By Amanda Crangle

Imagine you pick up a guitar. You’ve never held one in your hands before and the feel of it is foreign to you. Carefully, you place your left hand around the neck of the instrument. Your brain recalls times you’ve seen others play and intuitively the thumb on your right-hand strums down the strings. You are not sure what you’re doing but slowly you begin to pick and strum, trying to decipher by ear, the chords for Happy Birthday. Now imagine you have a framework in front of you. It shows you the name of the strings, how to hold the guitar, how to read a guitar tab and finally, the tabs you’ll need in order to play Happy Birthday. The song is printed out with the chords above each word on which you should strum.

There’s no question that, for those of us who are not savants, we will learn to play the song much faster in the second scenario with the proven framework. When trying new things in life, there is almost always a framework you must learn first to become a master at it later. It helps us understand the basics so later we can test our own creative twists.

Crafting your company’s value proposition (VP), also known as your unique selling proposition, is no different. Before we begin, let’s discuss what a VP is and isn’t and why you need at least one for your business. Flint McGlaughlin, the Founder of MECLABS Institute, states that a VP is the answer to this question: “If I am your ideal customer, why should I buy from you rather than your competitor?[1]

Of all the articles, courses, worksheets and exercises I’ve gone through on this topic, this definition remains the most effective. The term value proposition is frequently thrown around and rarely is it executed well. I believe this has far less to do with creative prowess (or lack thereof) and more to do with not employing a practical, proven framework.

Each step in your marketing and sales process should have its own value proposition, helping your ideal potential customers continue on a thought process to say yes at each micro-step, resulting in a big macro-yes to do business with you. Value propositions are essential to differentiate ourselves and drive prospects to action. In a market-driven world where so many of the things we buy (including water treatment) are commoditized, it is imperative to reach into the mind of your target audience and understand what THEY find valuable.

Marketing effectively is much more dependent on the art of listen­ing and repeating back rather than pithy headlines or witty turn-of-phrase, though they do have their place. Once you have done the work to understand what your customers value about your business by asking questions, you’re ready to begin devel­oping your VP, which should effectively and efficiently convey your company’s value. When done correctly, it can help both potential customers and your entire organization understand what you do differently, thereby helping them become the hands and feet of communicating and delivering this value.

Without a clear value proposition, it’s likely each customer and team member will conjure up their own idea of what the VP is, causing unmet expectations, miscommunication and a struggling brand identity. With a strong VP, there is a concise promise, a clear expectation of what your customer can expect and what your team needs to deliver.

How do we evaluate our current value proposition(s) and work to create an even better one?
We use the following fundamentals to craft the answer to the value proposition question:[2]

  • Appeal – how much do I (the prospect) desire this offer/product/service?
  • Exclusivity – where else can I get this offer/product/service?
  • Credibility – can I trust your claims?
  • Clarity – what are you offering?

Let’s say your value proposition is the following: “Water Treat­ment Co of Anytown USA offers affordable water treatment equipment and expert staff with over 30 years of experience.” It’s likely that appeal will highly depend on the person who reads this. If they must have a solution immediately due to severe water quality issues or other demands, the appeal may be high. If, however, someone has little urgency to make a decision, this sentence does not generate its own appeal.

If a person were to visit three other competitor websites, they may find very similar value propositions making this company fade into a sea of options. While the terms affordable and expert are used, how can someone trust that those claims are true? There is no evidence to back them up. When making claims, it’s important they are qualified or quantified.

Clarity may depend on the person’s knowledge level of water treatment who sees this value proposition. If they have a strong understanding, they may know from that VP that you have a solution they need. This sentence, however, provides very little clarity about the problem being solved, the product(s) being offered and how it can help the consumer.

Now, let’s break down the criteria a bit more:
•Appeal: What do customers find most appealing about your products or services? If you ask them why they’ve purchased from you over other companies, what do they say? List these out in the order they pop up most.
•Exclusivity: What do you offer that no one else does? Is it a special guarantee? A staff of WQA-certified team members? Special training or experience that sets you apart? Perhaps it’s product-focused, like a unique water-saving feature or leak detector that’s not being used or advertised by the competition.
•Credibility: How do people know your claims are true? If part of your appeal is your excellent white-glove service, do you have five-star reviews with stories of you delivering on this promise you can link to or reference? If your products and/or people are certified, then state where the certification comes from.
•Clarity: What is the knowledge level of your target audience? How detailed do you need to be about your range of offerings? Is it enough to say you are a water treatment expert or do you need to include your top products in your VP?

Go through this exercise with your team. Multi-tracking is a great method for a task like this. In Chip Heath and Dan Heath’s book, Decisive, How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work, they discuss how this method is a great way to depoliticize the process of making decisions. First, you’ll provide your team with the above framework to build an effective VP. Then you’ll ask each of them individually to write out what makes your business appealing, what’s exclusive to your products or services and what credibility you have that can be proven. From there you set a time to review everyone’s ideas together, combining overlapping ideas, grouping them together and pulling out the best ideas.

As the leader, your next task is to compile this into a few different variations and ask for feedback on a scale of 1-5 on how each version meets the four criteria. Narrow it down to the top-scoring two and start to test these in your marketing and sales processes to see which one resonates more with your target audience.

Remember, your VP is the answer to the question, If I am your ideal customer, why should I buy from you rather than your competitor? Your answers, for the purpose of this exercise, should start with, because. Because… You’ll experience delicious clean water filtered to perfection through a custom-designed and [NSF/ANSI/WQA] certified system, installed and maintained with white-glove service from [industry association]-certified team members and backed by our five-year happiness guarantee.

Once you’ve honed in on your organization’s VP, start to drill down and create VPs for each of your products and services. Finally, your VP is your promise. How well you keep your promise will determine the strength of your brand. Need some feedback on your VP? Feel free to email me, I’d love to take a look and provide insights for testing!

1. MECLABS Institute. Value Proposition Development Online Certification Course.
2. Burstein, Daniel. “An Effective Value Proposition: What it is, why it is so important to business and marketing success, and how to use it.” Marketing Sherpa.

About the author
Amanda Crangle and the team at Lamplight Digital Media help residential and commercial water treatment companies profitably grow their dealerships using digital marketing. They have worked with over 100 water treatment dealerships spanning North America, managed millions of dollars in ad spend and performed over 1,000 scientific website split tests. Crangle intimately knows the water industry, having worked in a dealership as a sales rep and as a general manager. She and her team are passionate about expanding consumer awareness of water quality issues and providing education on final barrier solutions.


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