Schmarketing - A clear value proposition cuts through the noise.

What is a Value Proposition?

A value proposition is like a heartfelt promise to your customers, letting them know exactly how your product or service will make their lives better. It’s about speaking their language, addressing their needs, and offering them a compelling reason to choose you over anyone else. It’s not just about what you sell, but why it matters to them. A strong value proposition resonates on a personal level, making your customers feel understood and valued.

Synonyms: Unique Selling Proposition (USP), Positioning Statement, Elevator Pitch, Brand Promise

Antonyms: Generic Offering, Non-Differentiated Product, Commodity Service, Undistinguished Product

Helpful Analogy

A value proposition is like an elevator pitch. Imagine you’re in an elevator with a potential client, and you have just 30 seconds to explain why they should choose your company. You wouldn’t just list features—you’d focus on the key benefits and unique value you offer that meet their needs.

The Unjargoned Truth on Value Propositions

“Your value proposition is not what you think you offer but what your customer perceives they receive.”

Jim Sterne

It was a rainy Monday afternoon when I found myself in a quaint little coffee shop, the kind that smells like old books and freshly ground beans. I was nursing a cappuccino and pretending to work on my laptop, but really, I was eavesdropping on a conversation between the barista and a customer.

“So, what makes your coffee different from the [Unnamed Green Mermaid Coffee Empire] down the street?” asked the customer, a middle-aged man with a skeptical look on his face.

The barista, a young woman with an enthusiasm that could power a small village, replied with a grin, “We don’t just sell coffee—we sell an experience. Our beans are ethically sourced, roasted to perfection, and every cup is brewed with love.”

The customer raised an eyebrow. “Roasted with love, huh? That’s cute.”

“Not just cute,” she said, leaning in conspiratorially. “It’s what our regulars love. They come here because they feel like family. It’s not just about the coffee—it’s about how they feel when they drink it.”

And there it was, a perfect example of a value proposition in action. 

It got me thinking about how we, as marketers, often get tangled in the intricate web of what we think we offer, forgetting that it’s not about us. It’s about them—the customer, the human on the other end of our marketing efforts.

You see, the value proposition isn’t just a snappy tagline or a bullet point on your website. It’s the heart and soul of what you deliver, perceived through the eyes of your customers. It’s not the beans or the brew—it’s the feeling of warmth and belonging that comes with every sip.

Imagine you’re at a party. You’ve spent hours getting ready, convinced that your carefully chosen outfit and witty anecdotes are what make you the star of the show. But in reality, it’s the way you make others feel that leaves a lasting impression. Do you listen? Do you laugh at their jokes? Do you make them feel like they belong?

That’s your value proposition. It’s not the shiny new feature you just launched—it’s the ease and joy your customers experience when they use it. It’s the difference between telling them you have the best product and showing them how their lives will improve because of it.

Think of the consumer as someone who’s perpetually stuck in a crowded subway, tired and irritable, clutching a lukewarm coffee. They’re bombarded with ads, emails, and pop-ups, each promising the moon and the stars. Your job is to be the oasis in their desert, the one clear voice that says, “Hey, I get you. I know what you need, and I’ve got it right here.”

Crafting a value proposition is like being a good friend. It’s not about boasting how great you are—it’s about understanding and addressing their needs. It’s about being empathetic and human. When you nail that, you’re not just selling a product—you’re building a relationship. 

So, let’s break it down. To create a value proposition that resonates, you need to know your audience inside out. What keeps them up at night? What makes their hearts sing? It’s like being a detective, but instead of solving crimes, you’re uncovering desires and frustrations.

Once you’ve gathered your clues, it’s time to translate them into a promise. This promise should be clear, concise, and compelling. It should make your audience feel like you’re speaking directly to them. Remember, it’s not about the bells and whistles—it’s about the benefits.

But here’s the kicker: you need to deliver on that promise. Consistently. Relentlessly. Because the moment you fail to meet their expectations, you’ve lost not just a customer, but their trust. And trust is harder to regain than a pair of lost socks in a laundromat.

In the end, your value proposition is a dance between perception and reality. It’s not just what you think you offer, but what your customers perceive they receive. When you get that right, you’re not just another face in the crowd—you’re the reason they keep coming back.

So next time you’re crafting a value proposition, think of that barista and her promise of coffee brewed with love. It might sound whimsical, but to her customers, it’s the difference between a cup of joe and a daily ritual they can’t live without. 

And that, my friends, is the true value we strive to deliver.

Stephen Boudreau serves as VP of Brand & Community at Virtuous Software. For over two decades, he has helped nonprofits leverage the digital space to grow their impact. To that end, Stephen co-founded RaiseDonors, a platform that provides nonprofits with technology and experiences that remove barriers to successful online fundraising. He is an avid (but aging) soccer player, audiobook enthusiast, and the heavily-disputed UNO champion of his household.

Copyright ©2024 Stephen Boudreau.