How to use a value proposition canvas for your brand messaging

Is your SaaS platform’s value proposition really what your customers want?Here’s how to build a value prop that resonates with your audience using a value proposition canvas.

To stand out in the sea of the same SaaS products, all with similar, generic website headlines and feature-focused content you see literally everywhere, one of the first things you should do is define your unique value proposition.

One that sets you apart from your competitors and resonates with the needs of your audience the moment they land on your website. 

And to build one, you need to go beyond just the features. You need to get inside your customer’s head first. Let’s look at how to do it using a value proposition canvas.

What is a value proposition canvas?

 

Created by Alexander Osterwalder, Yves Pigneur, and Alan Smith, the value prop canvas is a practical tool for value proposition design matching your customer’s pains and gains to what your product offers.

The value proposition canvas consists of two main areas to complete – your customer’s profile and your product’s value map.

Your goal is to see how the two match and then use that knowledge to get as sepcific with your brand messaging as you can. 

How to complete the value proposition canvas, step by step

Here’s a basic value proposition canvas template – you can download it and complete the elements with your product marketing team as you go through the article:

Define your customer profile

 

Start by creating your customer profile. But not just the demographic data describing the audience segment (though it’s an excellent place to start.) You’ll need a deeper insight into their decision-making process.

Their pains and gains, needs and motivations, their objections and expectations – the kind of information that will actually help you create better messaging and improve your overall sales and marketing.

This is NOT something you can do with just the age, gender, and job title.

And that’s exactly where we’re going with the customer profile in value prop canvas. You should map it per each of your customer personas if you have more than just one. Here is a look at an example customer profile:


Customer jobs: What tasks does the customer need to perform?

Pains: What difficulties do they come across?

Gains: What do they want to achieve?

Now, let’s take a closer look at how to complete the individual elements.

Specify the customer jobs to be done

This part should include the details of what your customers are looking to do that your product or service can help them with.

It’s the tasks they need to perform and the problems they’re trying to solve. You can look at each from several points of view, beyond just the physical actions they need to take, including:

  • Functional jobs: The practical things they need to do that you probably think of when you design your product features. This may be, for example, sending out a newsletter to an email list (if you have an email marketing platform) or setting up an interview with a candidate (if you sell ATS software subscriptions).
  • Social jobs: These are their goals related to their environment, team, and status within it. Maybe they’re working towards a promotion or trying to build an industry network. Or they might want to be seen as a valued leader within their team, and how they use your product might play a role.
  • Emotional jobs: These are tied to their preferences, likes and dislikes, etc. It’s what makes them feel good. Maybe they really enjoy writing the email copy, and the very thought of sending it out makes them excited people are going to read it. 

 

To arrive at what these should look like for your customer personas, here are some questions you could ask to help get you started:

  • What specific issues are they trying to solve with your tool?
  • What are their professional aspirations as they do it?
  • How do they want to feel when they accomplish their goals? And what do they need to get there?
  • What jobs make them satisfied?

 

 Pinpoint their pains

This is where you list your customer’s problems – or what the creators of the canvas call “customer pains” – that they encounter when performing their jobs to be done.

The list should include anything they likely want to avoid, are afraid of, or that could potentially prevent them from making their buying decision, such as:

  • The objections they have while using a product or service
  • The roadblocks they stumble upon when trying to reach their goals
  • The negative emotions they experience while struggling with completing their tasks
  • The risks and unwanted consequences they can face
  • Anything they don’t want or that keeps them from using a tool – like additional costs, time burdens, etc.

If we’re sticking to the email marketing platform example, this might be being afraid of ending up in the spam folder.

It could also be a fear of not knowing HTML and being afraid that putting an email together is too complicated, or that they might make a mistake along the way and then will have to face the consequences.

Anyone who’s ever sent out an email to thousands of recipients can certainly resonate with that anxious feeling.
 

Questions you can ask to arrive at what these should look like include:

  • What are the main challenges and difficulties your customer faces? (technical, organizational, financial, social, etc.)
  • What are they afraid might happen?
  • What is expensive for them? What’s too much time or effort?
  • What gets them frustrated while they’re doing their job?
  • And conversely, what makes them relieved?

Describe their gains

This is the fun part – the positive experiences and benefits your customers expect to get by using a product like yours, or what we’ll call here “customer gains”. These may be the practical benefits directly related to doing their job, like getting more sales from a well-delivered email. 

But it’s also the less tangible ones, like getting the satisfaction, and maybe also praise after completing a task, or more time by doing it quicker – and then spending that time with their family or doing something they love.

Some questions you could ask when filling out this part could include:

  • What makes your customers happy?
  • What do they consider an accomplished goal, and when?
  • What would make their lives and job easier/more enjoyable/more fulfilling?
  • What do they expect from a product? And what would be considered exceeding their expectations?

Turn to your actual customers for answers

Creating a truly helpful customer profile is not really about what you think a “woman in their forties holding a manager position” thinks. But rather, what people in your target group really think, feel, and communicate.

