value propNOTE: This post is grounded in what you’ve shared with us in the persistent poll on CopyHackers.com. Based on 273 responses to our question about the types of copy that challenge you most, 61% of you told us that THIS topic is top of mind for you.

(Oh, and in case there’s any confusion about who’s writing this – and making disparaging comments about Intuit – I’m Lance Jones, former Intuit Web optimization lead.)

UVP. USP. Value props.

Whatever you wish to call ’em, yours needs to be communicated early and often. (Of course, I’m making the assumption that you’re here because you have a product or service to sell on your Web site or mobile site.)

UVP = Unique Value Proposition (aka Unique Selling Proposition)

To save words, I’ll simply refer to it as your value proposition.

What is a value proposition? Let’s start with what it is not. It is not a tagline. Think McDonald’s “I’m Lovin’ It!”… or Apple’s former “Think different.”… or Avis’ “We try harder.” While they’re all catchy phrases and have helped us associate a feeling with each respective company, taglines do not sufficiently convey the elements of a great value proposition.

A value proposition is also not a feature of your product called out prominently. No, it’s bigger picture than that.

What makes a great value proposition?

A great value proposition is specific. It’s an explicit promise of value to the reader about whatever you’re selling – a promise of something amazing, hopefully. It should quickly separate you from your competition. It should also communicate something highly desirable to your target audience. And it needs to do a lot of heavy lifting (without feeling heavy), and so a great value proposition typically requires more than a few words.

Unfortunately, a great value proposition is also a rare sight on the Web. There is a massive opportunity for those who spend time on it, test it and get it right.

Why all the fuss?

Humans don’t want to think too hard. Decision-making is nasty business for most of us, so when faced with a number of options, we look for shortcuts to aid us in making a decision.

A shortcut we use with fervor on the Web is scanning headlines.

People want to know immediately if they should spend more time on your site or bail. They’ve come to expect that you’ll say something meaningful in the first few seconds, and because westerners read top-down and left-to-right, the headline is your first real opportunity to make a splash with your value proposition.

The smart folks over at Marketing Experiments have studied this stuff for ages, and they’ve even managed to express the importance of value proposition on your conversion rate:

conversionformula

Their “conversion heuristic” states that of the 5 primary factors in a visitor’s decision to convert, your value proposition (represented as “v”) is second only in importance to the person’s motivation (represented by “m”) for visiting your site in the first place.

A person’s motivation is tough to influence in a few seconds, but a value proposition? You’re in complete control there… but the visitor needs to “get it” immediately. (Caveat: Unless you already have huge brand recognition – and if you do, please read our other post on testing button colors. :-))

Let’s look at some examples.

I’ve selected 7 Web sites – listed below alphabetically – from the first and second page of results for a Google search of “small business accounting software”. If you’re a small business owner, you’ll likely have performed this same search at one time.

Competition is stiff in this space. These companies want people who aren’t yet using software. (I know because I spent 6 years at Intuit.) It’s a huge market, and there are still people who use paper or spreadsheets to manage their books.

You’ll see some patterns emerge in how these companies think about and communicate their value proposition. With so many things to think about, sometimes it’s easier to copy the big guys (recall what I wrote above about decision making?). But at least one of the players in this space has been reading Joanna’s Book 3.

Let’s go!

ClearBooks:

vp-clearbooks

SPECIFIC?

A PROMISE?

UNIQUE?

HIGHLY DESIRABLE?

BELIEVABLE?

Not much fluff – pretty decent.

The product is simple and it saves you time – sounds like a promise to me.

It’s tough to tell since it’s the first example, but you’ll see the same theme repeated by several competitors. Not so unique.

We want to save time on mundane tasks, and simplicity is a no-brainer.

Hard to say for sure, but the bit of social proof (“thousands of businesses”) helps.

Recommendation to ClearBooks: Take another look at how you stand out against your competition.

FreshBooks:

vp-freshbooks

SPECIFIC?

