If you want to learn how to write a value proposition that:
- Communicates your value,
- Connects with your customers,
- And increases your revenue….
… you’ll love this guide.
I’m going to teach you the five simple steps I’ve been using for the last eight years to write effective value propositions for industry-leading law firms, nationally-renowned marketing agencies, SaaS companies, massive startups, small businesses and more… and I’m going to do it while walking you through a real-life example from a previous client.
But before we learn how to write a value proposition, let’s break down what it is and what separates the good ones from the bad ones.
What Is A Value Proposition?
A value proposition is a statement that summarizes what a business is offering, who they are offering it to, and ideally, what makes their offer special or unique.
When we talk about a value proposition these days, we are typically referring to the opening statement of a website page, usually a “landing page” intended to be the first thing people see when they “land” on your website.
Your value proposition is similar to an elevator pitch, but instead of 20-30 seconds in an elevator, you have less than 15 seconds to grab the attention of your website visitors and convince them to stay on your page.
And just like a headline, that’s ultimately the goal of a value proposition: to convince the right visitors to stay and continue reading.
The 3 Components Of A Great Value Proposition (Plus Live Example)
There are three things we want to accomplish with our value proposition:
- Clearly define the offer
- Specify who it’s for
- Differentiate your value
If you can accomplish two of these things, that is usually enough to make a good value proposition, and if you can accomplish all three, you have the makings of a great value proposition.
Let’s look at an example.
Here’s a value proposition I wrote for a client this last year.
Let’s see how we did measuring against our three objectives.
Objective #1: Clearly define the offer.
Our headline is devoted to the offer: “Outsourced Split Testing”. In the first paragraph, we then elaborate on this, specifying that we “[build] A/B, Multivariate, and Personalization Experiments across the entire customer journey.”
This is really the most important part of a value proposition. If your reader can’t immediately determine what is being offered, then who it’s for and why it’s uniquely valuable don’t really matter.
Objective #2: Specify who it’s for.
Our target audience is clearly specified in the subheadline: “For CRO Agencies & In-House Campaigns”.
This lets anyone from an agency or in-house team know immediately that the service being offered is specifically catered to them, and as a result, they are much more likely to take interest in reading through the rest of the pitch.
We don’t care about our offer being interesting to anyone else. Other types of people aren’t going to purchase our service anyway. We only care about how the “right” people – aka our target audience – experiences our value proposition.
Keep in mind that you don’t always have to be this direct. Sometimes, you can communicate who an offer is for through implication, and sometimes, it’s inherently inherently implied within the nature of the offer itself.
But if you can be direct, be direct. It’s almost always going to help.
Objective #3: Differentiate your value.
In this example, we differentiate using the two explanatory paragraphs:
- “years of experience”
- “over 5,000 campaigns under our belt”
- “doesn’t matter the device, application, platform, or complexity”
- “We’ll provide the technical expertise and deliver a flawless campaign at offshore prices.”
This is usually the trickiest part of writing a value proposition. The differentiating value might be difficult to communicate concisely, or it might be difficult to differentiate the offer in the first place.
Notice in our example that we aren’t just using a headline. We are making use of the entire “hero shot” here – the full screen the visitor can see when they first land on the page.
A value proposition is whatever you can fit on this page:
- It could be a simple headline + subheadline
- It could be a headline + video
- It could be a headline + checklist
- It could be any combination of elements that fit on this screen
In our example, we choose to go with two explanatory paragraphs, because we felt like we needed a bit more space to communicate the differentiating value this brand was able to bring to the table.
How To Write A Value Proposition In 5 Steps
Now that we’ve covered what makes a value proposition great, it’s time to learn a proven, repeatable process you can use to write a great value proposition any time, on demand.
Simply follow these five steps:
- Ask and answer the right questions
- Fill in the blanks of this core value proposition formula
- Expand the copy and experiment with formatting
- Brainstorm multiple versions
- Test and finalize your value proposition
1. Ask & Answer The Right Questions
Writing a great value proposition starts with having the right information.
If you are writing for your own business, asking yourself the right questions will help you focus on the information that really matters and not miss the forest for the trees when putting your value proposition together.
If you are a website copywriter putting together a value proposition for a client, having the right questionnaire upfront (steal mine here) will give you the information you need to write and prevent a lot of unnecessary follow up throughout the project.
So what sort of information are we looking for?
- First, we need to understand the offer.
- Second, we need to understand the customer.
- Third, we are looking for anything that will help us connect the value of the offer to the needs of the customer.
For the first one, we need to understand everything about the offer:
- What is it?
- How does it work?
- How does it benefit the customer?
For the second one, we need to understand as much as we can about the customer, particularly within the context of the offer:
- Who is the target customer?
- What do they look like (job role, demographic, hobbies, goals, etc)?
- What benefits/solutions/achievements are they seeking?
