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In search of a Value Proposition

by Chris Sutton | December 3, 2013
In search of a Value Proposition

In the daily course of our business we get to talk to a great many business owners and managers from companies large and small, from corporates to passionate start-ups. Often we’ll start off on the subject of website design, which is what we do of course, but end up in a wide ranging discussion about all sorts of aspects of their business.

What surprises me about many of those conversations, is how often the business doesn’t have a defined unique value proposition (UVP; also called a unique sales proposition, USP)

One conversation recently was with a café owner who had recently opened in a strip with two other cafes nearby and was struggling to get any traction. When I asked him what was unique about his business, he said they made great coffee (not true) and the service was excellent. I suspect that just about any café owner would tell you those items were the unique elements of their business (in fact good service isn’t a value proposition at all, it’s an expectation), but when they’re clearly not unique, how to you persuade customers to try your café?

Just to digress a little, the very phrase “unique value proposition” can be daunting, if you’re a local business and there are 3 or 4 stores nearby who do the same thing, it’s difficult to be unique. I was discussing this with a friend (and well respected consultant), John Groarke, recently and he had a great definition that is much more useful. When he’s talking to a business on this topic, he asks “what is distinctive” about the business, and that makes so much more sense from a practical perspective. It’s much easier to find distinctive qualities in a business than unique qualities.

Getting back to the original point, very many business people simply don’t have a clear view about what is unique or distinctive about their business.

The impact of this can be far greater than you might imagine, because it’s this distinctive or unique business quality that defines so much of the communication that a business will have with potential customers, whether that’s sales conversations, advertising, PR, and of course online activity, from the website to social media. For the website, the distinctive qualities will define the style the copy will written in, the page layout style and even the graphic design. These elements all need to be crafted to support the distinctive value proposition (DVP).

How do I go about defining my DVP?

If your business is a start-up you will have had an idea or concept that fills an unmet need. At the start up stage you won't have any or many customers to ask, so the easiest way to check if your idea is unique or distinctive is to "shop" your likely competition instead. (and that’s a great discipline to get into even when you are established)

If your business has been established for a while, you can both shop your competitors and ask your best source of information; your customers. Finding the real reasons your customers buy your product instead of a competitor's will help you define your DVP.

So what are some examples of an effective DVP?

Charles Revson, the founder of Revlon, famously said that “We sell hope, not makeup.”. brilliantly concise, this both alludes to a problem (problem based DVPs can be very effective) as well as a solution.

Domino's Pizza - "30 Minutes or It's Free", the problem with pizza delivery can be the time it takes, so another very concise DVP (and quite likely unique at the time) that also provides a solution.

M&Ms - The milk chocolate melts in your mouth, not in your hand. This works really well, because it’s unusual, but still defines and addresses a problem.

A DVP is usually discovered, it grows out of your customers’ needs. If you set out to solve the needs of your customers, your business will naturally become valuable and viable.

A trap to avoid when you are defining your DVP is to think that there’s nothing distinctive about your product or service so you need to be the cheapest. (there can be exceptions, some major chains have defined their business on price, but they are that, exceptions to the rule).

Put yourself in your customer's shoes and don’t make the mistake of being so in love with your product or service that you forget that what you really need to do is satisfy your customer's needs.

OK, I’ve defined my DVP, now what?

Defining a DVP isn’t a magic bullet, but what it will do is to subtlety inform how you view the business, and more importantly how your customers see your products and services. This isn’t something to be stuck away in a drawer, it’s the lifeblood of any business.

One last point to make, a DVP can and will change as the market changes. What was once a unique and compelling quality can become irrelevant as time passes and customer needs change, so keep revisiting the question, and be prepared to change and adjust to new circumstances.

SiteSuite Website Design - Online Marketing Blog Author Chris Sutton

Co-founder and Managing Director of SiteSuite Australasia, Australian pioneers in web design and ecommerce since 1997. For more from Chris you can follow him on Google+ or Twitter, and for further professional musings and thoughts on his other passions in life,

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