Value Propositions: stop using ‘made simple’ to describe your startup

I recently worked with Vero on their customer acquisition. I was given free reign and one thing I personally needed to do was lift conversions from the homepage to a free trial: the all-important SaaS metric.

One thing that killed it was a single change I made to the Value Proposition only in the heading on the home page. I changed nothing else.

The result: a 200% increase in conversions with a 98% confidence interval.

First impressions matter in real life but they matter even more for your online business. Here is how you can craft a winning Value Proposition.

Promise the world and watch the world walk by

When I arrived at Vero, the Value Proposition on the homepage was:

A better way to increase revenue with emails

It didn’t tell you what we do.

Instead, it used superlatives and hype.

As potential customers weren’t able to quickly understand the value of our service they simply bounced: a clearer Value Proposition would result in more conversions, and so it did.

Here’s the winning variation:

Track customers on your website. Send emails based on what they do.

If this isn’t proof that you should continually test and evolve your homepage’s Value Proposition, then I don’t know what is.

I am sure that, like me, you regularly visit a landing page and get that feeling of confusion as you try to figure out what the company actually does.

You re-read the headline, check out “how it works” section and maybe even read the testimonials hoping they’ll help shed some light on the situation but, 9 times out of 10, you’ll hit the back button after a few seconds.

This happens more often than it should.

This happens when the company has a poor Value Proposition. A Value proposition is the primary reason why a prospect should buy from you. It tells your potential customers what you are offering, who it is meant for, how they will benefit, and how you’re different from competitors.

Whilst a large part of this is the tagline, it can also include a sub-headline, a few bullet points, and a visual.

I’m going to focus on the tagline as it’s the biggest culprit when it comes to confusion. The best Value Propositions articulate everything they need to in an instantly credible sentence.

For a great example, KISSmetrics has one of the best taglines out there:

“Google Analytics tells you what’s happening. KISSmetrics tells you who’s doing it.”

Larger companies can rely on their strong brand but startups without any real brand recognition have to paint a very clear picture, very quickly.

Stop using ‘made simple’, it simply doesn’t work

A common trend I observe amongst startups is to use a tagline like “Customer Service Made Simple”, “Webinars and Screen Sharing Made Awesome”, “Amazingly simple graphic design”, or “the easiest way to publish on Social Media”.

What does that actually mean? Can you now explain what they do and how is it useful to you? Not really, right?

Where did this trend in value propositions come from? We know that corporate jargon, the robot style writing that no one actually understands, is bad. We want to avoid it, so we try to sound human. We know that simple is better. Less is more.

…and yet here we are, regularly doing the opposite by creating tag lines that are overly abbreviated and full of known superlatives.

A case study on the dangers of bland advertising ran a test comparing the following two phrases:

  • Simple Fix for Blown Head Gaskets
  • Repairs Blown Head Gaskets in Just One Hour

Both examples offer to fix a blown head gasket, but the value proposition for these two examples is different. Which one do you think performed better?

The second phrase achieved a 58% increase in conversions. It adds a specific benefit as to why the customer should buy from them, whilst the first phrase doesn’t drill down enough on what the advantage is to the customer.

Clarity trumps persuasion

A lack of clarity creates friction, friction creates confusion, confusion leads to back button clicks.

The question most people have in their mind when they first visit a site is “Am I in the right place? Am I going to find something useful for me here?”. People want to understand if its for them, how they’ll benefit, and why they should use this service instead of a competitor.

Sites jump too fast to persuading by leading with their differentiators or testimonials. They’re important pieces of the puzzle but not as a leader. Or worse, they try to be clever or funny, but really don’t say anything at all.

Of course the purpose of a good tagline is to get customers to read the second line. The best ones get your attention, raises curiosity or surprises. But we’re not all copywriting experts. If in doubt, always go for clarity. Clarity leads to higher conversions.

My approach to Value Propositions made simple

See what I did there?

How to improve your value proposition

Here’s one heuristic approach:

ProductHunt.co is a daily leaderboard of the best new products (aside: great tagline). You’re browsing the homepage, skimming over the list and trying to decide which one is interesting enough to click through. Be self-observant, think about which products do you click on, and why?

ProductHunt’s short descriptions in a competitive environment is a great place to quickly see what sets good value propositions apart from the bad.

Reverse engineer this with your own value proposition. If a user was to see your product amongst the list, what tagline would best describe what you do and makes them more inclined to click through?

You should be able to Tweet your value proposition, which means describing it in 140 characters or less.

Your company doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and neither should your value proposition. Most customers will compare 4 – 5 different options before making a decision, so you need to make your offer unique to competitors.

Crafting a great value proposition requires a deep understanding of what is unique about your company and your products and services. It’s all relevant to your target market. You need to understand:
– their demographics
– the language they speak
– how to talk to them
– why they buy

In the 1960s, Theodore Levitt said, “People don’t want a quarter-inch drill, they want a quarter-inch hole.” He was talking about describing benefits, not features.