 

And you can find the answers you’re looking for in thorough customer research:

  • Look at customer service emails and chat logs
  • Talk to your sales reps (your sales team is a treasure trove of customer pains and gains)
  • Read customer reviews online
  • Run buyer intelligence surveys and user testing
  • Ask people why they leave when they cancel their subscription
  • Etc.  

 

This research will help you answer the questions above with reliable qualitative data you need to create a solid value proposition that speaks directly to your audience’s needs.

 

Create your value map

 

Now, on the other side of the equation, we have all the things you can offer that answer all of what you just listed in your customer profile.

Your job is to see if there’s a match between the two and then decide how to communicate it.

Here’s an example of what a value map looks like:

Products and services: The list of your products/services and features


Pain relievers: What about your product helps eliminate their challenges?


Gain creators: The positive benefits they get by using your product

And here’s how to complete it:

List your products and services

Start by writing down your the products you’re creating the value prop for, along with their specific features and variants that should enable your customers to perform their jobs to be done from the customer profile.

Think of the pain relievers

This is where you list how you make people’s work and lives better by eliminating their frustrations and obstacles.

Does your product solve the pains that you listed in the customer profile? If so, which ones, and what about it helps them overcome them? 

Some examples could be:

  • Saving them money by providing flexible pricing, eliminating the need for another subscription or hiring a designer/developer, etc.
  • Making the task they’re performing (like sending that email) less confusing and less complicated, even if they’re not a techie.
  • Eliminating risks, like, for example, going to the spam folder.
  • Eliminating other things they’re afraid of, like not being able to perform their job right and facing the consequences from their boss or team member. Who knows, maybe a clunky interface is one of the factors that keep them from performing better (and maybe getting a raise?)
  • Limiting the number of mistakes they can make while doing their jobs.
  • Reducing their worries and fears – and generally helping them sleep better, not bothered by work-related stuff and its repercussions.

Brainstorm the gain creators

This section should match the gains section in the customer profile. In other words, how exactly are you making them happier?

  • What things can they now do that were otherwise difficult or impossible?
  • What changes for them for the better when they’re performing their jobs using your product (instead of a competitor’s?)
  • And going even further, how can they make their dreams or aspirations come true?
  • Where’s the added value, how does your product provide it, and where does that take your customer?

I personally like to go with both pain relievers and gain providers as deep as I can. You can do it by continually asking the question “So what?” after each of the benefits or outcomes you list.

If they save time, what do they do with it? If they eliminate technical obstacles, what exactly does that mean for them?

This way, you can get to really specific outcomes that will make creating equally specific, compelling messaging much easier.

When to use the value proposition canvas?

Anytime you want to create messaging that resonates with your audience. Spending time on the value prop canvas will help you see how your value matches your customer needs in reality, giving you solid foundations for both product development and your marketing messages.

You canwork with the canvas every time you’re:

  • Creating a new product
  • Adding a major feature to the existing product
  • Targeting new audience segments
  • Defining the messaging strategy for your current product
  • Rebranding or creating a new marketing strategy or campaign

Some tips to get the most value out of your value canvas

To make sure filling out your value proposition canvas isn’t just a fun team exercise that doesn’t result in actually improving your brand message (and, ultimately, your sales results), here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Research first and never just assume you know things. The whole idea of the tool is to look at your product from your customer’s perspective. That means, what they say, think, and feel as opposed to what you (or your CEO) think you know about it.
  • Research for voice of customer data – the exact ways your target audience talks about their pains and gains and the exact value they’re looking for. It will help you immensely when creating messaging that sticks.
  • Even when well researched, your value proposition is just the first step. The next one is to validate it and get feedback from your target audience to see if it does resonate (or if you only think it “should work.”) You can use audience preference tests to select the elements of your value proposition that hit home.
  • And when you’ve crafted your key message based on the value proposition and put it on your website, test the messaging with actual people in your target group to see if it’s really as effective as you want it to be. This way, you’ll confirm whether you’re talking about the pains and gains they care about, and in a way that communicates the value clearly and compellingly.
  • Use the insights you collect while testing to refine your value proposition – and do that in a continuous manner.
  • Make your value proposition as distinct as possible, so it becomes your competitive advantage. What’s different about how you’re doing it when you look at your market segment? 

When you know the exact pains and gains and your customer's jobs to be done, it’s easier to come up with something super specific, going way beyond “making email marketing/website creation/or whatever else your product offers easier” (or “beautiful”.)

For best results, keep testing

Nailing down your value proposition is not a one-time thing. Depending on your niche, the market’s going to be changing at a certain pace, and so will your customer’s preferences, tastes, and possibly their pains and gains, too.

So, validate and test your value proposition regularly, along with the messaging you use to express it –  to always talk about what your audience really wants to hear.

Know exactly what your buyers want and improve your messaging

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