- What pain points, frustrations, challenges are they wanting to overcome?
For the third one, our goal is to match the benefits of our offer to the needs of the customer:
- Our offer provides a benefit that they are looking for
- Our offer solves a pain point that frustrates them
- Our offer can play a pivotal role in helping them achieve a desired outcome
The first two are fairly straightforward. For the third one, we are looking for two types of customers needs:
- They have a problem or pain point that they want solved or alleviated.
- They have a desired benefit or goal they are hoping to experience or achieve.
If you are more of a visual learner, here’s a simple, helpful illustration from Strategyzer, which they refer to as a “value proposition canvas”:
Let’s connect this back to our previous example.
Objective #1: Learn about the offer.
Using my copywriting questionnaire, the existing site copy, and conversations with the founder, I was able to determine the following info about the offer:
- Offer was done-for-you testing development
- Performed by experienced remote team
- 5,000+ campaigns performed
- Fast, efficient process for common tests like split tests and multivariate tests
- No technical ceiling – able to do much higher difficulty stuff like API-based tests, personalization campaigns, and multi-platform campaigns – most testing teams can’t do this level of complexity on their own
- Remote, offshore team lets them provide extremely favorable pricing
- Founder is passionate about paying competitive local wages and developing local talent, and wants to make sure offshore isn’t construed as exploitation
Reading through this, you might be thinking, “I don’t know what any of this means… does that mean I can’t be a copywriter?”
I only know what all this means (loosely), because I’ve been working in this field for the last 6 years. I’ve written a lot of content in the CRO space, and I’ve worked with a lot of the major players.
But I learned on the go. I never said, “I can’t take this job, because I don’t understand your industry well enough yet.” If I didn’t understand something, I went out and learned as much as I could about it.
I do often reject projects in industries I have no desire to learn about.
But I never reject a project simply because I’m afraid I won’t be able to learn what I need to learn to do a good job.
Objective #2: Learn about the customers.
The customers were very straightforward for this client.
- They work primarily with CRO agencies and in-house testing departments
- In-house departments often don’t have the expertise needed on staff
- They may have bought expensive testing software without realizing what would be needed to use it
- CRO agencies struggle with staffing around seasonal demand – they need a lot of staff to fulfill development requirements in seasons with lots of testing, and then they lose money keeping staff on through seasons with low testing.
- Agencies also don’t usually have developers on staff who can handle higher complexity tests
- Both profiles tend to be fine with strategy and ideas. The difficulties come down to not having either the staff, budget or both to execute testing ideas at the level they’d like to.
Time to connect the offer to the customers.
Objective #3: Connect the offer to the customer.
What we identified here is that for an agency, the big value would be in being able to instantly access a talented development with no long-term financial commitments, either for the purpose of executing a specific, higher complexity campaign, or for handling seasonal testing demand that will drop off at a later date.
For in-house departments, the big value would be in having ongoing developmental help, either as an outsourced core testing team or an add-on team for higher complexity campaigns.
Speaking to two segments at once, each with different needs, can be difficult and sometimes even ill-advised. In this case, we felt there were enough similarities to speak to both at once, so that’s what we tried to do.
2. Fill In The Blanks Of This Value Proposition Formula
There is a simple value proposition formula that I think everyone should start with:
You probably won’t finish with this, but it’s a great starting point, because it forces you to write out some of the key pieces that matter, which again, helps you not miss the forest for the trees.
It may sound like I’m repeating myself, but losing sight of the key goals of a value proposition is the main reason so many published value propositions suck.
Continuing with our example, we’d end up with the following value proposition:
Take note that this exercise serves as a nice little confirmation that we did step #1 correctly. We should have all the info we need to fill in this simple formula, and actually filling it out will help confirm that we have what we need.
It also is a legitimately good starting point.
The above value proposition explains what needs to be explained. It’s definitely too wordy and a bit awkward to read, but if you were to tell a potential client the above statement, they would understand what you are doing enough to know whether or not they’re interested in learning more.
From here, we need to expand and experiment.
3. Expand The Copy & Experiment With Formatting
As we mentioned earlier, your value proposition isn’t limited to a headline.
When someone lands on a web page, they are going to see an entire screen’s worth of content, and that’s the real estate you have to work with.
Let’s look at a few examples of what is possible in terms of format and content.
Here’s the simplest possible format from my own website copywriting landing page:
The format here is simply a subheadline, a headline, and a CTA button.
You could potentially simplify this even further to a single headline, but I personally don’t like doing anything less than a headline + subheadline.
Here’s another format option, courtesy of a client project I’m currently working on.As you can see, this value proposition is built primarily around an introductory video and also includes a headline, subheadline, CTA paragraph, and CTA button
Another great option is to incorporate social proof, like this example from Carrot.com, written by copywriter Mike Blankenship.