In the Copywriting Checklist by Dane Maxwell he outlines a formula for an ‘instant clarity headline’.

Formula: End result customer wants + specific period of time + address the objections.

Example: Recruit 2 Top Producing Agents Each Week Without Cold Calling or Rejection

Example: Match.com – 1 in 5 Relationships Start Online & More of Them Start at Match.com

Example: Shopify – Use Shopify to create your online store. Everything you need to start selling online – today.

You don’t need all 3 parts all the time, but it gives you a good framework to start with.

The formula tells customers in seconds what your product will do for them, not what it is. It forces you to think about the customer, not about your product.

This Value Proposition Worksheet from MarketingExperiments is a little more complex but a thorough alternative.

Upworthy is known for writing 25 different headlines for each article, then A/B testing a few to determine the best one. If they do this for one of 20+ articles they post that day, why don’t you do this for the most important thing your customer needs to know about you?

What not to do

Steer clear of vague superlatives, hype and jargon. Words like “easy, simple, best, awesome, smart”. Do you think your competition goes around saying they are “hard, difficult, or worst, or dumb”?

Lets revisit the Shopify tagline as an example:

Use Shopify to create your online store. Everything you need to start selling online – today.

vs

Shopify is the best way to create an online store. Everything you need to start selling online – today.

Does the inclusion of “best” really ad anything to it, or takeaway from the clarity of what the product does?

Example:

CodeShare.io – a real-time browser editor for sharing code with peers.

vs

CodeShare is code sharing made simple.

The first one clearly outlines what it is: “a real-time browser editor”, what it does: “for sharing code”, and who it’s for: “with peers”.

Example:

Pricify – We make watching prices ridiculously simple.

vs

Pricify – Sale alerts for items you love, from any online store.

If you had to explain to a friend what Pricify does, which one would enable you to do so?

Entrepreneur David Cancel has a “no and” rule when pitching startups: “The “No Ands” rule is simple: You have to be able to describe your idea in a single sentence without using the word “and.”

He believes “and’s” take away from the focus. This one simple constraint forces you to construct a refined pitch. In fact, try it in your everyday sentences if you want to achieve real clarity.

Bonus: great Value Proposition examples

Scribe – A value proposition you have to see, with a great use of visuals.

Dropbox – “Your stuff, anywhere.”

Synthesis – “Superfast and Secure WordPress Hosting + Content Marketing and SEO Tools? Only from Synthesis.”

Help Scout – “Scalable customer support, no help desk headaches.”

Rapportive – “Get rich contact profiles right inside Gmail. Rapportive shows you everything about your contacts right inside your inbox.”

Optimizely“A/B testing you’ll actually use.” Another one you have to click through and see for yourself as they personalise the value for your site.

Unbounce – “Build, publish & A/B test landing pages without I.T. The landing page builder for marketers.”

Match.com – “1 in 5 Relationships Start Online & More of Them Start at Match.com.”

Campaign Monitor – “Send beautiful email newsletters. Campaign Monitor makes it easy to attract new subscribers, send them beautiful email newsletters and see stunning reports on the results.”

Need to know more? Check out this extra reading material

Peep Laja at ConversionXL.com is an expert on crafting value propositions:
Useful Value Proposition Examples (and How to Create a Good One)
How To Come Up With A Value Proposition When What You Sell ISN’T Unique
Your value proposition is for people to read… right?

  • Bryan Harris

    This is something I struggle with constantly. It’s super easy to fall into ‘buzzword’ speak and forget to say what you actually do. Loved the examples at the end.

    • https://ryangum.com/ Ryan Gum @ Postify

      Thanks Brian. I hope you got some value out of this, but your writing style is easy to read so I’m sure you’re better at this than most.

      I’m going through this process again right now at Postify and involving the whole team this time to make sure we get this right, then will run a few tests – Looking forward to writing up the results here soon.

  • http://dirtyanalytics.com/ Jake Peterson

    Freaking great Ryan. I got a lot out of this, keep ’em coming!
    Consider me subscribed :)

    I just set up a couple tagline variations on the Segment.io landing page based on this article.

    • https://ryangum.com/ Ryan Gum @ Postify

      Awesome! I love segment.io and am glad to be a customer.

      I just had a look and I like the version I got:

      “Install tracking for the last time. Send your data to 86 tools with the flick of a switch.”

      – It’s clear who it’s for: people that use multiple analytics tools
      – It’s clear what it is: data tracking manager
      – It’s clear what it does: sends your data to 86 tools
      – It outlines period of time & difficultly: flick of a switch
      – No superlatives

      It’ll be interesting to see how it goes.

  • Frank Falcone

    this has to be the best article I’ve read on creating a value prop tag line that works…thanks Ryan!

    • https://ryangum.com/ Ryan Gum @ Postify

      Thanks Frank. btw Triggerfox.com looks interesting.

  • https://gleam.io/ Stuart @ Gleam.io

    This is something I need to play around with too, what did you use to run the test?

