How To Come Up With A Value Proposition When What You Sell ISN’T Unique

How To Come Up With A Value Proposition When What You Sell ISN'T Unique

How do I come up with a unique value proposition? What I sell isn’t unique.

If you’re working on improving your business, you know there’s no shortage about why you need a unique value proposition.

You’ve probably even seen a handful of solid examples, but when you go to write your own, you hit a wall.

You’ve got too many competitors, they’re selling the same stuff, and it looks like all the good value propositions are taken.

What can you do?

In this article, let’s explore the process and mindset necessary to create a killer value proposition when you’re in a crowded market.

By the time we’re done you’ll know:

  • How to examine the competition
  • The reasons why people buy online
  • & How turn shopper’s buying motivations into a unique value proposition that sells

Disclaimer: this article is a companion piece to Peep’s “Useful Value Proposition Examples ( and How To Create A Good One)

As such, if value propositions are new to you, or you’d like an in-depth look at value proposition best practices, you should open his article in another tab, and read it after you’re done here.

Not Being Alone Isn’t Such A Bad Thing.

According to business development firm Ernst & Young, the top 4 most popular categories for online purchases are:

  • Computer Related Products (40%)
  • Books (20%)
  • Travel Industry (16%)
  • Clothing (10%)

If you sell in any of these categories, I don’t need to tell you how crowded they are.

However, that’s not a bad thing. Take comfort in knowing that potential customers already have established buying patterns in these markets, so at least part of the friction has been removed.

Sure, there’s a ton of competition, but guess what? They don’t know what they’re doing either! 95% of decisions are usually based on the C.E.O’s opinions – I’ll put money on it.

More competition means more competitive data. More competitive data means better analysis. Better analysis means more ways to tear the competition apart.

You Can’t Be Unique If You Don’t Know What The Competition Is Doing.

Repeat after me, competition analysis is not for the purpose of copying a bunch of stuff you think is working.

Instead, your analysis to discover where the competition falls short, and where you are strong.

The quickest way I think to find this is by performing a SWOT Analysis on yourself and your direct competitors.

SWOT

image source

Sidenote: if you’ve never heard of SWOT, here’s a list of SWOT Analysis on popular brands for you to cut your teeth on.

Think this doesn’t matter? Nivea for Men – a men’s skincare product (which is a highly saturated market) gives us this excellent case study where the SWOT analysis was essential to a strategy that allowed them to expand the market and grow international revenues by 20% !

Nivea Swot

Nivea leveraged their market research to establish themselves as the best in men’s skincare. They even won the consumer voted FHM award for best men’s skincare product line.

Where Does Your Value Proposition Come From?

Your value proposition should come from what you do better than the competition, not from forcing copywriters to be clever.

Look at the weaknesses of your competitors & ask yourself:

  • Is your website easier to use?
  • Can your product be better tailored to the market?
  • Do you have a kick ass customer service team?
  • Is your return policy or customer guarantee superior?
  • Are your prices lower?
  • Do you have faster shipping options?
  • Is your atmosphere better?

Realistically, there will be problems you can’t solve.

For example, If you can’t offer free shipping, and the competition can – that’s not a good value proposition, and it could hurt you if you tried to force it without a plan.

But being more knowledgeable, having a friendlier staff, or a cooler inventory, are things you could work in to a unique value proposition.

If your value proposition makes the benefit immediately apparent to the customer, you’ll be a step ahead – because everyone else is still trying to compete on features.

You Are Not The Products You Sell.

Gregory at HelpScout offers up this great example of a unique selling proposition for a auto-repair shop (another typically crowded market) which lead to a 58% increase in conversions for the advertiser.

Which is a more unique value proposition?

image source Gregory says:

“The first value proposition just doesn’t drill down enough on what the customer is getting—the addition of “just one hour” to the second statement adds a very specific benefit to justify why the customer should buy from them.”

More importantly,  this value proposition establishes the garage as the “just one hour” guys.”Speed of service” is what they’re selling.

Similarly, Domino’s never claimed to be “The Best Pizza You’ve Ever Tasted.”

