In the 1995 movie, Mr. Holland’s Opus, Richard Dreyfus’ character endeavors to pursue his song writing passion but everyday life – teaching, family duties, and extra-curricular school activity – prevent him from progressing. Just when he seems ready to make headway, life throws him a curve. Throughout the movie we see him struggling to compose late at night while his wife sleeps, yet we never see him finish his symphony. 

On the final day of his teaching career, brought about by a forced retirement from the school board, Mr. Holland feels unappreciated and secretly considers his life wasted, largely because his symphony was never played. While leaving the school with his wife and son Mr. Holland hears a ruckus in the school auditorium. He enters to find an entire orchestra comprised of past music students, including the current Governor, awaiting him to perform his symphony for the first time in front of a packed house. Mr. Holland channels his emotions and successfully conducts his completed opus. 

Mr. Holland’s experience teaches me and every marketing person that we need to overcome the pressures of every-day business activity to perform a basic step, namely writing the value proposition, for our opus (a marketing campaign) to be successful. 

I write from personal experience, as this has sometimes happened to me. Some clients are so eager for me to develop their marketing campaign that they ask me to skip developing the value proposition. Instead they want me to just start writing the collateral text or the website content. It seems they think that a good marketer can dream up a successful message without proper framing of the message. Now, I think I’m pretty good at messaging, but not that good. I’d venture to say most marketers are not either. 

Why is it so important to get the value proposition right? A value proposition serves as a guide for selecting a) the key customer-perceived benefits to promote and b) the emotive terminology that can compel customer buying behavior. Without a value proposition in place there is a tendency to flounder or miss getting these two points right. 

What is a value proposition? It is a succinct statement that describes how a company’s product or service addresses the needs or wants of its target customers in a uniquely satisfying manner. The value proposition codifies the value that your company brings to the market; value being defined as the buyer’s appraisal of a product’s ability to satisfy their wants. The greater the value, the higher the demand. 

Perhaps it is easiest to understand what a value proposition is by reviewing some prominent companies. For instance, Southwest Airlines’ value proposition is, “we can get you where you want to go, inexpensively”. This describes the value they bring, low price, no frills air travel that caters to its target market, which is budget-minded leisure and business travelers. 

Volvo’s value proposition is, “for a little more money, we will provide the safety to protect your precious family”. Their product promise is cost effective and safe automobile travel that appeals to safety-conscious upscale families. 

You see common threads in both statements. The company identifies its unique benefits that their target customers desire. Once these companies’ value propositions are defined, they serve as a guide for message development and advertising campaigns. Volvo’s TV ad will show a family’s children not only safe, but remarkably unaffected when a serious accident occurs. 

Because most of us are familiar with these two brands, these statements belie the effort required to develop them. One cannot develop a value proposition in a vacuum. Marketers need to understand the most important customer concerns that trigger buyer behavior, and this can only happen when marketing fully understands their target market. 

When first devising the value proposition, I like to use a commonly applied value proposition template. It is set up in a way that forces you to complete six different statements, which when pulled together can be read as one sentence. The statements to develop are: 

  • To: this statement forces you to identify a target market. As you know different markets place different levels of value on every product benefit. So, identifying your market is important
  • Who: this statement defines the primary leverageable belief that your customers possess
  • Our Brand: this is the name of your product
  • Is the: this requires you to define the type of product you are developing the value proposition for. Volvo’s “Is the” would be “car”
  • That: forming this statement is probably the most difficult because it requires the marketer to select the most important product or service benefit from the many possibilities that have already been identified. A great value proposition hinges on one key benefit that will best drive value in the mind of the customer
  • Because: This section can contain multiple statements that record the customer’s reasons to believe in the product. “Because” statements serve as the backbone for successful messaging.

 The table below provides an example of a value proposition for a medical product.

To ensure the value proposition hits the mark, it is always essential to validate it with customer feedback. 

Once their approval is obtained, marketing is more likely to develop an opus that gets the same resounding response as did Mr. Holland’s.