Think of what makes your business great, and the clear reasons why people should choose you over the competition. Now go to your website. Does the top of your homepage tell that same story to every new visitor?
If the answer is no, don’t worry. You can fix that with a value proposition, a clear statement of who you are and what your business can do for people.
A value proposition is the #1 thing that keeps a new visitor on your site. They live at the top of websites and tell someone in five seconds or less why they should choose you over the competition.
Take a look at Google Doc’s homepage:
In two short lines, you learn what Google Docs is and what it can do for you—no hunting around site required. By making it easy for anyone to understand, Google increases the number of interested people clicking to learn more.
A good value proposition is like a firm handshake from your site—strong, clear and convincing. A bad one is like one of those limp, dead-fish handshakes. You want to pull your hand away immediately.
Poor or missing value propositions are everywhere. Spend some time getting yours right, and you’ll have a distinct advantage online.
What’s in a value proposition?
The gist of a value proposition is as simple as this: “I offer x so y can z.” Grab a piece of paper and let’s start filling in the blanks.
X is for your offering. First things first, new people on your site want to know what you sell. You want to give customers a quick read on what makes you different and/or better. The easiest way to do this is to get specific. Start with the basic description of your product, then write down what the things that make your offering different from other similar businesses.
- “fitness coaching” versus “easy weight-loss strategies”
- “fine carpets” versus “handwoven contemporary rugs”
- “credit card processing” versus “on-the-go credit card payments”
Challenge yourself to think of new ways to label your goods and services. It will separate you from the sea of sameness among your competitors.
Y is for your ideal customer. The clearer a picture you have of your ideal customer, the easier it will be to convince them why they should choose you. A narrow audience is key.
It may sound counterintuitive to purposely narrow your customer pool—after all, you want more customers, not less!—but the more specific you can be about your ideal customers, the better you can address their needs, which will bring you more customers in the end.
I had a life coach client who said her audience was anyone interested in living their dreams. Well, that’s pretty much everyone on the planet. Her business was young and she was afraid to limit potential clients. She thought a value proposition like “Live your dream life” would appeal to everyone. But she struggled to come up with a value proposition that clicked with everyone under the sun. In the hopes of appealing to everyone, she described her services in generic terms and appealed to nobody.
We looked at her existing clients—what they wanted, what they were like, what they believed in—and wrote down the things they had in common. We found out the majority of her audience were people in the middle of their professional life who were feeling stuck and wanted to make a change.
Almost magically, it became easy to explain the value of her services to them:Practical strategies to help people take the next step in life.
This clicked with her intended audience. And new customers started to come through her website.
If your target audience isn’t clearly defined, take a look at your existing customers. Who are they, what do they have in common? Be confident that the clearer your audience, the better your value proposition will be.
Z is for the biggest benefit of all. Last, but definitely not least, is the ultimate benefit customers can expect from your product/services. This is the big one—that irresistible top value you offer. And it has to be good enough to make people want to learn more.
Go back to your target audience. Picture them as real people with real problems. How does your offering solve them?
Start by going wide. Brainstorm all the benefits, big or small, customers will get from your business. Then rank them in order of importance.
Look at each one and ask yourself: “then what?”. So, you offer outsourcing services to investment managers. Then what? They don’t have to do time-consuming admin tasks anymore. Then what? They have more time to focus on high-level projects. Then what? Their business grows.
See how that ultimate benefit—the ability to grow your business—is more compelling than the benefit of less time spent on admin? That’s what you want in your value proposition.
Here are more examples:
- An executive coach – “break free from the 9 to 5”
- A fitness product – get stronger in 30 days
- Outsourcing services – expand your business without the hassle
- Credit card processing – accept payments anywhere
You might assume people know the benefits of your product. They don’t. Make it easy for them by putting the ultimate benefit on a platter in your value proposition.
What are your competitors saying?
Now that your value proposition is starting to take shape, Google your competitors and see what they’re saying front and center on their sites. Knowing what you know now, are any of them good? Do they get you interested? Or are there holes?
Use them to your advantage. Good value propositions will inspire ideas for your own. Bad ones will give you something to avoid, and anything that’s missing is an invitation for you to come in and take it.
For example, you and another fitness coach both offer quick weight-loss strategies, but their website is crammed with a schedule of bootcamp sessions. That’s your opportunity to identify yourself as a specialist in quick weight-loss strategies. Bootcamp is merely one of those strategies.
Seeing what’s out there will help you write a value proposition that outperforms your competition.
How to craft a good value proposition for your site
If you didn’t have a value proposition before, simply filling in the blanks of “I offer x so y can z” and putting that on the top of your page is a vast improvement.
There are many other ways to write one. Anything goes, as long as it has the vital ingredients of who you are, what you offer and why it’s great. Here’s a simple formula that works well for small businesses.
1. Headline about the ultimate benefit that grabs your attention
2. Sub-headline that simply states your x, y and z
3. 3 bullet points of key benefits
Here are some examples of different approaches.
The simple call-to-action
Square’s value proposition is deceptively simple. In three words, the headline states the benefit and invites the reader to take action. Business owners instantly know this site is for them.
The emotional benefit
Skype is a great example of presenting the ultimate benefit. Yes, it lets you video chat for free. But more importantly, it helps keep people stay together and connected, no matter where they are. Enough said.
Mint’s value prop draws in the reader from an attention-grabbing headline down to focused key benefits. The reader gets a well-rounded view of Mint’s value with very little effort
The target audience
Slack’s headline says what they sell while name-dropping their target audience. The sub-headline then expands on the key benefits of using their app. Notice they say it helps make working life “more pleasant” – a nice example of “then what?” exploration.
How do I know if my value proposition is good or not?
Don’t attempt to write just one perfect value proposition. Come up with three different ones and try them out on friends, family and clients to see what sticks. This is good if you can’t decide which of your many benefits is most compelling.
If you don’t get the response you’d hoped for, ask people why. What isn’t clicking? What don’t they get? Adjust accordingly.
Remember, an OK value proposition is far better than no value proposition. If you’ve managed to come up with something that quickly says who you are, and what you can do for people, use that until you’ve found the perfect one. It will still serve you well.
A few things to avoid
1. Jargon – It’s crucial to talk like your customers. If they don’t use over-technical language, then your value proposition shouldn’t either. Nine times out of 10, straightforward and everyday writing is best. Try writing your value proposition as if you’re emailing a friend.
2. “Welcome to our site!” – This is a waste of precious real estate on your site. The best way to welcome people is by giving them the information they need, clearly and quickly. Trade this one for a clear value proposition.
3. “We’re the cheapest!” – Only one brand can be the cheapest, and it’s a dangerous race to the bottom. Anyway, people aren’t looking for the cheapest, they’re looking for the best value. So always avoid cheap and think about the benefits.