use, it substitutes vague, catch-all nonsense.

To find out how customers think about your product, you’re going to have to get feedback by talking with current customers, conduct exploratory interviews, create a dossier on your customer personas, and even conduct surveys in order to ensure that when customers find your offering, their reaction will be: “It’s like you read my mind!”

If you look at our marketing page for email support, you'll see we used the phrase "slip through the cracks" when referring to how some support emails can get lost while using standard email. This was done on purpose, as it was a very common complaint (with that exact language) that many of our customers switching over had mentioned before.

Strengthen Your Case

As you’ve probably seen from any number of conversion studies, there are a few persuasive elements you can use to strengthen the impact of any value proposition.
 As marketer Smriti Chawla highlights here, supporting elements can play a very important role in turning a good value proposition into a great one.

Here are a few persuasive elements that add authority to your value proposition:

  1. Customer testimonials. People like hearing from…well, other people. It’s why customer testimonials are so effective at getting people to consider and believe your offer. (Remember, just because you’re telling the truth doesn’t mean customers will believe you. It’s your job to convince them.)
  2. Assurance. Many companies promise the world, but if you can be specific about what you plan to offer to make sure customers are happy, it will go a long way. Instead of “Satisfaction Guaranteed,” try things like “Fall in love with it or send it back in 30 days, no charge!” You can also offer assurance through the form of support, community, and content. People love knowing that others will be there to help them with their purchase.
  3. Social proof. Outside of specific testimonials, social proof⎯such as notable press features⎯serve really well for customers who might feel hesitant about buying from a new company. You can also feature some interesting facts about your performance, or the notable brands you serve, like we do on the Help Scout homepage.
Help Scout Social Proof

In addition, Peep also outlines some other “boosters” you can use here, including things like free shipping, no setup charges, or no long-term contracts, or unlimited usage/licenses.

These elements should ideally be important specifically to your industry, and offer a valuable benefit that isn't typically seen among your competitors (ie, Zappos shipping practices back in the day).

Pick an Established Benefit

As mentioned above, your point of difference needs to be clear, since one of the roles of your value proposition will be to differentiate yourself from competitors.

As marketer Amanda Frazier highlights in this great article, one way to do this is to focus on an established benefit that everyone can recognize. These are the things that concern people in a variety of markets. Some examples include:

  1. Newness. “There’s nothing else like it” can be a very risky value prop in most industries. You often have to question why that may be the case, as when things go wrong (Segway), they go very wrong, but when they go right (iPod), you can snap up a very unique position in the marketplace.
  2. Customization. In some industries, the customers really love “the sandbox,” in that they like being able to create things on their own. While this advantage likely applies to the least amount of businesses, when it fits it works quite well—examples like Minecraft and Scion show that for some experiences, customization is everything.
  3. Design & Usability. Have you ever seen the Nest thermostat? Sure, people are buying it for its other benefits, but let’s be honest: one of the main selling points is definitely how cool it looks. Many buyers have a great eye for design and usability and will probably pay a premium to get it.
  4. Status. Do most people who buy a Ferrari know about the inner-workings of the car or even care about F-1 racing? A Timex can tell time in the same way that a Rolex can, but it isn’t as prestigious. Status is often achieved by having a superior product (cars and watches included), but many of these purchases are also “Veblen goods,” in that their price/status increases their demand.

Amanda goes on to list some other notable benefits, as does this article on the Harvard Business Review. Common benefits for customers like superior performance, reducing costs for customers, convenience, and of course price, all make for important elements to highlight in a value proposition.

7 Exceptional Value Propositions

Although a value proposition should really be embedded throughout your offer or website, examining the homepages of some excellent sites is a great way to learn the difference between a good and a bad value proposition.

Let’s take a look at some great examples below.

1. Bidsketch

Bidsketch Value Prop

Great example that couldn’t be more obvious, Bidsketch clearly offers a way to create client proposals, with a straightforward headline that is front and center. With a promise to make them really fast (save time/money) and make them beautiful without the hassle of hiring a designer, freelancers will instantly have their interest piqued.

2. Luxy Hair

Luxy Value Prop

As a fashion brand, Luxy Hair relies more on visuals. The image here was made to catch attention (remember that images can be a part of the value proposition), a subtle promise to make your hair just as beautiful. Scrolling down, the site highlights that Luxy has seen heavy coverage in fashion magazines and continues with copy that explains how their hair extensions will make hair look great without glue, waxes, or wastage (environmentally conscious buyers will love this point of difference).

3. Square

Square Value Prop

One of my favorite examples pairs startlingly simple copy with the perfect image, so even someone who’s never heard of Square can clearly see that this company is offering a way to accept credit cards on the go. With “no additional fees and next day deposits,” we know that Square wants to offer us assurance and convenience, which is important when selling new technology like this.

4. Synthesis Hosting

Synthesis Value Prop

Synthesis offers a great look at using points of parity vs. a point of difference just right. As a potential customer, we are promised a specific benefit (WordPress hosting that’s fast and secure), but we also see that we’ll get access to content marketing and SEO tools, a rare feature touted by hosting companies.

5. Markitekt

Markitekt Value Prop

Since I featured Peep Laja in this article, his website better be up to snuff! Fortunately, it definitely is, as you can see that Peep clearly focuses his agency’s offering far differently than most designers. Their job is to make your website sell, and their primary goal is to find design and CRO leaks that are costing you money⎯far better than the generic “you will get 3 design iterations, blah blah blah” that is so common from most design agencies.

6. Rapportive

Rapportive Value Prop

Who says free apps shouldn’t also have great value propositions? In order to encourage more people to try them out, Rapportive assembled this excellent homepage that shows you just what their interesting add-on does. To complement the copy, you get a visual of what you’ll see without even scrolling!

7. Unbounce

Unbounce Value Prop

Our friends at Unbounce make great use of highlighting their key benefit—that you can build, publish, and test your own landing pages without a technical guy. Better yet, the creation is done visually, but should you need help, the support team has got your back. Great points to highlight given that a large majority of their customers probably aren’t overly technical (hence, why they have been looking for Unbounce!)

It’s been a long journey down to the bottom of this post, so I only have one thing to ask you—what’s one more example of a company who you think has an amazing value proposition?

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Gregory Ciotti

About the author: Gregory Ciotti is on the customer success team at Help Scout, the invisible help desk software. Learn how Help Scout takes the headache out of email support.