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Let’s face it, your web site design has a certain shelf life, and the time comes when even the most reticent business owners realize their site is due for a make-over. Being a visual design fanatic, graphic designer and photographer I sympathize with clients who think they have a design problem. Just recently a prospect stated something I hear a lot:

“My biggest problem has always been the design of things”

I think this comes from intuitively recognizing that “there is something wrong or missing” from their site, but failing to realize exactly what it might be. And so the focus falls on “design”, the “look and feel”, the “cool factor”, the latest font choices, video backgrounds and sliders. Thoughts turn to “mobile”, “responsive”, “more modern”.

UX Design Problems Are Hard to Spot At First Glance

hard to spot ux problemMarketers and app developers have embraced user experience as being a fundamental aspect of modern design. But for the average small business owner, blogger, solopreneur and for most lay people, UX is a difficult and mysterious concept to come to grips with, and the lack of a good user experience is hard to spot.
This means that very often site re-designs are based on visual decisions and look and feel only, ignoring the fundamentals of user behavior, research, and customer centric thinking. This also implies little research and planning.

But Digital Strategy Gaps Are Even Harder To Spot

For me, the coolest vanity site out there is useless (or at best a hobby only) if it fails to attract and convert visitors into leads. Or fails to engage consumers of our content. Visitors will come, say “wow this is cool”, and then leave, unless we have a way to capture them. Like being on a blind date with someone beautiful, without ever asking for a name. Now there’s a design problem for you.

Some examples of missed opportunities

We’ve seen carefully crafted corporate site re-designs launch, with no content other than myopic product catalogs, services and company history, all organized by internal departments, and navigable only by the initiated. Why was the site not converting?

Because that’s called an intranet.

So often the language is that of a first person narrative, it’s all me, me, me, or we, we, we.

Sorry, how are you helping your site visitors?

We see sites that advertise their products and services by shouting at a demographic, rather than starting to engage with their prospects.

If you want to start a conversation, don’t shout.

And often we see thoughtful and entertaining blog articles, marooned and hidden away in some far corner of a site without linking to other valuable pages, and without any accessible opt-ins chance to grow email lists for the content owners. Or we’ve seen famous authors book launch site giving away free preview chapters of their book, without a sign up form asking for an email in exchange. I get it, you’re being modest and are providing value, but trust me, it’s OK to have an occasional opt-in asking for a name and email address.

There is such a thing as being too humble.

So the question for me is always one of customer centricity: Who do you place at the center of your site’s experience? Yourself or your visitors?

So what should we focus on when considering a site re-design?

Let us adopt our customer’s point of view. What is our value proposition to them? How can we inform, delight and offer relevant content and experiences to them?

1.) Awareness: Start by realizing the opportunity for re-invention

It starts with simply realizing that each time a web site is re-designed, it is a huge strategic opportunity to re-invent not only the site, but also the way it contributes to your underlying business model.

2.) Education: Why and how content marketing works

Initially, spend more time researching. In my experience, most web design projects benefit from an 80/20 rule: 80% planning, 20% execution. Educate yourself about why content marketing and an inbound approach work so well for most companies that practice it. Here some quick stats and info to understand the opportunity better…

3.) Conversion: Going Inbound

There is no better way to start customer centric thinking than by implementing an inbound content strategy. It will help develop the muscle for customer centric philosophy and language. It will lead not only to a deeper understanding of your site visitors, but also to a better relationship with your prospects.

4.) Marketing Automation: The difference

For small businesses and solopreneurs, the potential of marketing automation cannot be overstated. Once accessible only to relatively large organizations and corporates, marketing automation platforms are now extremely affordable, and an excellent way to design and run sophisticated inbound content campaigns.

5.) Re-Frame the Opportunity: Converting visitors into prospects, prospects into leads

A re-design project is an ideal place to start, because it can provide you with a re-frame: Your site’s job is to convert site visitors into leads, by providing valuable content to your readership in exchange for contact info and email addresses.

Your site can become the central hub of a customer centric overall digital marketing strategy that supports your business goals (and reflects your brand of course).

Part 2 of 2

This is the second post in a series about Value Proposition Design and focuses on a technique to build a digital strategy roadmap using the VPD methodology. The series covers what Value Proposition Design is, what its benefits are and how it fits into a larger Digital Strategy.

