Developing a value proposition seems incredibly straightforward. Ultimately, it’s a short statement about how your product helps your customers, but this line of thinking is why most value propositions don’t stand up to scrutiny.
Before I dig into why this is, it’s important to define what a value proposition is – and isn’t.
What is a value proposition?
A value proposition is, in its simplest term, a positioning statement that explains the benefit you provide, who you provide that benefit to, and how you do it better than anyone else. In a traditional sense, it defines your target buyer, the problem you solve, and how you solve that problem better than the alternative solutions.
A job-based value proposition goes a step further. It identifies your target buyer, the core job they are trying to get done, how you resolve unmet needs relating to that job, and how you do that better than the alternatives.
Identify the target customer
To develop a great value proposition – whether it’s a job-driven one or not – you need to take an outside-in perspective. Before you can understand customer needs, you have to start by agreeing who the target customer is. Not defining your target buyer prevents you from understanding the jobs they are trying to complete – and how you may be able to help them complete those jobs better or cheaper.
Gaining agreement on this across your company can be challenging, but it’s important to push through this so that you can become market-driven. For the record, in most cases, your customers are external – they are not the C-suite or the board of directors – and they pay to purchase your product or service.
You need to know who you are trying to serve before you start trying to serve them. Build and they will come is not an effective innovation strategy. Effective customer identification enables you to gather deep insights. These tell you everything you need to build products and services that get the job done better or more cheaply than the alternatives.
Uncover the core job to be done
The core functional job is a stable, long-term point of convergence from which any additional needs can be defined. It’s also where value creation should be focused. Defining the core functional job to be done correctly is an essential stop on the path to predictable success – getting it wrong can be extremely costly. A narrow definition can prevent you from uncovering growth opportunities, while a broad definition delivers unsuitable insights.
Most products don’t get the whole job done. Thus, you must focus on discovering the entire job that the customer is trying to complete.
To avoid defining the job too narrowly, it’s important to understand how the current solutions to their problem fit into what they are trying to accomplish. What additional products are they using to create the ‘whole product solution’ that completes the job from start to finish? Ask questions like, “Why are you using that product?”, “What job are you ultimately trying to get done?”, and “What other products help you accomplish that job?”.
You can avoid defining the job too broadly by considering competitors, their products and capabilities. These are the companies and products who are currently being used to complete the job. Over time, can and will this product address this job from start-to-finish? If the answer is no, then you’ve defined the job too broadly from a practical standpoint. The insights you’ll gather on this job will be unusable.
Instead, focus on the target customers’ perspective, not the existing solution providers’ perspective. It’s easy to get side-tracked here, but stay focused on the customer.
Don’t overcomplicate the job. Stick to a single, simple statement that describes the customer job in functional terms. It is not a situation – it’s what a customer decides to do when they find themselves in a situation. It also shouldn’t be a hybrid of functional, social and emotional jobs – it’s purely functional and should use the following format:
Job statement = <verb> + <object> + <contextual clarification>
Define desired customer outcomes
Once the functional job is defined, you need to develop a job map for the functional job. This is a deconstructed, step-by-step visual representation of the core job. It explains exactly what the customer is trying to get done, in detail. This should describe the target customers’ needs, rather than what they’re doing to complete the job.
Strategyn founder Tony Ulwick created the universal job map to help categorise jobs into eight fundamental process steps. These are: define, locate, prepare, confirm, execute, monitor, modify and conclude. Desired outcomes are defined under each step of the job map – look in depth at how your target customers measure success when executing a job. Customers are very good at communicating metrics for success; they serve as your desired outcomes.
It’s important that they are defined consistently, using the following format:
Outcome statement = <direction of improvement> + <success metric> + <object> + <contextual clarification>
Discover unmet customer needs
At this point, you are able to start segmenting your customers. But instead of segmenting based on demographic or psychographic profiles, you’re segmenting based on their unmet needs. Demographic and psychographic profiling is ineffective in explaining why customers have different unmet needs.
The desired outcome statements you defined are in fact the customers’ needs. By following the same structure for each outcome statement, they are consistent and comparable. By ranking these outcomes according to their importance and how well they’re satisfied today in the eyes of your target customer, you discover both under and over-served outcomes.
Grouping customers by unique sets of under- and over-served outcomes reveals the segments you can target with different value propositions.
Developing a value proposition
By focusing on under- and over-served segments of the market, you can differentiate your product offering in the market. A sure-fire way to identify over-served segments of the market is to look at your competitors. Does all of their messaging say effectively the same thing? If so, that’s a red ocean and it’s likely your target personas are over-served in this regard.
Thus, the most effective value propositions focus on resolving unmet needs or underserved desired outcomes. It provides differentiation and, if you’ve done your homework correctly, it’ll reveal high-value needs that your customer has that nobody is serving. This creates competitive advantage.
Thus, to develop a winning value proposition, you must:
- Know where in the customer is underserved in the job story
- Communicate to customers that their unmet needs can be satisfied
- Satisfy those unmet needs significantly better than its competitors
My favoured framework for developing a value proposition is as follows:
For <the target buyers> who <the job to be done statement>, <product brand name> is a <new product type> that provides <the solution> for <the users’ unmet needs>, unlike <the product alternative>.
This framework clearly communicates who the product is for, what the customer is trying to achieve, how the product solves the customers’ unmet needs, and how it does so better than the alternatives. It also aligns your employees around a common vision. A vision that is focused on solving your customers’ problems and integral to your long-term success.