Value Propositions – The Good, The Bad & The Ugly
Updated: Jan 26
If you've found this post as you're thinking about how to handle a COVID-19 world, you might also be interested in my free ebook, Winning the Uncertainty: A Playbook for Strategy in Times of Survival, or my blog post on Winning the Uncertainty.
“Value proposition” is one of those phrases, like “paradigm shift” and “synergy”, that started out as a good idea…but was then so overused that a lot of people don’t understand the importance of the original thought.
But a clear value proposition is as important as ever, especially for growing and Stage 2 companies that are past start-up.
What is a value proposition? It’s a statement that describes who your customer is and how you make them better – the value that you create for them.
To get a better idea of what a value proposition should be, let’s look at the good, the bad, and the ugly of what it can be.
In my work as a marketing strategy consultant, I get to see all kinds of value propositions. Usually, they are OK, and have some redeeming qualities. But there are some that are simply awful.
The worst has to be a statement like, “We offer our value proposition to our customers.” In other words, the value proposition is… “our value proposition.” You can see why that would be a problem – it doesn’t describe who the customer is or how they improve. Often, if asked to tell more about the value proposition, these people will say, “We offer good service at a low cost.” That makes me cringe, too, but that’s a subject for another column…
Another ugly value proposition is doing everything for everybody. I recently asked the CEO of a marketing firm who his target market was, and was shocked when he shrugged his shoulders and said, “We work with pretty much anybody.” (Note: if your marketing firm does not have a clear value proposition itself, they can still help, but don’t ask them to develop yours.)
Look at this video – the value proposition seems to be…”we’re the most popular.” I’m sure there was more thinking behind it, but compare this one to the one I show farther below, and you’ll see that it doesn’t say much.
Which brings us to bad value propositions. With these, the company has usually successfully described the customer and the value – but what they describe…is a problem. Here are some examples of value propositions that are a strategic problem for a growing company:
– Basing the value on something only the owner can provide
– Basing the value on being good and cheap (note: please pick one if you haven’t already!)
– Basing the value on flexibility and quality
All of these value propositions work when a company is small and in start-up mode, but they are unsustainable in the long run. It’s almost impossible to grow a company when it is:
– Reliant on the owner to deliver the value (Steve Jobs being the exception that proves the rule)
– Dependent on finding labor that is good and cheap (there is not a lot of good, cheap labor available, folks!)
– Expected to provide high quality AND offer a lot of flexibility
So, what does a good value proposition look like? One of my favorite examples is demonstrated in an ad campaign that came out in 2010.
Listen to what they say they can do for their customers. And look at how they portray their customers – despite their broad appeal, it’s clear they are selling to people who are active. I think this is a great example of an ad being so “on strategy” that the value proposition is perfectly clear.
Here’s what I think a good value proposition looks like:
– It is focused on a specific market that is the appropriate size for the company’s resources
– It is focused on quality, cost, or speed – or if it’s a niche offering, then 2 of those 3
– It clarifies what the company doesn’t do
– It’s been developed by the team, so that everyone understands it and is committed to it
A good value proposition is just one of the pieces of a marketing strategy. If you’d like to learn about the other pieces, feel free to register for our upcoming teleseminar on marketing, at stage2secrets.com.