Click here for part 1. Also, stay tuned for our updated Digital Strategy Resources Guide.

About This Series

Value Proposition Design Flying lens

In my previous post in this series about Value Proposition Design, we covered the high-level benefits of VPD as a design thinking process. In addition to its inherent benefits, it can help establish a common language that connects 10,000-foot level thinkers with their more detail oriented counterparts, be it employees or service providers.

If you missed the previous post, you might like to check out Value Proposition Design – “Just Do Me Up One Of These”.

What You Will Get Out Of Reading This Post

In this post, I will go into how we use the Value Proposition Design process in a slightly unorthodox way. The goal is to create an actionable digital strategy roadmap and project plans, even for solopreneurs and small business owners.

Benefits of using VPD as a starting point in this way are many:

  • Better web design and site content
  • Better SEO and link building approach
  • Better Engagement for blog and social media posts
  • Increased e-Mail list sign up rates
  • Better converting lead magnets
    • Inbound Marketing Readiness
    • More compelling marketing language
    • Clarity about what analytics to measure
    • Clarity around UX goals
    • More representative UX design processes


    So if you are interested in these outcomes, read on!

    Origins of Value Proposition Design

    So where did Value Proposition Design come from? Many of our readers who are into the start-up scene will have heard of the Business Model Canvas. The Business Model Canvas is a strategic management and lean start-up template for developing new, or documenting existing, business models. It is one of the better known “lean” start-up processes. (Wikipedia and YouTube references).

    Have you and your business ever looked for partners or investors?

    Digital strategy roadmaps are not just for start-ups

    You may not be going in front of Shark Tank, but creating a pitch for potential partners or investors in your business or non-profit happens more often than one might think.

    The Business Model Canvas and Value Proposition Design processes allow you to communicate and test the ins and outs of your business model. For a good overview of the canvas, check out this Business Model Canvas post on Floship. Some start-ups use it to build their “Shark Tank Ready” pitch to investors covering all the bases in terms of customer segments, product market fit, financials, etc. But it is also a terrific process to test out the viability of new product and business ideas. And we use it in a unique way to feed into our digital strategy roadmap process.

    “Do you produce products and services customers actually want? “

    Value Proposition Design Book

    Value Proposition Design (VPD) was authored by Alex Osterwalder and his team at Strategyzer.com, and has emerged as a subset of the Business Model Canvas. It focuses specifically on understanding customer segments and product-market fit of your products and services. The clear value proposition definitions that emerge from a VPD exercise are extremely useful, regardless of where in your business life-cycle you currently are.

    As I touched upon in my previous post, we often find that many of our clients benefit hugely from creating clear value proposition statements around their products and services. Often these have not been formally established and can be used to connect their various marketing activities and projects in a strategic and holistic way.

    How We Use VPD Design Thinking To Impact Small and Large Businesses

    Digital Strategy Roadmap Design Primer

    I should note that we at Polymash use VPD in a slightly unorthodox way: We do not necessarily create fully fledged Shark Tank ready business plans and pitch decks for investors.

    More often we use the initial stages of the VPD process to feed into our own Digital Strategy Design methodology, which creates actionable plans across multiple dimensions of a digital strategy roadmap.

    And we do not focus only on supporting start-ups but have found ways to help businesses of any size, including solopreneurs, small businesses, and corporates. To see why this works so well for us, read on.

    In short, we call this process “inbound design“, the intentional design patterns and practices that more easily allow you and your business to be customer-centric, and as a result to attract, convert, close and delight your audience and turn them into customers.

    Appreciative Inquiry is Asset Based Thinking

    Another point of differentiation is that we start by focusing on existing assets, rather than on deficits. Starting with what already works well and can be built upon is a more energizing experience for clients to work on, rather than on solely zooming in on gaps that exist. The “Strength-Based Approach” we use is based on applying “Appreciative Inquiry” methodology. It creates a more collaborative and blame-free environment, with people more willingly contributing and implementing changes, all the while feeling like they are co-creating their own digital future presence.

    How Does A VPD Workshop Function, And Who Should Attend?

