If you read back through enough of these How Do I columns I post here on the blog you probably come across the notion of Value Proposition quite a bit. The dictionary definition varies a bit depending on where you look but Wikipedia’s actually seems to encompass the range nicely, “A value proposition is a promise of value to be delivered and acknowledged and a belief from the customer that value will be appealed and experienced.”
There’s all kinds of complex explanations on who value propositions arise, however, in my experience most of them make it sound like your product needs to be so novel as to solve for a completely unique consumer need.
Let’s face it, for the vast majority of us, the product we’re working on is not novel and the consumer need so uninspired teasing a value out of any atributes of the product for the consumer seems almost like a more herculean task that if one were to have to imagined the next big thing. Most products are in some way derivative with a working competitive set a mile long. Most differentiating factors are in your team’s mind alone and not anything the consumer would ever have considered a real difference maker in the first place.
So when you’re selling Vanilla Ice Cream how do you invent a workable value proposition?
It’s a question that comes up in our brainstorming meetings quite often, albeit worded more from our product’s point of view and not from that of Bryer’s. The answer actually lies in stripping those concepts talking about novelty down to their own boring base and working from there.
Although you’ll hear me say everything decision wise stems from supporting the value proposition, it’s important to note that your product can be at any point in the product life cycle when defining the value proposition and that the VP itself isn’t static throughout the entire product life cycle. Begin by identifying where you are in the life cycle and understanding how that translates to the consumer.
The place we usually start is probably familiar territory to some of you: Maslov’s hierarchy of needs. We do a product review of what need does the product or specific product features aim to fulfill. Generally, most of our applications aren’t utilitarian in nature so it probably doesn’t apply to the bottom levels and it’s nothing so intellectual as to appeal to the self-awareness at the top, leaving us somewhere in the middle. That middle ground leaves us a lot of room to work with.
First, build a hypothesis of what will be used an why. The why is what will speak to the need fulfillment, be it in a hierarchy like Maslov or in some other matrix. The goal being to distill usage down to the emotional driver triggering it.
The next step is to test the hypothesis. Looking at what we learned from consumer usage, either from the market place of an established product or beta testing for new products we begin to let the qualitative and quantitative data together begin validate or disprove the hypothesis. What about the product or it’s features did the players really seem to be attracted to: What did the usage data imply? What did the interviewers voice opinions on? How do the two intersect?
Conceptually, your hypothesis won’t be 100% right or wrong, so you’re actually looking at ways of fine tuning it to reflect what you consider your valuable consumers.
Who are your valuable consumers? Well, that’s going to change, again, based on your business needs and the product’s place in the life cycle. Generally we think of the most valuable consumers being those who spend the most money with us over the longest period of time, but that doesn’t always have to be the case. Perhaps it’s the most evangelical ones, or the most engaged ones even if they aren’t the most profitable, or some other attribute you’ve honed in on. Your value proposition needs to match your business object as much as your business objective has to match the value your consumers are attracted to.
What should come out of the analysis is a picture of who your user is and what they are finding valuable about your product, but it’s not about the feature they use, it’s how they express themselves in using that feature, they’re emotional attachment.
Lately, I’ve been working on a lot of mobile games and what we found out of this were some recurring trends in how we could group the data points. Chances are, you’ll find the same thing happening when you start to tease the data about your product too.
For example, we are able to begin to group games not by their genre which is the traditional way of finding separation, but by other, more emotionally driven components:
Frustration-Elation games – these types of games build anticipation through frustration and failure and then reward the user for working through the game’s difficulty, this fit-and-burst of stress->relief drives usage
Curiosity games – the seemingly constant discovery drives usage, the less anticipated something is that happens the more curious the person is to find out why, or what will happen next
Repetition games – the act of repeating one’s self might sound boring but sometimes mindless repetition is a good thing, sometimes it’s actually more mindful that you think it is and it’s driving usage totally the opposite of a curiosity based game
Social games – peer pressuer drives usage because you know, no one wants to be left out
Novelty games – for a time it’s got something super unique about it, maybe it’s the controller, or the look & feel, the music, etc. but it’s the novelty or newness that drives usage
There’s more, these are just a couple. However, it’s from these that we begin to develop our value proposition positioning because we can key in on the emotional elements rather than the features or traits of the game.
If you can guide your proposition by the emotional angle it’s much stronger than by competing on what it does or what it costs because you’ve moved beyond the utilitarian nature of both their and your existence.
By pulling at these emotional triggers you influence ever user stage and build familiarity within the customer journey through this consistency of the messaging. In the acquisition phase of the journey you temp them with the promise of the emotional fulfillment they desire by playing the game. Your ads, your social media presence, your store listing and even your PR campaign are filled with the emotional hooks to draw potential consumers in. Then, once they have your product their first user experience retains that messaging and begins delivering those elements you proposition promised during the acquisition phase. IF you successfully converted the emotional pitch to the product attributes the model should become self-sustaining in that once the player is introduced to the value proposition and feels fulfilled by it during the on boarding process they will return to experience it again. IF their subsequent engagement continues to deliver on the emotional promise you made they will keep coming back and you will retain them.
That’s why understanding the emotional promise is so important to how you craft your value proposition. It’s not just “this is fun” because that’s inherently too generic to really touch an emotion. Reach down for something deeper, something more refined. In that you begin to build differentiation for the player between your game and some other similar game targeting the same more generic fun emotions. Set the user up for this deeper, richer experience through every step of the process from acquisition to retention and engagement and out through monetization and your should be successful. Get it wrong, or worse, completely overlook the process of defining the value proposition and you set yourself up for failure because you set your consumer up for disappointment.
If you’re still not sure about your value proposition after reviewing your own user data, you’re not alone, sometimes the data doesn’t point to a single, directly attainable answer. This is where competitive research, consumer modeling through demographic and psychographic assumptions and other tools can help you define and refine your hypothesis. The better you can guess (and remember, a lot of this really is initially a guess to start with) the behaviors and thus desires of your intended consumer the better you can build a value proposition and thus a product and acquisition campaign to target them.