We like to think that just having an innovative solution is enough. That a great idea can take on the world by itself, and that if we just build our products correctly, people will come and start using them.
Creating something is a lot of fun. Grinding and putting it out there usually isn’t. It’s tough to get people on board with our vision, and marketing is a multi-billion industry for a reason.
That’s why we pay specialists in advertising, design thinking, user experience, etc — all these areas of expertise are worth the expense.
But there’s something that comes before all the other promotional work.
Something only the Entrepreneur and his/her trusted Viziers can handle.
The often overlooked driver of growth that informs your strategic decisions.
That’s the first thing that comes out of your mouth when someone asks you what your project is about. The thing stamped all over your business plan, website, press releases, and most other things.
It’s you promising the other person that sticking around is worth their time.
Yet we tend to spend criminally little time scheming to define this promise.
And once we do define it, we rarely come back for tweaks and improvements.
Well-designed Value Propositions create chemistry. They kickstart an “Oh, I gotta learn more. Let me explore this” reaction.
Contrary to popular belief, the badly designed ones don’t turn people off. Nobody is going to get a negative reaction to them. They won’t care enough.
Their eyes will glaze over. The lights turn off.
You get the picture. The most frustrating thing is that it creates a false sense of hope. Hope that one day they’ll see the light and get back into it.
It breaks my heart when tech entrepreneurs and startup founders try to act like big corporations. You can’t afford it, folks. Slapping something along the lines of “We care! Honesty and transparency!” as a promise of value is what corporations do to appear nice and non-threatening.
It’s decidedly NOT what you do to generate interest.
2. Making a big claim (“First”, “Best”, “Fastest”) without having proof and status to back it.
This one is straightforward. Humans have a nose for this. We evolved to assess our environment and instinctively scan for weakness and fakeness in others. This doesn’t mean you’re lying — it means you’re accidentally setting off a primal, subconscious bull detector in people.
Yes, we even do this through text. Be aware of that.
3. Divorcing your statements from the target audience.
It’s another big one. I know this sounds like a very basic marketing advice akin to “brah, like, know who you’re talking to, man. Targeting, yo”.
But that’s usually stuff we say to sound smart. Few entrepreneurs can tell you how their target audiences actually think, what their average day looks like, what their fears and frustrations are.
And when they can, most still center their thinking on their project.
4. Claiming to “disrupt”, “innovate”, or “change” the industry.
This holds no promise of value.
I know it sounds like it does, but then you have to explain why any of those are a good thing and what they even mean. You’ll either have to start throwing definitions at me, or get into an argument.
Either way, there is no immediate “click” there.
Change is scary and dangerous. Disruption and innovation are abstract concepts somewhere in Plato’s world of forms.
They aren’t things people can picture solving any of their immediate woes.
5. Offering no unique differentiation from dozens of others attempting to solve a similar problem.
Why should I choose Amazon over any other ecommerce store? Because they ship over 45 million products around the world, I can find everything there.
I know this isn’t a fair comparison. It’s an example.
You might be doing what everyone else does, but your traits are unique. Van Gogh was the one painter who cut off his ear, among other things.
No, I don’t recommend standing out through self-mutilation.
6. Throwing everything and the kitchen sink into your first couple sentences.
Rapid firing your solution and project description in a desperate attempt to get your point across doesn’t work. There’s one reason for this:
Information overload. You might be good at multitasking, but your short-term memory has a capacity. The brain blocks incoming signals after a while.
It’s why you don’t remember all the ad billboards you saw on your way home.
7. Never providing a reason to care.
This could have been #1. It’s why most Value Propositions lack memorability and snappiness. They don’t engage the person receiving them.
“He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how”
Look at me, pretentiously quoting Nietzsche. It fits, though. If I understand why your project is important, I’ll buy almost any explanation you provide later. Bar you saying that the aliens made it.
Although there are folks who would believe that, too.
8. Focusing on your product/service/startup/team too much.
Real talk moment, friends. Everyone knows you’re amazing, but they want to know what you can do for them. They don’t want the first thing out of your mouth to be self-centered.
Negotiation is one step in the world of our counterpart.
Extend some courtesy before getting into your life story.
9. Settling for a generic phrase over risking to turn people away.
This is another bad trait startup founders picked up from large corporations. Sometimes you have to cut off 40% of your prospects in order to get great conversions on the other 60%.
That means laser-focusing your message to only a subset of the market.
Spoiler: the folks who are left out were never your prospects to begin with.
10. Never connecting VP to your general strategy and prospect’s journey.
Entrepreneurs thing marketing agencies and hired minions are going to help them with this. Unfortunately, in the modern environment marketers are focused on numbers and not strategy.
Few of them think about direction and larger strategy.
I always say to my clients that KPIs are useless without a mission. Progress in it is the yardstick by which you measure their success.
Most folks already have this, but never connect it to their promise of value.
11. Milquetoast claims.
For the love of everything that is holy, don’t embarrass yourself with false modesty and downplaying your importance. The reason is the same as #1 and #9 on this list.
You can’t bloody afford it.
Failure to engage hurts much more for you than for a large company with an established customer base. Keep that in the back of your mind.
I know it’s not a verb.
It’s a state of being. And I can only be in that state long enough before getting frustrated with the way some folks are curbing their potential.
We’re losing innovators left right and center because of these mistakes.
If you read this far, you understand how important a solid Value Proposition is. Go on a crusade to craft one or rebuild your existing one, build a strategy around it, then create something great.
If you want my help with this, find me at https://alexpartin.com/scheming-sessions