    Value Proposition Design Workshop as part of building a clients digital strategy roadmap

    It is best to invite a facilitator familiar with the VPD process run the workshop. As far as attendees, we think that 3-25 stakeholders are a good size, depending on the size and complexity of the business or product set being worked on.

    It is, of course, a good idea to get diverse representation from inside the business. Business owners or C-level execs, product management, marketing, operations, and sales should all be represented. For small businesses, the owners and supporters that know the business intimately can suffice.

    But getting input from actual clients representing different customer segments is valuable. For example, if you were developing an educational product or business it would be great to have representation from students, teachers as well as parents.

    VPD workshops can be conducted in a single day or spread out into smaller sessions in multiple days, but it will be difficult to be productive in just a few hours. Building a digital strategy is a strategic effort, and we recommend doing at least 2 sessions, usually on separate days.

    • Session One focuses on customer profiles, value maps and product marketing fit. It produces “Value Proposition Statements” as an end of session deliverable.
    • Session Two can have fewer attendees who focus on project planning as part of a larger digital strategy roadmap. This is achieved by feeding the VPD statements into each relevant dimension on our Digital Strategy CCC Process.


    Suggested Workshop Sessions & Workflow

    Session One

    • Identify Customer Segments to Work On
    • Use Sticky Notes and Dotmocracy to document ideas
    • Post-It App to digitize
    • Focus on Customer Profile First
    • Focus on Value Map Second
    • Produce Value Proposition Statements

    Session Two

    • Recap Session One
    • Evaluate Potential Fits
    • Focus on Most Compelling VPD Statements
    • Digital Strategy Roadmap Design (CCC Process)
    • Follow Up Task and Project Plan

    Workshop Trigger Questions

    Example Trigger Questions for "Customer Jobs To Be Done" courtesy of Strategyzer.com

    Example Trigger Questions, courtesy of Strategyzer.com

    To stimulate thinking during the workshop, the VPD process provides a series of trigger questions that lead participants to consider aspects they may not have thought of before.

    • “Jobs to Be Done” trigger questions explore key jobs customers do, as well as contexts and even emotional states in which they operate.
    • “Pains” trigger questions focus on pains customers may experience in their daily lives, in terms of money, time, effort and frustrations they may encounter.
    • “Gains” trigger questions explore potential gains, in terms how saving time, cost, effort or increased quality can delight customers and lead them to achieve their aspirations.

    Trigger questions are also used to explore your current of future products and services, and how well these products and services address gains or pains of each customer segment.


    Customer Profile Trigger Questions

    • Customer Jobs
    • Customer Pains
    • Customer Gains

    Value Map Trigger Questions

    • Pain Relievers
    • Gain Creators

    Sticky Notes and Dotmocracy

    VPD results for a client building a digital strategy roadmap with our process

    Depending on the number of people in the room, the activities can be split into sub-groups, each working a separate customer profile or product profile for example.

    We use whiteboards with large VPD diagrams to work on and place sticky notes with participant ideas to record all ideas.

    The sticky notes can be prioritized and sorted in a number of ways. We are fond of “Dotmocracy” sorting, where every participant gets 10 small “dot” stickers they can vote with by placing a dot on the ideas they like best.

    Side Note Alert:

    There is a terrific way to capture and digitize these sticky notes along the way:

    One of my favorite apps in this process is “Post-It Plus App”, which takes a photo of the entire whiteboard and produces digital “sticky note” square images that can be assembled and used to create great looking workshop documentation and client reports after the session.

    Click here for a video of this in action…

    Value Proposition Statements

    Example of a Value Proposition Statement, part of a digital strategy roadmap

    Example VPD Statement

    “Value Proposition Statements” are a quick but formalized way of describing how your products solve problems or create gains for each of your customer segments.

    One has to experience the entire process to see how amazingly concise and nuanced the VPD can be for each customer segment. The format to follow is illustrated in the example to the right, taken from a recent educational website we are building for a client.

    Finding “Fit”

    Here you discover what sort of fit exists between your products and the needs of each market segment you have defined. In his VPD book Alex Osterwalder differentiates between three types of potential fit:

    On Paper: Problem Solution Fit

    This occurs when you have evidence that customers care about certain jobs, pains or gains, and have designed a VPD statement that matches your product or service up with these needs.

