How to see your small business website design through the eyes of your customer

by | Jul 16, 2017

Much of the website design advice for small businesses focuses on basic usability, SEO, and marketing tactics. But none of those things matter much if you’re making one of the most common mistakes many small business websites make: not clearly expressing your value proposition.

Expressing your value proposition — the value of what you offer — is the most important thing your website can do for your business. It’s why your customer takes you up on your offer—whether that’s buying your products or services, calling for an estimate, or just downloading a free e-book. And all the other advice available matters less if you’ve done a poor job of explaining the value of your offer.

What is your value proposition?

Whole books have been written on the matter. But simply put, your value proposition is the set of reasons someone chooses to buy your product or service. You may have a variety of products or services. And you probably have a variety of customers with different concerns. Those two factors can turn that set of reasons into a complex array of factors.

Luckily, there’s a simpler way to look at it.

The four levels of value proposition

Statements of Brand Value Proposition—corporate proclamations about the value of a brand to it’s customers—are tucked away on bookcases and in desk drawers across the corporate world. They’re often verbose statements of grand vision and scope that are forgotten almost as soon as they’re approved. And they usually only address the top-level question of why customers buy in the most general way.

But you need something comprehensive, concise, and actionable. One firm has dug into the true implications of what your value proposition must truly, necessarily be. Daniel Burstein of MECLABS Institute, a research firm that focuses on best practices in marketing communications, describes the firm’s model of value proposition. To keep this simple, focus on the questions—don’t worry about answers right now.

  1. Primary value proposition: Why should your ideal customer choose you over your competitors?
  2. Prospect-level value proposition: Why should a specific customer—often responding to a specific offer—choose you over your competitors?
  3. Product/service-level value proposition: Why should a customer buy a particular product or service rather than an alternative?
  4. Process-level value proposition: Why should a specific customer take the action you want them to take?

An example of how the four levels of value proposition are expressed on a web page.

Why this matters

How well your website answers these questions will determine its effectiveness. The answers will add to perceived value and subtract from perceived cost. And that cost may include effort, expediency, risk, or any other sacrifice in addition to financial cost.

Every element of your website should either increase perceived value, reduce perceived cost, or both.

What to do about it

Our purpose isn’t to create an exercise in which you answer questions. This is a lens through which you can see your website—the way your customer subconsciously sees it.

Of course, your website won’t answer the questions in a Q&A fashion. You’ll use a mix of text, images, and possibly video to provide cues that work on each of these levels—similar to the mix of on-page elements in the example above. These elements will respond to a wide variety of concerns—and many cues will work on multiple levels.

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