Writing the Value Proposition: Part Two – A Point of Difference

Writing the Value Proposition: Part Two – A Point of Difference

Low price is a great way to sell a commodity. That’s not marketing, though. That’s efficiency.

Seth Godin

To fully understand the power of a value proposition, you need to grasp the secret to success in a competitive market. Want to learn the secret? Read on.

If you read the first article in this series, you’ll remember it finished with me staring at a blank screen, with pages of notes, trying to craft a short, snappy value proposition. If you haven’t read it, it’s right here. Go on, I’ll just be killing time till you get back.

Read it? With me so far? Good.

The First Attempt

When writing anything, I start with a brain dump. Just get the ideas out, no matter how long it is. I can then pick through it, cut words and sentences until I have a first draft I can hold up to scrutiny. After a couple of hours I had produced the following eight lines.

We lead with ideas instead of following with fads.

We nurture with guidance instead of restricting with rules

We partner for success instead of exploiting for a bill.

– and we do all of this so –

You take control instead of going with the flow

You plan for the future, instead of praying for next month

You play for the win instead of just to compete

You become profitable, instead of breaking even

I emailed it to my marketing partners and happily went off to fill my mug with industrial strength caffeine. Amazingly, returning from the kitchen I was met with positive responses. They loved it. The eight lines encompassed everything we had discussed in a snappy way.

You may be thinking that if everyone was happy, my job was done. Remember though, this is only article two in a five part series. Eight weeks of hell was only one week old.

The Missing Ingredient

I reread the words that everyone liked so much. Just a little time away from the screen had given me a fresh eye and I knew the words were wrong. Not only slightly wrong, but completely wrong. I could feel the hours of wasted work pressing down on me as I typed the email outlining my concerns.

This is the email I wrote, and I quote it in full here because I think it succinctly and clearly outlines the main message of this article.

“The milk chocolate melts in your mouth, not in your hand.” M&Ms

“You get fresh, hot pizza delivered to your door in 30 minutes or less — or it’s free.” Dominos Pizza

“When your package absolutely, positively has to get there overnight.” FedEx

Each of these classic VPs focuses on only one of the many features relevant to their product. This feature ends up characterising their whole business and especially their marketing.

I feel the VP we are working on hasn’t distilled down to that one point yet and is still too scatter-gun.

Also, none of our values are quantified – or even quantifiable – unlike the above. A customer knows exactly what it feels like to have a melted choc in their hand. There is a clear price quantity bounded by a defined time element in the Dominos one. The FedEx VP has a clear time expectation.

Our VP is still unclear and vague. How can we get a clear qualifier into any of our key points as this will be what makes our value proposition the true picture of the company’s value to a consumer?

I think, on rereading, what we have is a lovely company mission statement – not a VP.

What had struck me was that there was nothing in our value proposition our competition couldn’t also claim.

The point of difference is the essential core to a value proposition. It is the factor that illustrates why your offer is of greater value than your competition’s, even if the price is the same.

“But we have a point of difference,” said my boss. “People come to us for our fantastic customer service.”

I disagreed. I knew why customer service wasn’t the missing ingredient, but still found evidence to back me up.

Many times, software companies stress personalised service and, when pressed, sales reps say that they themselves and their commitment to the prospect constitute the value proposition. This rarely works.

From Ecommerce Times.

You may believe you offer the best service available, but a customer does not see this as added value. To them, perfect service is assumed to be part of the package. By marketing your customer service, you imply your product is nothing beyond what the customer already expects.

Back to the Start

Another meeting was scheduled.

And another.

In fact, quite a few meetings. Two weeks of meetings. This time, we were trying to identify that single point of difference that would mark us out from the competition. And we were stumped.

With online services such as hosting, domain names and search engine optimisation, there is not great deal of difference to be had. Domain names in particular are a highly uniform product, regulated by industry bodies, so that a domain name registered through Netregistry has to be the same as it would be if registered with anyone else. Most of our other services would also have no tangible difference to the layman. Marketing our particular choice of server configuration or the technicalities of our web design process would mean little to most of our customers.

With methods of service being the only notable difference, and customer service being ruled out as a VP, we had a problem.

The Eureka Moment

I reflected on our competition. It had always bugged me that every time we announced a new service or launched a new campaign, our competition would follow a few months later with a similar approach. We knew we were seen within the industry as a forward thinking company, but how could I craft this into a point of difference for a VP?

This was the ‘eureka’ moment. We were offering ideas, fresh ways of using the same products and online concepts to help small businesses become successful online. I shared my thoughts with the group. “We have the ideas the rest of the industry follows.”

Ideas were the point of difference, the value-added extra that made our product greater. While our competition merely trotted out the same generic products, we were experimenting, creating new services, trying new techniques.

We had our key message, and it actually enhanced the core customer perceptions we had originally chosen – thought leadership, partnership and flexibility.

Now I could really start work. Surely now I had all these ingredients, the process would be simple now?

Five more weeks of hell to go…

Return next Wednesday for Part Three – Quantify and Qualify.


  1. Writing the Value Proposition: Part Three – Quantify & Qualify