    In The Market: Product Market Fit

    Occurs when you have evidence that your existing products and services are actually solving customer pains and providing gains the market. In short, you are in the process of getting traction.

    In the Bank: Business Model Fit

    occurs when there is evidence that your VPD statements can be part of a sustainable and scalable business model

    So Now What? How to make the VPD Statements Actionable

    Steps in Building a Digital Strategy Roadmap

    This is where the “rubber meets the road”. This is also where we at Polymash diverge from the rest of the VPD and Business Model Canvas process. We utilize a simple “Create, Chuck, Continue” (CCC Process) to define follow up tasks and projects as we evaluate strategic application areas. (More on this later)

    The goal is to take the VPD insights gained and to then apply the carefully crafted VPD statements to all segments of a digital strategy.

    Application areas quickly become obvious.

    1.) VPD Drives Content Strategy

    Good VPD statement can drive Content Strategy. For example, clarity gained around customer segments and what they truly value will help you create an editorial calendar with more relevant topics for blog posts that better connect your target audience.

    2.) VPD Drives Web Design and Re-Design

    Think of how your website is structured. Think about how it is laid out, the pages that exist today. Can VPD help you improve your site design to make the content more compelling, more relevant to your audience? Can you think of creating sections and content that better connect with your customers and “speaks” to their needs? The answer has been a resounding “yes” in our experience. It can inform what pages to A/B test, VPD design can drive SEO keyword and Google AdWords research, it can drive link building efforts, the list goes on.

    3.) VPD Drives User Experience

    Not all businesses have a UX practice in place, but many smaller and start-up businesses have at least built design personas to understand their customer better. VPD is terrific input into many UX processes, from Design Personas to Customer Journey Mapping or Core Model Designs.

    4.) VPD Drives Marketing

    When it comes to Marketing, there are too many application areas to even mention. Obviously VPD improves the overall marketing language by being more focused and clear about needs and wants of each customer segment. But it also provides a basis for social media posts, topics of content curation, targeted offers, discount strategy and so on. Applications are only limited by a marketers imagination.

    5.) VPD Drives Analytics

    Lastly, the overall VPD process creates clarity around what to measure and where to apply analytics. This can help in setting up Google analytics segmentation, can be used to drive SEO keyword research. And of course, the output of analytics can then also be used to inform the next phase of validating, refining, changing and adjusting the overall strategy from year to year.

    Building a Digital Strategy Roadmap: Our CCC Process

    Building a Digital Strategy Roadmap does not need to be complex or expensive.

    Polymash CCC Process for our digital strategy roadmap


    One Example of our Polymash CCC Process Template

    The overall investment of time is relatively low when compared to the results and ROI we have observed from this approach. And the way in which these insights can be executed can vary from simple to do lists to more robust project planning tools for larger businesses.

    The process we use to build a holistic strategy roadmap is our Create, Chuck, Continue (CCC) process.

    • For each customer segment and for each Digital Strategy dimension we use this process to decide which activities need to take place (Create), what should be discontinued (Chuck), and what should be kept in place (Continue).

    At the end of the entire workshop process, this will produce a high-level roadmap of small or large projects that need to take place in each Digital Strategy Dimension listed above. This roadmap can then easily be transferred into to do lists, editorial calendars, social media scheduling tools or an organization’s project planning software.

    Strategy Roadmap Case Studies and Examples

    Ready For Life digital strategy roadmap

    I’m excited to be launching several new sites for clients who have gone through the entire VPD process. The client has been delighted with the VPD process, and has applied the insights to the user experience and web designs for his new site, as well as to his content strategy and all other aspects of the digital strategy roadmap we co-created.

    Ready4Life

  • The first of these sites is called Ready4Life, it helps parents and kids by providing tools and a practical processes to help them know their strengths and discover opportunities in the world that need what they do best.
  • Positivity Strategist

  • Another good example is Positivity Strategist, where we went about creating strategy roadmaps using the value proposition design methods and built a fundamentally customer-centric and inbound design oriented approach.
  • Good Dad Project

  • The Good Dad Project uses value proposition design patterns to help the audience self select into segments on parenting, fitness or relationships, all topics that provide different resources to each audience.
  • I’ll be posting additional case studies and success stories soon.