Instead, they understood when someone wants pizza, they want it now! They built their business on “You get fresh, hot pizza, delivered to you in under 30 minutes – or it’s free!”

dominos

Shoe retailer 6pm.com isn’t selling shoes & clothing – they’re selling high fashion at deep discounts.

6pm example

The point is, in crowded markets, you’re not really selling the product, you’re selling customer experience.

What Experience Are You Really Selling?

7-Reasons-Why-People-Buy-Online-Improve-Your-B2B-E-Commerce-Site

In this infographic by Invesp (which sources data from eMarketer and Internetretailer.com) you can see the top 7 reasons people buy online. In order, they are:

  • Low Prices (38%)
  • Shopping Convenience (35.1%)
  • Easy To Compare (33.1%)
  • Free Shipping (31.5%)
  • Time Saving (30.8%)
  • Easy To Buy (29.2%)
  • Range of Products (17.4%)

Don’t take these things at face value though, because not everything is as it seems.

Some of these reasons can be overridden by something else, others can be “hacked” so pay attention, because this is where we might find your unique value proposition.

Low Prices

Nobody wants to race to the bottom on price. If it’s something you can do while protecting your profits, and you’re confident you can make up for it in volume, by all means, do it.

But if you’re like the rest of us,  you’re not jumping at the thought.

Instead of boasting “the lowest prices,” tap into the low price mindset by offering to match the lowest advertised price from a direct competitor in your value proposition.

The best prices on HD televisions. Find a better price from a competitor* and we’ll beat it- guaranteed”

best buy low price guarentee

Alternatively, your value proposition could highlight superior customer service options.

geeksquad

A survey by Forrester asked 4,600 US consumers across 12 industries which they thought was more important, “great customer service” or “low prices.” Customer service won across the board.

Shopping Convenience

Shoppers order when and where it’s most convenient for them.

Traditionally, convenience could mean having great recommendations, or an easy to navigate website with fast load times. While those things absolutely matter, the killer value proposition for shopping convenience now may be emphasizing that your store is convenient to access, no matter where your customer is located. (looking at you Travelsmith.com)

Mobile Devices Are Changing eCommerce- Here's How

image source

Every year, mobile e-commerce sees significant growth and is redefining how we shop online.

Though it’s typically a no-no to compare yourself to the big guys, the amount of “Mobile only” visitors to the top 10 digital retailers reveals how our views towards mobile shopping are changing.

retaileraudiencebydevice

image source

If your competition isn’t doing mobile, and your mobile traffic warrants it, you should strongly consider highlighting a mobile friendly version of your site.

There’s so much we could talk about on this subject, but for now, let’s just say if you’re able to crack mobile before your competitors do, your value proposition is all but written.

 Easy To Compare

People comparison shop, there’s no way around it.

The average consumer will visit three websites before making a purchase, and will likely spend more money with sites they visit more frequently.

Honestly, making things easy to compare probably won’t be your leading value proposition.

(Maybe if you’re in insurance or accommodations industry…maybe)

progressive insurance checker kayak value proposition

But if you’re competing on price or a better product features, it couldn’t hurt to add some comparison shopping functionality as a bonus to back your claim.

Peep gives some really excellent examples over here. My favorite is SugarSync.

Again, it is unlikely that comparison shopping will be your main value proposition, but if the market is overcrowded it could be a great way to reinforce whatever claim you make in your value proposition.

Free Shipping

For whatever reason, a free shipping offer that saves a customer $6.99 is more appealing to many than a discount that cuts the purchase price by $10.

David Bell, Wharton free ground shipping Free shipping is another one that won’t likely be your primary value proposition (unless no other competitor offers it) but rather as a bonus to the main proposition.

Free shipping matters.  47% of people have indicated they will abandon a shopping cart if free shipping is not available.

There are a number of ways you can offer free shipping – all free all the time, free during specific holidays, free over a certain dollar amount, etc. – or you can create a model that eventually puts you in the position to offer free shipping all the time.

Big Commerce says this about including free shipping as part of your offer :

“free shipping… can help increase your average order value by up to 30% in just a few short months. You simply need to work out your average order value and average shipping cost, and then offer free shipping on your average order value + 10%, or whichever amount covers your average shipping cost and provides enough of a profit to slightly increase your average order value.”