Real estate professionals are bombarded with new lead-gen software 24/7. This value proposition combines 3 different types of social proof (Inc 5,000 brand, 5-star reviews, 2+ million leads) to immediately stand out and suggest this is a superior product to what the reader has seen before.
For one final example from a past client, this value proposition on CoachTube.com invites the reader to immediately engage with the product by entering their sport.
There are tons of possibilities when it comes to formatting a value proposition. Don’t limit yourself, but also… don’t try to be TOO creative or unique.
The goal isn’t to be different for the sake of being different. Your format should focus only on facilitating the message. If a simple headline and subheadline do that best, stick to that.
4. Brainstorm Multiple Versions
Once you have:
- Asked and answered the right questions
- Established the core value proposition
- And determined your format (or a few viable formats)
… it’s time to brainstorm.
Go nuts and create 10+ unique value propositions.
They will all be saying similar things, but you want to really force yourself to create different phrasing, word choices, and emphases for each iteration.
There are a few reasons for this.
First, it’s very, very easy to get mentally locked in one direction when creating a value proposition, and you are usually going to be locked into whatever you thought of first, not what is actually best.
Forcing yourself to go in different directions will get you out of that mental rut and allow you to discover new iterations that might be better.
Second, if you are working with a client, their preferences might head in a different direction than your initial train of thought. Brainstorming numerous ideas allows them to steer the direction of the value proposition rather than simply saying, “yes/no” to a single idea.
Brainstorming can be time-consuming, but in my opinion, it’s worth it to spend extra time on the value proposition, because it’s probably the single most important statement on the entire website.
5. Test & Finalize The Value Proposition Copy
Once you’ve brainstormed all your ideas, select a winner or a handful of winners, and then continue improving them.
See if you can further improve the wording, the flow, and ultimately, the message.
Once you and your clients (if relevant) are happy with the final result, it’s time to run a few simple tests.
The 5-Second Test
The first test is what I call “the 5-second test”.
Grab the first person you can find who doesn’t know what your business does. Show them the value proposition for 5 seconds and then ask them to tell you what they think your business is offering, who they are offering it to, and why they should care.
They should at least have a clear understanding of what you are offering and be able to articulate the concept back to you. If they can also identify the target audience and why that audience might be interested in your offer, even better.
If they don’t have any conceptual understanding of your offer and are only able to simply quote back the language used in the value proposition, you probably need to make some changes.
As a caveat, if your offer is extremely niche, and the average person on the street isn’t able to identify some of the terminology or concepts that make up your value proposition, this test might not be helpful to you, but for 90% of businesses, it works great.
This is a quick, cheap test to run, so try to run it with 5 people if possible.
The Target Consumer Test
Random testers are great because they come to the scene with no preconceived ideas or biases, but ultimately, the niche consumers we’ll be targeting do in fact have preconceived ideas and biase.
This is why the 2nd test you should run before publishing a value proposition should be with your target consumers.
Give them a solid 10 seconds to view your value proposition, and then ask them the following questions:
- What questions do you have after reading this?
- What is this business offering?
- Who are they offering it to?
- Are there any benefits you’d expect to come along with this offer?
- Are they any problems you could see this offer solving?
- Does anything about this offer excite you?
- Does anything about this offer bring up concerns?
Feel free to add, subtract, or adjust these questions as desired. Our goal here is to get a deeper understanding about how our real audience will be interacting with our value proposition.
Try to run this test with 1-3 people if possible.
The Split Test
This one is a little bit more advanced, but if you are rewriting the value proposition for an existing web page, it’s important to verify that the new messaging doesn’t just feel better… it actually works better with your real visitors.
A split test uses software to compare the performance of our new value proposition against the old value proposition in real time with a live audience.
The software will show the old value proposition to an incoming visitor, then show the new value proposition to the next visitor, and so on, alternating between versions for a fixed length of time.
Once the test is complete, we can compare results.
For example, we might see that the old value proposition was shown to 145 visitors, had 23 people click on the CTA button and 2 made a purchase. Meanwhile, the new value proposition was shown to 146 visitors, had 30 people click on the CTA button and 3 made a purchase.
This would give us an indication that we are probably heading in the right direction, but since the results are not statistically significant, we would want to run a longer test.
If you’d like to take a more in-depth look into split testing, check out this guide I co-authored with Brian Massey of ConversionSciences.com.
I hope you’ve found this guide helpful.
If you’d like to learn more about building a copywriting business, click here to learn how to become a copywriter.
Always in-depth and helpful, Jacob. You make it so darn easy to take action immediately. Thanks for the post.
Thanks Dennis, glad you found it helpful!
Hey Jacob, that was a wonderful and easily comprehendible explanation. Thank you for your valuable post!
Thanks Nadeem, glad you found it helpful!
This was really insightful. You’re doing a great job.
Super helpful, super easy to understand, super in depth as usual.
You’re a legend Jacob! Thanks a million 🙂