If you’ve been in business for any length of time, you have probably heard the phrase “unique value proposition.” You may have dismissed it as yet another buzzword invented by wannabe gurus. However, the unique value proposition (UVP) is actually a fundamental and critical part of any successful business.
A UVP is a clear statement of three things:
Let’s look at each of these in turn.
This might seem obvious, and for some businesses it is. You put broken arms in casts, or you fix transmissions, or you write resumes. Some business models are very straightforward. However, for many businesses, things are more complex.
Take Amazon as an extreme example. They run that giant online store, so they’re an e-commerce company, right? But wait, they also provide cloud software solutions to other businesses. They also market fulfillment services to existing retailers. And they manufacture Kindle tablets. And they run an app store. And…you get the picture.
Your business might not be quite as diverse as Amazon, but the odds are that you do more than just one or two things. So back up a step and take a broader view of what your business does. Using our examples from the previous paragraph, maybe you provide health care services, or keep people’s cars on the road, or help people retool their careers. The word “help” leads us to the second component of a UVP.
You are in the business of helping people, but that’s a truth so fundamental and universal it isn’t directly helpful in creating a unique value proposition. It’s only helpful in recognizing exactly how your business helps people. How it helps your customers with their problems.
Once you think about it in these terms, the answer is fairly easy to work out. By providing health care services, you help people manage their health problems. By keeping cars on the road, you help people fix their transportation problems. By career consulting, you help people solve their career problems. That’s two-thirds of the value proposition…what you do and how it helps. But let’s be realistic—every health clinic in the world helps people manage their health problems. What makes yours special?
First, let’s acknowledge something: the word “unique” is a little strong. You are a unique person, and your business is unique too. Nobody has quite the same combination of skills, talents, and assets that you have, or does things in exactly the same way. But realistically speaking, not every single business in the world has a literally unique value proposition.
The UVP really only needs to distinguish you from the thousand other health care clinics out there. So how do you do that? Well, what we really mean by “different” is “better”. What does your business do better than others?
Maybe your customer service is first-rate because you prioritize hiring friendly and capable people with a helper mentality. Maybe you have services that few other businesses in your niche can offer, because you have a rare talent or skill, or because you invented something new. Maybe you have a more convenient location, or are open longer hours. Your “better” can be something simple or even relatively trivial in the great scheme of things (so long as it is something that is important to your customers), or it can be something tremendously profound.
Your UVP may end up being several paragraphs long (see below) but some of the best UVPs out there are very brief. One of my favorites is the Lyft ride-sharing service UVP. They got it into three words: “Rides in Minutes.” Bam! There’s some unpacking to do here. Lyft provides rides for people, which solves their transportation problems, but how does it do it differently than its competitors (i.e. the taxi industry?) The ride gets there quickly, not in a half-hour (or worse). Three words is impressive, but don’t despair if you end up needing three sentences, or even three paragraphs. It doesn’t have to be short. It just has to be clear.
It’s a five-step process.
1. Identify all the good things your business does. For example, “We clean houses”, “We make delicious donuts”, or “We haul away people’s garbage” (hopefully this isn’t all one business).
2. Articulate why these good things are valuable – For example, unclean houses are unsanitary and can cause stress. Cleaning your house takes time and energy.
3. Determine your customers’ main problem. For example, “I don’t have time to clean my house”, “I want someone I can trust”, or “I want a clean house but am environmentally conscious.”
4. Connect your features/benefits with those core problems. “We clean houses so you can have more time to spend with your family.”
5. Figure out how you do this better than other companies. “We have online booking”, “We use only green cleaning products”, “We have same-day cleaning services.”
So what does this look like in practical terms? There are a lot of different ways to structure a UVP but a great way to start is to break things into three important pieces of text.
1. The headline—a clear and simple declaration of the main thing you do for your customers.
2. The body —a paragraph or so detailing what you do and how you do it better than your competition.
3. The bullets— a bullet list of all the major benefits of your product or service, each connected to solving a customer problem.
Every successful business needs a unique value proposition. They may not have articulated it and written it down, but it’s implicit in how they do business, attract and help customers, and stand out from competitors.
Identifying your UVP can help you recognize where you are providing value to your customers and what your real advantages are in the market.