Time Saving/ Easy to Buy

We want ways to get our products faster. There are two ways I can think of this in modern e-commerce.

The first – is having the stuff  buy regularly delivered to where you need it on a subscription basis.

Manpacks. Underwear  Socks   Razor Subscription

Amazon introduced a similar “Subscribe & Save” program to help customers “Save up to 15% off and get automatic delivery on your most frequent purchases.”   subscribe and save Finally, one of my favorites, DollarShaveClub has taken the headache out of buying (or rather, never really replacing) your razor.

 dollar shave club

What I like about these services is that their value propositions are basically selling the idea that you don’t have to shop for stupid, but necessary things.

With a little creativity a subscription service could be adapted to many kinds of e-commerce models, saving customer’s time and making it much easier to buy.

The second method of time-saving and easy buying is through product recommendation engines. Admin-Page-screen-shot-400x315 This case study on 4Tell.com talks about how SmartPak Canine received a 36% increase in revenue by implementing a product recommendation system.

If their value proposition were focused on their recommendation system,  it might read something like ” Give us 10 seconds and we’ll recommend the best supplements based on your dog’s breed, age & size.

Range of Products

No way around it, selection matters.

You should have enough inventory to satisfy your customers demands.

Now, “range of products” doesn’t mean you have to carry every product under the sun. If you were a fashion e-tailor that only carried 20-30 styles, that’d be fine IF you carried the product I was looking for in my size.

Take plus size women’s clothing retailer Torrid for example:

Torrid

The value proposition here isn’t “we have the most selection” it’s “we have good looking stuff, probably in your size” which for the plus size market, is important.

Tangentially, grocery store Trader Joe’s carry’s less than 1/10 the selection of other grocery stores, but averages twice the revenue per square foot of direct competitor Whole Foods.  How?

They carry only what customers want. They watch the trends and listen closely to their target market. They may not have 40 kinds of peanut butter, but their entire range of products is far more appealing for the target buyer.

 

How Do I Know If My Value Proposition Is Any Good?

After you’ve done the competitive analysis & figured out your angle, all that’s left is to write your value proposition.

You can test your value proposition by running Facebook or Google ads targeting competitor traffic,  and point them to a landing page where the value proposition sits front and center.

Trevor over at Lean Startup Machine used this method to validate a startup idea & value proposition, and got 50 signups within the first 2 hours of the page being live. is my copy any good

If you’re hesitant to go live without internal testing, use this copywriting evaluation process to fine tune your value proposition before spending money, or segmenting traffic.

Conclusion

I know how daunting and vulnerable putting a new value proposition in a crowded market feels.

You’ve put a lot of work into figuring out the competition, and how you can outdo them. There’s a chance you could fail, and it’s terrifying to think all that effort was for nothing.

But the truth is, while everyone else is out there copying image styles or site structure, you’re taking notes on the things they take for granted.

You’ll come out of nowhere, and not a single one of them will know what to do.

So be brave, test your idea. If it doesn’t work, learn from what you did and try again.

Don’t get precious about it. They’re just words after all.

Join the Conversation Add Your Comment

  1. Great blog post Tommy. I know you are in online marketing, so you know how difficult it can be as much as anyone. I’ve actually heard, “Oh – you’re one of those” when telling people I did SEO, and so I knew a change was needed LOL.

    1. Peep Laja

      Haha. When I’m at a cocktail party and people ask me “so what do you do?” – I used to reply “conversion optimization”, and they just rolled their eyes. Now I say “I sell money”, and they’re instantly intrigued.

  2. Lol! yep.

    When I was just doing SEO I started saying things like “I make businesses #1 on Google.” (terrible value prop) or “I put businesses in front of the people actively searching for what they sell.” (a little better)

    It would be interesting to see how that value proposition would have evolved as the product offering became more specific.

    Something like “Know where Google thinks you should rank in 24 Hours – Guaranteed” then offer a brief SEO audit – or something like that.

