Saturday, June 22, 2024
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Crafting Simple Value Statements

Products can be like babies for founders and we all know what babies are like.  When we’re talking about MY baby, I’ve got a lot to say.  Look at her remarkable crawling technique! Her charming smile! And she smells like flowers!  Meanwhile there isn’t much to say about other babies that are just doing regular baby stuff like crawling and smiling and stinking like poop.

Much like proud parents, founders often go overboard with messaging by talking a lot about features that are either non-differentiating or irrelevant for their target market.  When working on messaging for startups, it’s often harder to get agreement on what NOT to say than it is to decide what should get talked about.

Here’s a strategy for getting to a simple value proposition that I’ve used that seems to work.

1.  List out your target segments and stack rank them.  If you don’t have a released product yet or are in the early stages of getting customer feedback, you won’t know exactly what these are but your research should give you some clues.  Here’s a hint – the whole wide world including people without a computer is not a segment.  I’ve yet to work with a company where we couldn’t identify at least 5 potential target segments that we could stack rank according to which ones we thought we had the best chances with.

2.  List your key differentiated points of value.  This isn’t a feature list.  It’s is a list of unique benefits that your features provide.  Things on this list should look like “Gives network managers better network visibility to stop a virus before it spreads”  or “Let’s you place a call to anyone without having to remember a phone number” or “Lets users create high quality videos they can share with their friends”.  It should not say things like “provides layer 4 visibility”, or “includes an identity repository” or “HD support”.  You are listing why customers care about the feature, not the feature itself or how it was implemented.  They also need to be different from what your competitors provide.  If alternative solutions for your segments provide the benefit (even if they do it in a different way), leave it off the list.

3. Rank the points of value against your target segments – Putting yourself in the customer’s shoes, rank the importance of that benefit to each of the segments as High, Medium or Low.

4. Pick the top 2 or 3 benefits and craft a value statement – Look at which ones ranked the highest for your segments, pick a couple and write your messages around them.  Be brutally honest at this step.  Customers coming to your site won’t read past bullet point #3 and if your top 3 benefits don’t get you a meeting with a client, the next 5 won’t either.  You can hit them with the longer list and the details later.  What you are trying to get to here is the essence of why people should be interested.  You are moving customers from “What the heck is this thing?” to “Tell me more.”  Craft a value statement that describes the key couple of benefits that your product provides for your most interesting segments and leave the rest out.  Coming back to my baby analogy – I can easily look at a couple of photos of your baby and decide for myself if he’s cute or not.  Showing me another 50 isn’t going to change my mind.

5.  Refine it forever – The simultaneously fantastic and horrifying thing about messaging is that you are never done.  Messages can always be better.  The more you interact with customers and collect feedback and see the way your product is being used, the more you can refine (and sometimes completely re-write) your value statements.  If you haven’t touched your messages in a month, I can guarantee you they need an update.

I’ve covered traditional value proposition creation in my post Value Propositions 101 and how to create a corporate one-line description in Can You Tell me What you Do?

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  1. I would add that, when crafting the value statement, it’s generally better to think in terms of problems solved rather than benefits. Typically, the closer you can tie the value statement to a pain point, the more compelling it will be.

    • I agree but only partly. There are different ways to solve a problem that will provide different benefits and it’s ultimately the benefit that matters. I do agree that talking about the problem is helpful for customers to self-identify (as in “oh yeah, I feel that pain”) but sometimes they can’t envision the benefit of removing that pain until you describe it to them. Other times they don’t fully understand the pain until you point out your benefits – there are loads of examples of products that have been introduced into the market where there seemed to be no real pain that have thrived. The Apple tablet for example will be interesting to watch in that respect.
      Thanks for the comment,

      • I didn’t mean to imply that talking about the problem is sufficient. You must also describe what the product does to address the problem.

        My point was that, in the effort to communicate supposed benefits, we often neglect to fully understand the problem being solved. And solving a problem is itself a benefit, by definition.

        Also, if you examine the successful products that seemed not to address a pain point, I think you’ll find in most cases that they did address a pain point. I call them dormant problems. It is our job as product managers to uncover and articulate those pain points.

  2. April: Great piece. This kind of structure to decide how to communicate about products is is clear and doable. Sometimes, especially in enterprise software, we get caught up in re-communicating other competitor’s value statements rather than thinking about our own statements. How do you recommend going through the ranking process for statements in step 3? Can you talk about what makes a value statements as “high”, other than our own Kool-aid ;)? Rob

    • Hi Rob,
      Thanks for the comment. It’s tricky. It works a lot better if you have data – customer surveys, interviews. Alternatively you can take a guess at it and then walk through it with some customers and see if they agree. The trick here is to make sure you aren’t ranking everything as high. If it starts to look like that they you have to do comparisons – which one of these two things is most important – and put a cap on the number of “high’s” you are allowed to have.

  3. Thanks for this post. We are prototyping a new site and struggling with getting the messages short and clear enough to say what we want to say. What do you do when you’ve got more than one audience and the different audiences are concerned with different things?

    • Hi Jonathan,
      Thanks for your comment. I’ve not seen many examples where companies have been able to message to two really different audiences (for example, where you have buyers and sellers or direct customers vs. channel partners) with a single message. In those cases you have to think about how to guide the different groups to different messages. This might be as simple as having 2 boxes on your home page or as complex as having a set of separate pages for separate groups. If the audiences are different but related – ie they are both buyers with only slightly different needs, then I would try to stick to your most important messages and not complicate things.

      • The good news is that it’s getting easier now to produce and distribute materials, including web content, for specific audiences.

        I am just in the process of a complete overhaul in our messaging and we are creating different messages for distinct audiences (e.g. channel vs. end user, and different buyer types within those segments).

        I found one of the most valuable parts of this exercise was gathering the data first hand through participating in sales calls (I do 3-5 a week)and interviewing our existing customers).

        • Hey Amrita – thanks for the comment and I couldn’t agree more that getting in front of customers is really critical. The opinions you get from sales and services people might give you some clues which direction to go in but there is not substitution for first hand research.

  4. Thanks for this post. I love your blog!
    The problem at my company is that we can’t get agreement on what is the most important thing to talk about. In product management we think we know the answers from talking to customers but our CEO disagrees with us. How do we prove we are right?

    • Hi,
      Thanks for the comment and I’m glad you like it!
      You need to gather data and make a case. Survey your customers, do interviews, and document everything in minute detail. Video interviews work well if the CEO doesn’t trust your interpretations. There’s no other way around it. If it’s possible to do A/B testing to test your hypothesis vs. the CEO’s, do it. It can’t be your opinion vs. someone else’s – it needs to be based on facts. If at the end you can prove that your are right and the CEO still doesn’t believe you, it’s time to get a new job. 🙂
      Good luck!

  5. […] Messaging and Positioning (by segment) – Working from the previous section create a set of messages for each segment.  This should be a succinct set of no more than 3/4 messages that get across your key points. (For more on this see my post on Crafting Simple Value Statements) […]

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