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.
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.
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:
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.
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:
To arrive at what these should look like for your customer personas, here are some questions you could ask to help get you started:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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.
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:
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.
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:
This section should match the gains section in the customer profile. In other words, how exactly are you making them happier?
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.
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:
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:
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”.)
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.