Designing for the Future: Define the Value You Bring

Do you know why people should do business with you?
By Dick Wolfe
April 10, 2012

You’re likely familiar with the term “value proposition.” There are definitions all over the Internet and elsewhere that explain it in fairly simple ways. This one is as good as any:
“A business or marketing statement that summarizes why a consumer should buy a product or use a service. This statement should convince a potential consumer that one particular product or service will add more value or better solve a problem than other similar offerings.”
You know the term. If you weren’t sure exactly what it meant before, you have a good working definition now. But here’s the real question: “Do you know what your value proposition is?”

If you don't, you should. If you can’t tell a potential client clearly and simply why they should choose you over the competition, you’re short a tool in your sales toolkit. “We design with you in mind” and similar sound bites aren’t value propositions. They’re taglines with little meaning. Anyone can say them. They don’t differentiate your business.


There are a lot of resources available to guide you in developing your own unique value proposition. I found one presentation on the Internet that is pretty good. Some of the suggested research tactics and other peripherals may be cost-prohibitive for a smaller business, and some of the suggestions may be targeted at very large businesses. But a lot of the basic “why” and “how” are in there.

Slide 15 of the presentation gives the elements you’ll need to consider when developing your position.
• Keep it clear and concise
• Be specific
• Focus on the customer
• Look at ALL forms of value: quality, convenience, trust, design capabilities (the author added this one) and price
You may not have the resources to undertake major market research and, for an independent designer or small design shop, that would be overkill anyway. However, you do have a ready-made focus group that you can access fairly easily if your record-keeping has been good: your former clients.

Interview these clients, both those who were satisfied and those who were less than satisfied. Find out what they valued about what you brought to their project. Also, find out what didn’t work so well and fix it. Take these nuggets and pull out the ones that are unique to you and set you apart from competitors. Turn these into one to three sentences that define what you offer in a compelling, clearly understandable way.


These sentences should not be just a dry recitation of your strengths. Write them with an eye toward convincing your prospective client. Use persuasive language that states definitively why you are the best choice.

If you don’t feel confident in developing your own value proposition, there are other options. There are people who can come in and guide you through the process. I’m not selling services, but I’ve done this for many clients large and small. It’s not as time-consuming or costly as you might think to have a marketing/communications pro come in and facilitate an audit of how you position yourself and develop firm recommendations including a defined value proposition with supporting messages.

Whether you do it or hire a consultant, you need to get it done. Differentiation is an ongoing theme in this column. It’s a key part of growing your business. A strong value proposition is another point of differentiation that can help you succeed.

—Dick Wolfe is SVP of The MWW Group, an award-winning independent public relations agency that specializes in helping design effective marketing programs for well-known consumer brands and business-to-business companies. Wolfe brings deep experience as a trusted communications advisor to companies seeking successful brand positioning, marketing communications and visibility campaigns that focus on the design/build community. To contact Wolfe with questions and suggestions on topics for future articles, please email him at dwolfe@mww.com.
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