Chapter 4

4 product value proposition models for product managers


What is a product value proposition?

Product propositions are your company’s elevator pitch. They’re your product’s central thesis statement that succinctly communicates:

  1. The benefits for your users
  2. How you're better than your competitors

Product-market fit happens when your product’s value proposition meets your target user’s underserved needs. While you’re product planning, it’s important to think about how you’ll attract users with your core offering. The product proposition isn’t just a sentence about what your product does, (e.g. Slack is a communications tool), but describes how your product intends to create value in a way that’s different from your competitors (e.g. Slack is a communications tool that will help B2B users cut down on email clutter and integrate with third-party apps.)

What's so special about your product? Scope out the competition with a product feature competitive analysis. Knock 'em out.

Internally, product propositions help PMs make product decisions for the roadmap. Many PMs write product propositions because it’s part of their PM process and/or their managers ask them to. Most of them never revisit it again. Building without a product thesis will leave PMs vulnerable to making uninformed decisions based on the loudest voice in the room—whether it’s from a CEO or an angry user that you’re not even trying to target in the first place.
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Once you start building your product, sharing your product proposition will help your developers and designers understand the “why” behind what they’re building and help them develop user empathy. Sticking to the value proposition will create a much more focused product experience for your users.

A PM that is single-minded about the product proposition will turn those values into must-haves in the product, which will turn into happy users. That’s because you’re making good on your promises.

Four product value proposition models for product managers

Ideally, a good value proposition model will help push your product closer towards product/market fit. Using a framework is meant to reveal potential knowledge gaps in about your customer, leading to parts of your product that won’t stick.

Your product proposition is your product's promise of how it will improve life or work for your users. Other brands are making promises too—don't forget to include your product’s key differentiator. In this guide, we rounded up the most popular value proposition models for a PM’s different use cases.

Crossing the Chasm’s value proposition model

TL;DR PMs who need a succinct way to share their value proposition internally. After using one of the value proposition models below, return to this one to sum up your findings.

The beauty of this product proposition model is that it’s short, sweet and simple. Unlike the others in this guide, this one is text-based—you can frame your product’s thesis in just a few sentences. After using one of the value proposition models below, come back to this one to sum up your findings.

The framework is as follows:

For "target customer" who "need statement", the "product/brand name" is a "product category" that "key benefit statement/compelling reason to buy". Unlike "primary competitor alternatives", "product/brand name" "primary differentiation statement".

The core idea of this framework is that it covers all your bases—your product, your users and your competitors. Using Slack as an example, this is what their value proposition might look like:

For work teams who need a better workflow, Slack is a team communications tool that seamlessly ingrates apps and allows users to easily search through files, calls, messages and colleagues. Unlike Microsoft Teams, Slack has the best options for integrations for third-party apps and is much easier to deploy.

Roman Pichler’s extended product vision board as a value proposition model

TL;DR PMs should use this if they know their users extremely well and need boardroom buy-in, either from investors or for executives.

Roman Pichler's unique approach to your product’s value proposition doesn’t look at it from the lens of your user, but of your business. Some of the business-centric questions it asks are:

  • Is it possible to develop the product?
  • How will it benefit the company?
  • What are your product’s business goals?
  • How can you monetize your product and generate revenue?
  • What are the costs factors to develop, market, sell and service the product?

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The sub-questions in each section are structured to help you communicate your product’s value proposition to internal stakeholders. As one of the few models that directly address competitors, it doesn’t differentiate user needs into pains/gains. If it’s your first time doing this exercise, the blanket “needs” section might leave room for specific pains or gains to be missed.

Alexander Osterwalder’s value proposition canvas

TL;DR This user-centric value proposition model canvas is great for PMs who might have multiple use cases or a diverse group of users in their product. The PM should feel comfortable talking about competing products without much help from the canvas.

This framework is from the people who brought you Business Model Canvas. Out of all the product proposition models here, it’s the most user-centric one. Alexander takes a deep dive into the customer’s pains, gains and jobs to be done (JTBD).

