Understanding What a Value Proposition Is (And Isn’t)
6–7 minutes to read
The following is adapted from The Game Changing Attorney by Michael Mogill.
In the world of marketing, there are several terms that get confused when it comes to branding yourself or your business as different from your competitors.
You’ve probably heard that you need to tell potential customers your story. Have you ever wondered how that differed from your unique value proposition?
What about your message — is it the same thing as your story?
Something that should be simple can seem confusing if you don’t know how these elements are similar, different, and how they work together for your benefit.
Let’s define each of these terms to see what a value proposition is (and isn’t).
Story vs. Value Proposition vs. Message
To understand the interplay between these terms, let’s use Batman as an example:
- Story: Why you are the way you are. This helps define you so other people can understand where you came from. (e.g., Bruce Wayne’s parents were murdered when he was a child, which drove him to fight crime as Batman.)
- Value proposition: How you are different. (e.g., Batman does not possess any superpowers; rather, he relies on his genius intellect, physical prowess, martial arts abilities, detective skills, science and technology, vast wealth, intimidation, and indomitable will to take down major criminals in Gotham City.)
- Message: A powerful phrase associated with your brand. (e.g., “I am the Batman.”)
You want to use your story to define your unique value proposition, and then use both to hone it into a unique message. Let me give you an example from the legal world.
I once asked a client what his value proposition was, and he couldn’t tell me right away. He agreed that there was more to his success than opening his doors and attracting clients, but he found it difficult to point a finger on what made his firm unique.
I kept asking him questions until he discovered his value proposition. It was a doozy.
This attorney and his firm specialized in personal injury cases. However, not only did they represent countless clients in these cases, they lived it.
Every single attorney in his firm had endured accidents of their own and experienced what their clients were going through. How many other firms could say that?
Find Your Differentiator
A value proposition this strong is a surefire way to become a difference maker in your market. You may not be getting seven-figure settlements like these guys, but whatever success you’ve seen, there is a reason why you’re there.
If your clients are choosing to hire you and not your competitor, that didn’t happen on accident — but you won’t know why your clients chose you unless you ask them.
Was it word of mouth or how responsive you are to phone calls? Was it your background serving communities in need? What is the story you shared? Did you establish a bond with them?
Whatever it is, figure it out, and then hone it, refine it, and share it.
Your value proposition shouldn’t be based on things like price, services, or years of experience. That’s what everybody else says. If you’re a law firm with 300 years of combined experience, what does it mean if your competition has 301 years?
Does that one additional year of experience make them better? If that’s what you’ve chosen to compete on, then the answer, at least in the eyes of your market, is yes.
Whatever you choose to highlight is what the market will judge you on. If you love broadcasting your low prices, then all your clients will be bargain hunters rather than, say, clients who are looking for the best (rather than the cheapest) option.
What Do Your Clients Think?
I was working with an attorney who was having trouble defining his value proposition. He thought it was because he was a beast in the courtroom, a take-no-prisoners kind of guy who always generated amazing outcomes for his clients. He was quite proud of his courtroom skills, but I told him it wasn’t enough to differentiate his business.
He disagreed. He was certain this was his defining trait and said his courtroom reputation landed him all his cases. I suggested he verify that claim by asking a few of his past clients why they hired him over another firm. He agreed to play along.
Here’s an example of how those conversations with clients went:
Client: “I hired you because I connected with your story, and I liked you, and you were responsive and attentive to my needs, even on the weekends.”
Attorney: “Really? You didn’t hire me because I was aggressive in the courtroom?”
Client: “No. I cared about the fact that you were the only attorney who responded within five minutes, gave me your cell number, and came to my home to visit me.”
What does this story teach us? Your value proposition usually isn’t what you think it is. To be sure you know what makes you so special, ask the people who hired you.
Make Your Story Authentic and Relatable
Your story makes you authentic and relatable. How valuable are those two traits?
Well, just think about how desperate big brands are to capture it. There’s a reason big businesses try to market small. Sam Adams, for example, is a huge company, but in all their marketing, they position themselves as a craft beer and a family business. They know it gives them better credibility with their market, even if it is stretching the truth.
The best marketers spend a lot of effort to make sure their message is supported by reviews, testimonials, and first-hand accounts of their clients’ experiences.
That kind of content is best articulated through your clients. Instead of saying you’re the best, you let past clients say it for you. Let them talk about why they hired you, the benefits they got working with your firm, and why they’d recommend you to others.
The message is going to be more authentic coming from them. Furthermore, it taps into a classic storytelling convention: the hero’s journey. Some marketing experts would say that your clients are the hero of this journey, not you, but I disagree. Here’s why:
The client had a problem, they sought a solution, and you’re the hero who swooped in and saved the day. There’s absolutely a way to craft a marketing message where you can communicate that without coming off as cocky, arrogant, or self-absorbed.
Remember, you and your clients worked together to create that positive outcome, so you should be telling the story together too. Share your own story, your client’s problem, how you helped fix it, and then let them tell the story of what your help meant to them. That’s a much more compelling story than one in which you barely exist.