A PROMISE?

UNIQUE?

HIGHLY DESIRABLE?

BELIEVABLE?

It’s only specific in that I know how I’ll access FreshBooks (i.e., online).

Painless billing works as a promise, but it’s a little buried.

Not in the slightest based on my [pretending-to-be-new to accounting software] Web research.

A real stretch.

Again, big numbers definitely help (as do the big name customers).

Recommendation to FreshBooks: You’re a smart company with a great product, so I assume you’ve made a conscious decision to move away from specificity, uniqueness, and desirability in your headline/hero copy.

inDinero:

vp-indinero

SPECIFIC?

A PROMISE?

UNIQUE?

HIGHLY DESIRABLE?

BELIEVABLE?

3 distinct and important elements of managing one’s business – good.

Sorry, but I just don’t see “One solution” as a promise.

It’s not unique – unless they expect people to compare screenshots across the competitive landscape.

A single solution sounds good compared to multiple logins and monthly payments.

Nothing to support, as there are no claims.

Recommendation to inDinero: At these price points ($349/mth and up), you should say something unique (and back it up) about your product to justify the monthly investment.

LessAccounting:

vp-lessaccounting

SPECIFIC?

A PROMISE?

UNIQUE?

HIGHLY DESIRABLE?

BELIEVABLE?

Headline, no. But sub-head, absolutely.

An 80% time savings is a big bold claim!

They focus on bank data import, which stands out from most of the other sites.

Acknowledging the suckiness of accounting software? Brilliant! I want a less sucky tool.

There is proof offered in the video. Check.

Recommendation to LessAccounting: Go forth and multiply that value proposition in all your marketing campaigns! You take a real position on your product space… it’s a unique and fun approach that nobody else appears to have the courage to try (I’m just sayin’!).

QuickBooks:

vp-quickbooks

SPECIFIC?

A PROMISE?

UNIQUE?

HIGHLY DESIRABLE?

BELIEVABLE?

Tip of the hat to your specificity.

My accounting will be in 1 place. Is that the most you do to help small businesses?

Ouch. What about one button click to save 80% on time preparing your taxes with TurboTax? (A promise that is unique!)

What do your 1000s of satisfied customers say? Where’s the energy in your copy?

Without a strong promise, there is nothing to back up.

Recommendation to QuickBooks: To my friendly former employer… your best messages are getting beaten down by too many HiPPOs in the room. You know who you are! BTW, Joanna may be taking on new clients this summer. 🙂

Xero:

vp-xero

SPECIFIC?

A PROMISE?

UNIQUE?

HIGHLY DESIRABLE?

BELIEVABLE?

This.

Is.

Going.

To.

Hurt.

Recommendation to Xero: You’ve got to give us something to go on, guys. Anything.

ZOHO Books:

vp-zohobooks

SPECIFIC?

A PROMISE?

UNIQUE?

HIGHLY DESIRABLE?

BELIEVABLE?

Specific, but no real information.

It’s easy and you will save time and effort.

How are you different from QuickBooks?

Why did you choose to go with “effort”? You may be onto something there, but you’ll have to bring it to life with more meaning.

Like the sun coming up in the east. Believable? Sure. But not very interesting.

Recommendation to ZOHO Books: Don’t copy the messages of a company who also struggles with uniqueness.

What’s next? Here’s your homework:

1. Leave a comment! What do you think of these organizations’ value proposition messaging? Employees of these companies get bonus karma.

2. Apply the very same 5 criteria to your own home page and see how you do. I recommend self-rating your home page messages, followed by asking co-workers, family, and strangers to do the same. I promise you’ll have fun with it!

3. Click to be notified of Joanna’s first Copy Hackers video course, where she’ll teach you exactly how she drove a 51% lift in paid conversion for her client with a single well-researched test. Value proposition is featured in Week 6 of the self-paced, 10-week course, which launches in 10, 9, 8…

~lance