This tool will help you visualize the alignment between your product (left) and your target customer (right) based off of overlapping inputs on both sides. The goal of using this model is to work towards product-market fit.
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If you plan on using this framework, start with the circle on the right—the customer profile. Because the titles and descriptions aren’t as straightforward as the other models, we’ve outlined what might belong in each section.

Customer Job(s)
Under “Customer Jobs,” list out all of your user’s everyday tasks or problems. Think about your user’s unmet needs, using Maslow's hierarchy of needs for social/emotional drivers.

Pains
Next, the inputs in the pains section can refer to pains that your user runs into while trying to accomplish their everyday tasks. It can also be a place where you record pains from using competing solutions, whether from a lack of features or performance issues. Assign the inputs scores and rank them based on the frequency and severity of the pain.

Gains
In the gains section, describe what your customer expects or desires in a product. This includes performance, social gains, delight while using the product, and cost savings.

Products and Services
On the Value Proposition (square) side, start with all the products and services you hope to offer that your value proposition is built around. You can also rank your products and services according to its importance to your users—namely, how well they serve your customer’s most highly ranked pain points.

Pain Relievers and Gain Creators
The gains and pains sections are similar to the ones on the user side but refer to the gains and pains users experience while using your product.

Try to resolve all your target user’s pains and meet all their gains. The higher number of common inputs on both sides will show you how well your product is aligned to them. Again, this framework doesn’t address your competitors, but it does take a much deeper dive than any other framework into the target user.

Ash Maurya’s Lean Canvas

TL;DR PMs who want a one-and-done exercise to nail their value proposition should use this model. It’s got everything you need in one canvas and is also a helpful tool to present for boardroom buy-in.

Ash Maurya's Lean Canvas is an adaption of Business Model Canvas’ canvas from above, with the add-on of information that would be useful in a presentation to executives, like revenue streams, cost structure and key metrics. There’s even a section that indirectly addresses competitors. “Existing alternatives: how problems are solved today” is the perfect place to note how your users might be addressing their pains, whether in hacky ways or through competitor solutions.

It’s unique that the value proposition is called out in its own quadrant here, and is broken out into two sections:

  • A single, clear, compelling message that states why you are different and worth paying attention and
  • A high-level concept explanation for what your product does (your X for Y analogy e.g. YouTube = Flickr for videos.)

When visualized next to your user’s top problems or competitor solutions, it’s easy to see if your own product proposition meets those needs in a better way than your competitors.
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Validate and share your product proposition

Without any follow-up or retrospectives, product propositions offer less value, so be sure to share it with all your stakeholders.

To validate your value proposition, try to get in front of real users or run a market survey. Present your product proposition and ask, “How would you feel if you could no longer use the product?”

If 40 per cent answer “very disappointed” to your main benefit, you have the right product/market fit.

- Startup Marketing

If not, tweak your product thesis. Ask your “very disappointed” users what the main benefit they receive from you is (if they’ve gotten to test the product), or how they’d like for you to improve the product. Ensure the main benefit is communicated in your product proposition.

First Round Review published a case study with the following survey questions to determine what Superhuman’s key value offering was to achieve product/market fit (granted, they already had users and spent three years building their product):

1. How would you feel if you could no longer use Superhuman?
A) Very disappointed B) Somewhat disappointed C) Not disappointed
2. What type of people do you think would most benefit from Superhuman?
3. What is the main benefit you receive from Superhuman?
4. How can we improve Superhuman for you?

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After all of this work, it’s surprising that product propositions are forgotten. To center your entire company’s focus, you can hang your product proposition on your office wall or share it in company documents.

Since many of our value proposition models contain competitor information, they’re often proprietary. But don’t let it go to waste—share them internally to inspire your marketing team’s web copy or your sales team’s customer conversations. Your team might spin the information differently, using short forms or relatable language like in Ash Maurya’s Lean Canvas model “e.g. YouTube = Flickr for videos.“

Inside your product team, make sure that your everyone is on the same page about the value your product delivers. Keep bringing this up and ladder your product decisions up to your product proposition.

Ready to start planning out your product? Try our ready-to-use product roadmap template.

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