Building a Unique Value Proposition is Not a Job For Marketing
Categories: Entrepreneurship

A unique value proposition (UVP) or unique selling proposition is often thought of as a phrase created by your marketing team. Creatives and copywriters get together, read all your existing marketing collateral, then do their best to synthesize all of that into a sentence, a few bullet points, and an image. I suppose this process is valid if your product or company has been around for a while… but it’s completely backwards for a new startup. If your unique value proposition isn’t done before your marketing engine even gets started, you are in for a long and hard ride.

Have a minute? I’ve got a great idea!

Over the past 15 years, I’d say at least twice a month I’ve been approached by a friend, client, prospect, colleague or complete stranger and asked a near identical question. It usually starts like this: “We really need to sit down and talk. I have this great idea and need to know how much it will cost to develop and how long it will take. This is going to revolutionize my industry and if I don’t do it now someone else is going to steal my idea.” Well, over eighty percent of the time I can confidently answer, “Have you looked up Acme Corp? I think they’ve already built that.” For the record, the other 20% are usually divided 50/50: half are truly interesting, great ideas and the other half are absolutely crazy, both of which make for great coffee dates!

Fortunately for my inquirers this is actually one of the easier moments to realize your new idea isn’t so new. An often encountered alternative is to spend somewhere between $50k-$250k only to realize that your MVP does 1/10th of your nearest competitor and they’ve got a two year jump on product, sales and marketing.

Who should create your Unique Value Proposition (UVP)?

In the startup world, this is why the creation of your unique value proposition must come much earlier in the process. Your UVP needs to be a combination of leadership and product joining together to create a truly unique offering unlike that of any competitor currently on the market.

Sure, let your marketing department or agency polish this and turn it into marketing fodder, but don’t just turn this all-too-critical step over to the marketers or they’ll do exactly what you pay them for. They’ll embellish… and smoke and mirrors do not make for a solid foundation. Left to their own devices, marketing will likely regurgitate a collection of their own collateral and create something up that’s not 100% true. This will only disappoint your prospects and waste the time of your salespeople. 

What is a UVP?

Much like the name states, your UVP is what makes your product truly unique. If you type “unique value proposition” into Google you’ll quickly find a few dozen lists of compiled UVPs from amazing companies and why those UVPs are fantastic. The thing about each of these lists and articles is they make it seem as though the UVP is owned by the marketing department. 

Unbounce defines a unique value proposition [also known as a unique selling proposition] as, “a clear statement that describes the benefit of your offer, how you solve your customer’s needs and what distinguishes you from the competition. Your unique value proposition should appear prominently on your landing page and in every marketing campaign.”

The first half of this statement is spot-on. The second half of the statement, as I noted above, makes it feel like this is a task owned by your marketing team. Your UVP should be the one thing or, even better, the combination of things that no other competitor has or does… and that should not fall under marketing’s purview.

Unique from whom, you may ask? For starters, anyone who you’re directly competing with or that builds a substantially similar product that you’ve built (or are going to build). Even if someone doesn’t sell themselves in the same way (i.e. different industry or use case) that you do they definitely go on the list. If they’re selling their software to researchers today but you start making money selling to markers then you can bet they’ll repackage their product and sell it to your customers.

Methods of differentiation

If you are bringing to life a truly brand new market-shattering idea then your UVP will be easy to create. With no other competition to speak of, anything you do will be unique. But I would warn you that if your idea is truly unique today it won’t be that way for long. 

Copycats will surface quickly. Depending on the depth of their pockets and the complexity of your offering, they may be able to catch up very quickly. 

As I write this, Bloomberg Technology just published an article called “Lyft Set to Claim Third of the U.S. Market in 2017.” This is, in part, natural in the marketplace (people like choices) but is also a direct result of Uber’s incredibly bad year in the HR and PR games.

The Startup Guide to Differentiation offers up 9 ways to differentiate your product:

  1. Market, audience or niche
  2. Customer focus
  3. Design
  4. Features
  5. Innovation
  6. People
  7. Production
  8. Price
  9. Worldview

Over the next few posts, I’m going to dig into a few of these and discuss why some of them may be great for your marketing department but provide less value when your customers need to make a hard choice.

Wrap Up

It’s important to keep in mind that creating (or already having) a differentiated position is only the beginning. Staying ahead of your competitors will be a constant battle you’re going to have to fight. For every new feature you build your competitors are also building their own new features (or possibly copying yours). On the B2B side this is easier to manage. Requiring an NDA before demoing your product is a great way to reduce the amount of idea leakage you’ll experience. Always knowing who you’re “opening the kimono” for is very important if you’re a newcomer onto the market.

I’ve served in a sales role for many companies and attempting to get competitive intelligence and demos, while extremely valuable, is extremely different so don’t give away the farm until you’re sure you know who you’re talking to. 

For B2C companies, especially those with free trials, public demos, or online help videos, this becomes much more difficult. There is no way to keep your competitive feature set secret from your competition (unless there’s some secret sauce, process or algorithm happening under the covers that only your development team understands). 

Your marketing team can do a lot, but not everything.  If you need help in creating a unique value proposition, you need to understand yourself and your business. If you need help doing that, you can book a coaching session with me to dive into your value proposition.


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