    • https://ryangum.com/ Ryan Gum @ Postify

      Ah good question, I use visualwebsiteoptimizer.com personally, but optimizely.com works too.

  • Andrew

    Amazing read. I recommend to anyone who has an online presence

  • chexton

    Great article mate and doublely awesome for the mention of our Vero win. Looking forward to the next post :).

    • https://ryangum.com/ Ryan Gum @ Postify

      Thank you for everything :)
      I can see you guys are still doing a tonne of experimenting & testing over at Vero right now, every week I notice something new. Love it.

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  • http://threadling.com Dan Kaplan

    Nice post,. Ryan. Really well put together, and a great set of examples.

    • https://ryangum.com/ Ryan Gum @ Postify

      Thanks Dan. Love you stuff over at threadling.com on growth marketing.

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  • Jim Morris

    Lots of good insights, but, boy, have you done a disservice by muddling value propositions and taglines. As a tagline specialist, I run up against this muddle constantly. Generally, when you are describing what your brand does, that’s what I call a descriptor, not a tagline. A descriptor should indeed be clear and specific. A tagline, in my view, plays a very different role. Especially for small businesses where the tagline is likely experienced on the home page or on a business card, the tagline’s job is to evoke sufficient emotion—intrigue, curiosity, provocation, a smile, a furrowed brow, a “Huh?”—something that will motivate the reader to read on, ask a question, make a comment. EVOKING EMOTION is the tagline’s job. It’s very likely to be about the brand’s personality rather than the brand’s “what”. And that, very often, means the tagline should NOT be clear. Clarity doesn’t evoke curiosity or intrigue. Clarity doesn’t inspire conversations. There’s a much longer conversation to be had about your article, so kudos for that. One thing about which I couldn’t agree more: “We’re not all copywriting experts.” Which is why I’m always amazed that, rather than using a copywriting expert to help write the tagline (or the value proposition or the positioning statement or any other key foundational piece of language), most small business people choose to do the copywriting anyway. In my experience, the small businesses that truly understand the value of marketing, reflect that understanding when they do their budgeting. Those businesses pay specialists to do the important work they’re not qualified to do. The rest write their own taglines. Which is why there are, literally, hundreds of businesses brandishing the tagline, “Simply The Best.” Thanks for getting my dander up and keep up the provocative, if sometimes wrongheaded, work.

    • https://ryangum.com/ Ryan Gum @ Postify

      Jim, thank you.

      I guess I did struggle with that definition, and I seem to have muddled the two up in the process. Great feedback – thanks for clearing that up.

      I know that evoking emotion is a big part of raising curiosity. However, it’ extremely hard to do well, and not all startups have the budget to hire a professional. Of course, always hire a professional if the budget can be found. But guys like you are damn expensive 😉

      The main instigator that drove me to write this piece was the number of times I came across a tagline neither provided clarity or persuasion. It’s a very fine line between “huh?” and “I’m confused”.

      Perhaps clarity doesn’t evoke curiosity, but in a world ruled by the back button: “so that’s what they do” is a hell of a lot better than “I have no idea what this company does” :)

  • Jim Morris

    Ryan, As much as I like to argue, I can’t argue with your response. It’s definitely better for the home page to make clear what the company actually does than not. I’ve been to many sites where reading not just the home page but all of the content on the entire site STILL gives no meaningful clue about just what they do.

    My gripe is with those who think it’s the tagline’s job to achieve that clarity. As a complement to the descriptor, a good tagline can be so much more powerful.

    Here’s what I find puzzling. I know I’m expensive, but I’m at a loss as to how many small businesses, down to one-person non-profit startups, calculate the value of what they choose to invest in to get up and running. Companies spend $10,000 on their logo, and $100 on the tagline. Or they just write it themselves. They don’t regard the logo as something they can create themselves, but, because they can read and write, they think a tagline is well within their abilities, even though, in reality, a good tagline is as far out of reach for them as a logo.

    I’ve had many one man start-up clients who considered my fee to be affordable, and I’ve had companies with millions in revenue who found that same fee prohibitive. What is regarded as “affordable” or a “good investment” ranges vastly from company to company, and is not clearly correlated with the size of the company. My theory is that, in this visual age, language has been devalued. When we moved into the website era, and then the text and Twitter era, language took a terrible hit and as all this degraded language becomes more and more ubiquitous, people’s expectations and standards regarding what passes for “good writing” adjust downward. It’s an insidious downward spiral. At the risk of mixing metaphors, my hope is that this is a pendulum that will eventually swing back in the direction of valuing language. So far, I see no sign of that happening, but one can hope . . .

    • https://ryangum.com/ Ryan Gum @ Postify

      So to summarise:
      Taglines should evoke emotion and curiousity

      Value Propositions / descriptors should be clear and specific

      And above all, hire Jim 😉

      RE the pendulum: well with people like you championing the cause, you’ve got hope. As a consumer of content and student of copy, I’m all for it.

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  • Oscar Gil

    Great article!

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  • bennytjia

    great advices Ryan! totally on-point.

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