Why there’s a ‘value’ in value proposition!

Everyone who starts or runs a business, designs or markets a product will come across the necessity to create a value proposition. Something that adds values to the inputs of the business or product to the customer. Ideally that proposition is unique, and helps the business or product stand out. I’ll use the term business to mean both businesses and products from here on, for simplicity and because selling a product is a simple form of a whole business.

When this term comes up, it is often very abstract and diffuse. The business founder feels strongly about her idea and rationalizes the value to the customer. This sometimes gets a bad rap, and founders get told to start with what customers want, what solves their problems, and work backwards from there.

The result of this is what I’d call weak value propositions. This value propositions exist because the founder wants to be in business, or create an enterprise, and finds what looks good, or consults a business idea list or a trend list. While this can be a ‘smart’ choice, the resulting value proposition will have little to offer to help rally customers or employees into meaningful action. These value propositions can be humdrum to hack-ey or worse, downright scam-ey.

And this brings me to the core of this post. A real value proposition results from believing something about the world. From actually having values. These values compel the founder to action. They make writing copy or communicating your goals easy and meaningful.

For instance, Steve Jobs, to further beat a dead horse, valued beauty. He thought that computers have to be beautiful inside and out. That customers would value that, and pay a handsome premium. While this is conventional wisdom now, it certainly wasn’t then. In this regard, he won. His value proposition, coming from a deep believe in how the world should be, proved to be so right, that the resulting company is now so big and valuable, that some argue it should be broken up!

This illustrates the second kind of value propositions. Strong value propositions. Strong because they reflect a real value the founder has. This cannot be faked or rationalized. It comes from an authentic need to help change the world and make it better.

Dear reader, when you think about a value proposition for a business the next time, please stop, take a deep breath and ask yourself, how you’d want that business to impact the world. How it should change it. That will create a powerful start for the best work you ever did.