I know what you’re thinking: my what now?

There are endless buzzwords, meaningless jargon and empty terminology that surround the world of online marketing, and there may be a temptation to simply throw “value proposition” in that same category. But the idea of a value proposition isn’t some meaningless, trivial detail when it comes to attracting customers.

It’s not one thing. It’s everything.

Your value proposition is the very essence of what makes your product or service attractive to customers. It represents the value you bring to their life when they choose to make that purchase. It has the feeling of a buzzword, to be sure, but it’s a lot more succinct than saying “the reason people should buy your stuff.”

What makes your value proposition important is that everything else springs from it. How you market yourself, what your branding feels like, what your messaging sounds like, all of it exists to convey the value proposition of your business. It’s the bedrock on which everything else rests, which is why it’s so crucial that it be perfect.

As the underpinnings of your entire business’ marketing strategy, it needs to be completely solid. It needs to be specific in terms of the benefits the customer enjoys, focusing on the pain point it alleviates or the improvements it brings. It also needs to convey exactly how those benefits are exclusive to your business and not your competitors.

It’s a tall order, but it cannot be stressed enough how crucial it is to your business. So where to begin?

Start with your target audience. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that everyone wants or needs your product. For every business under the sun, there is a certain segment of people who will have literally no need for it. You may be tempted to present yourself to everyone, but you’ll always find greater success if you identify who you’re selling to before you begin.

Fortunately, the online world has put a galaxy of this kind of analysis at your fingertips. Looking at existing social media followers and customers, you should be able to determine everything from average age, income, family makeup and even more in-depth information like what kind of music they enjoy or how they spend their free time. It may seem extraneous, but every little bit of intelligence helps as you plot out who you are selling to.

This not only helps you define your value, it helps establish your voice as you begin marketing. At every step in the process, your authentic connection with your customer base is key to being heard.

Then, narrow down to the exact benefits your product or service creates, and the exact need it fills. A common mistake here is assuming that telling your customer your business is the best will suffice. Everyone thinks their business is the best. What specific need do you fill and how do you do it better than your competition? That’s what you need to tell your customers.

And you need to make sure you’re not selling them hype. As Buddy the Elf learned, just because a sign hangs in a diner window saying “World’s Best Cup of Coffee” doesn’t mean it is actually the world’s best cup of coffee. It’s usually pretty terrible. You want to avoid similar hyperbole when you’re crafting your value proposition. Stick to the facts – just the concrete benefits.

This is the part where you’re looking for some great examples. Can you handle those in list form? Thought you could.

MailChimp: Send Better Email

For clarity of purpose and scarcity of words, it’s hard to beat MailChimp’s three-word value proposition. Pure and simple: your mail is good, it could be better.

BustedTees: Brings you the highest quality graphic tees on the net

A little qualified, sure, but effective. In this case, they looked at their customer and saw the type of younger person who is buying graphic tees online without trying them on. As that person, it’s easy to get burned by shirts that don’t fit or whose graphics fall apart. BustedTees addresses that pain point head on.

Freshbooks: Small business accounting software designed for you, the non-accountant

This is a particularly clever value proposition in the way it puts the focus on the customer. By pointing directly at its target audience, this simple but effective message lets them fill in their own blanks at what their needs might be.

Listia: Sell your old stuff. Get new stuff you love

If it were any more simple or straightforward they would have to resort to drawing you a picture. In eight words, they’ve defined everything about what the business does.

In short, a value proposition goes well beyond a slogan. Well beyond a mission statement. It is the basic raison d’etre that defines all of those things. It’s the promise you make to your customers, and it’s the engine that drives all of your marketing efforts.

So get it right.

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