John Bonini is a leader in growth and user acquisition. He works at Litmus. He’s also an award-winning writer, and his podcast, Louder Than Words, was named by Inc. as one of the “12 marketing podcasts you should listen to every week.”

The 3 Non-Negotiables of Writing A Sticky Value Proposition

The 3 Non-Negotiables of Writing A Sticky Value Proposition

I blame the Super Bowl. 

(Really, I do.) 

In 2015, 114 million people tuned in to what was the most-watched television program in U.S. history.

Think about that from an advertiser’s perspective; it’s unlike any other platform in the repertoire. (We’re talking about live access to over 100 million people.)

Something unusual happens when advertisers see numbers like this; they seek applause rather than a sale. 

For decades, people have debated on the funniest, dumbest, most touching Super Bowl ads beside water coolers, bar stools, and kitchen tables. There are even dedicated television shows to debate these merits. 

Often times, the players involved on both sides (the brand as well as the company that wrote the ad) aren’t starving for sales, therefore the goals are different. (Ogilvy & Mather wrote the controversial Nationwide “Make Safe Happen" Ad from this year’s game. The goal? Awareness.)

But what happens when everyday marketers seek this sort of applause and notoriety? 

You get shit copy that doesn’t sell. 

So, yes. I blame the Super Bowl for the overabundance of cutesy value propositions plaguing the web today. 

The following is a much needed reminder to the – oft forgotten – essential elements of a great value proposition.

They’re Clear

Perhaps the most common trend in writing value propositions is to bury the main value or function of your product in place of a more ambiguous slogan or tag line. 

You’ve seen this everywhere. 

It’s a collaboration software company saying “All Hands In” rather than the more descriptive “Easily collaborate with members of your team on any mobile device. Anywhere.” 

Brands are burying the real value in place of cutesy slogans like that all the time. They use subheads as modifiers in order for people to discern the actual value of the main header. 

This is backwards. 

If you need a modifier, you’ve written a bad value proposition. Ambiguity doesn’t lead to a sale. 

Instead, use the more clear and direct “modifier” as a start for your main value proposition. 

SumoMe, a technology company that creates tools for growing your email list, is a prime example of what’s possible when you boil your value proposition own to its clearest form. 

I know exactly what I’m getting here. 

(And oh yeah, so do 4,059,800,019 other people.)

They’re Simple

Just as some marketers seek applause in their copywriting, so do they also aim to impress with their impressive grasp of the English syntax. 

What we, as users, end up reading about is a bunch of crap about synergy, collaboration, results-driven companies who are so wrapped up in their own words that they forget who they’re writing for: you.

Value propositions are no place for literature. That’s the difference between paid copywriters and effective ones; effective copywriters keep things simple while the others focus more on putting together sentences and body copy that would make their Brit Lit professor blush.

As Ann Handley has said, “no one will ever complain that you made things too simple."

Great value propositions should be easily understood by a 12-year old. Anything that isn’t should be cut. It’s really as, uh simple, as that. Your goal isn’t to impress, it’s to quickly and succinctly convey value.

Bigger, longer, more jargony words are more awkward to read and are also more likely to be misunderstood.

Said Ernest Hemingway after being criticized by William Faulkner for his limited word choice:

"Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words? He thinks I don’t know the ten-dollar words. I know them all right. But there are older and simpler and better words, and those are the ones I use."

They’re the ones you should be using, too.

Check out how Driftt, a new SaaS company founded by former HubSpotters David Cancel and Elias Torres with a mission of making team collaboration easier, approaches its value proposition. 

All you need to do is Google team collaboration software to check out some of the jargony mess other companies in this space are using to convey its value.

Driftt opted for the most obvious. 

The easiest way to share and work together? 

Considering how easy it is to discern the value of the product, I believe it.

They’re Selfish

…selfish from your customer’s point of view. 

Your customers are selfish. They’re only worried about themselves. Their interests. Their problems. 

This is the way it’s supposed to be.

They’re not so concerned about you and what you think of yourself or your brand. 

Therefore, with a few exceptions, your value proposition should never be written in the first person. Avoid words like we, us, and I and replace them with you.

If that sounds simple, it isn’t. When done effectively, this isn’t about just swapping around a couple of words, but rather a complete restructure of your angle and approach to conveying value. 

Think benefits over features. How does your product or service enhance the lives and worldview of your audience? 

Take Up by Jawbone as a for instance...

Jawbone could’ve gone in a completely different direction and talked about the technology of its wearables. (Plenty of brands are doing this.)

Instead, they’re doing a tremendous job of letting me know, as a potential user, how this product would enhance my life by suggesting a “better version of me” is possible with it. 

(Also note how they use the word you three times in the header section alone.)

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