  3. Great post, Tommy! Very thorough and I learned a lot. Thanks.

  4. Great article! So much more thorough than what you see on most blogs, and yet still written in a totally accessible way.

    Despite being a marketer for over 30 years, I still find that it is sometimes difficult to come up with a good USP for myself (but generally much easier for my clients!)

    Cheers!

  5. If you think you can, your right. If you think you can’t, your right. It’s a matter of the mindset. This was good article. I really liked the disclaimer and “companion” article. This was a first time thing to me.

  6. I thought David Ogilvy covered this way back in the day, in *Confessions of an Advertising Man.* He related how Ogilvy and Mather had the Ivory Soap account. Soap is soap, right? So, he came up with: Ivory Soap. So pure it floats. And it worked. But, when you really think about it, who cares that it floats? I mean, WTH? But that set it apart, and consumers were convinced that floating soap was somehow a Good Thing. LOL.

    Of course, customers are a lot more cynical these days. If you told ’em it floats, they probably *would* say, “So what?”

    1. You’ve got a good point, but you’re focusing on the wrong side of that sentence for value proposition.

      The value proposition here isn’t – Soap that “floats” – it’s “Soap so pure”

      Think about who Ivory is marketed to. Looking at their Facebook page now, I see a smiling mom with her two kids and (I’m guessing) her husband.

      http://ivory.com

      In fact, their tagline now is “keep it pure, clean & simple” so the purity value proposition is still holding on after what? 40 years of Ogilvy’s original value proposition.

      The floating part of the value proposition you mentioned is more novelty than anything else, that extra “hook” that gets it to stand out in the customers mind (Ogilvy was an ad man after all) but the real selling point is “Purity” which is very important to their target demographic.

      Thanks for bringing that up!

  7. Great Post Tommy with compelling rationale. I like all of the examples you gave and therefore shared on my Linkedin wall. I am a fan of great quality posts like yours, so please keep up sharing!

    1. Thanks so much for sharing Stefanie :-) Might I be able to connect with you on linkedin?

  8. This is a very helpful article. Selling something that isn’t unique is a difficult task, maybe even a burden… But if you come up with a good value proposition I think it gets easier. Thank you for great tips.

    1. No problem :-) Though, I would think if what you’re selling is a burden, shouldn’t you try selling something else?

  9. Hey Peep, thanks for the post jam-packed with fantastic ideas! Also appreciate the 4-Tell shout-out. Although, our engineers flinched just a little when they heard “give us 10 seconds and we’ll recommend the best…”

    In reality, we’d be out of business if we took that long – what shopper waits more than 3 seconds for a page to load before they give up and hit a competitor’s site? (In retail, the competition literally is only a click away!) It’s more like .1 second for our recommendations. …and usually the entire page loads slower than we do. :)

    1. Sorry about that! (Don’t think I’m weird for answering, I wrote the article ;-)

      Well, please, feel free to test that value prop :-) I’d love to see if it works for you.

      Have you considered partnering with a dedicated hosting company like Wp-Engine? Might be interesting to work faster hosting into your product offering.

  10. Pro Tip: You read the book, positioning the battle for your mind. Every brand can establish a unique position for themselves, you just need to find the opening in the marketplace and play to that niche.

  11. Hey Tommy,

    Excellent piece on this topic. The impact of creating (and testing) a strong value prop can’t be overstated — it’s one of the most critical optimization opportunities, yet most organizations are still way off the mark.

    This post and the companion post from Peep are an awesome starting point (and thanks for those props/links to my MEx post on this topic — cool to stumble on to those).

    One thing I’d add is this isn’t a one-and-done process. It needs to be part of an annual review or sales/marketing audit, because these can get outdated fast, especially in very competitive markets. Nailing this is so important it should be the core of any company’s annual retreat or leadership offsite.

    Looking forward to more kick-ass posts!

    Cheers — Hunter

  12. Thank you for such a deep analysis – it added a couple of thinks to check and analyse to my marketing plan. The most interesting thing is that though all marketing methods are known, they are targeted to ecommerce here and it helps those who are just starting new online business or evaluating the idea

  13. Another Oscar winning post.

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