    Afterword

    If you’ve read this far, I thank you for bearing with me through this rather lengthy discussion on how we collaborate with our clients to build holistic digital strategy roadmaps.

    Since starting Polymash as an app and web design and development company, we’ve observed that most of our engagements are never “just about creating an app” or “re-designing a website”. When asking our client’s fundamental questions about their business goals and reasons behind wanting to start a web or app project, a clear need for a holistic digital strategy usually emerged.

    Starting with VPD and finishing with our Digital Strategy Roadmap process has made this a reality for our clients and has successfully produced significant and measurable results.

    I’d love to hear your views, observations or questions about this process, please feel free to leave a comment or contact us at info@polymash.com.

    Part 1 of 2

    This is the first in a series of posts around value proposition design. The series will cover what it is, what its benefits are, how it fits into a larger digital strategy. Along the way I share some stories about why we've come to use it regularly. For Part2 Click Here.

    Flying At 10,000 Feet Vs. Being In The Weeds

    Have you ever had a client who you think has “no attention to detail?”

    Do their eyes glaze over as soon as you start talking about the particulars of your proposed web design, investment in UX, SEO, Analytics, PR? Sound familiar to the web designers, SEO folks, content marketers, UX practitioners?

    We as designers and service providers tend to spend much of your time in the weeds – operating at a detail level that our clients or bosses may have no interest in or patience for.

    And our clients, as business owners, are often operating at 10,000 feet. Some may feel inadequate about their own domain expertise when it comes to technical details. And some “get it”, but don’t want, or need, to be involved in understanding the implementation.

    It is rare that you get a client or boss who wants to understand and learn the ins and outs of our craft, whatever it may be.

    Value Proposition Design Lens

    The “Just Do Me Up One Of These” Syndrome

    I spent last year developing a cloud-based SaaS product for “content discovery and curation”, basically a “mobile first” start-up called PolyContent with an iOS and Android app as the minimal viable product (MVP).

    We were in Australia talking to a client about it, trying to impress him with our app’s social features and by illustrating the many (detailed) ways it could help their organization…

    Now there came a moment where the client’s eyes lit up, he “got it” right away. And, as soon as he understood our concept at a 10,000-foot level, he waved a hand dismissively  and said:

    “Yeah Yeah Yeah, just do me up one of these!”

    He got it, was agreeable right away, did not want to know the details. Now you might think this is good news, sale completed and all…

    But really, I missed an opportunity to more strategically integrate our solution. The follow-up potential within his organization was not explored much after that. While we were happy to close a sale, the marketing efforts to support the project, the many ways in which it could truly help his organization were never discussed at the C-suite level.

    Another example was a famous author with an idea for a start-up. We often have people come to us with app ideas or new business concepts, and I had been recommended as a strategic technology partner to bring his vision to life. I had gone in with an expectation that we would be 50/50 thinking partners for each other on both a strategic and detailed level, as I fancy myself as “more than just” a technologist.

    It turns out this person is a brilliant thinker at a 10,000-foot level but has absolutely NO interest in technology implementation details around how anything is built.

    After initial frustration on both our parts, we had to find a way to work together, to communicate around his project.

    Wake Up Call: Clients Are Not The Problem

    So the problem wasn’t really that my clients “had no attention to detail”, the problem was that I, as service provider, was communicating with them on the wrong level.

    I should have been learning more about THEIR business goals, the value proposition THEIR products and services represent to THEIR customers.

    Of course, I always discuss strategic goals of a project ahead of time, but I found that often this conversation is short and to the point. I felt needed a more structured way.

    So that’s what I set out to focus on last year, applying our Lean Startup experiences from running and supporting various start-ups.

    The discovery for me was that typical “Lean Start Up” methods like Lean Canvas, Business Model Canvas, and most recently Value Proposition Design operates at a higher strategic business level than the User Experience (UX) design processes I was already familiar with.

    Particularly the Value Proposition Design process provides clarity around the true Value Proposition of a business, product or service. It is intended to rapidly iterate through product ideas, generate prototypes and MVPs, and to craft formalized investor pitches that can stand “Shark Tank” like scrutiny.

    And, as it turns out, this approach is a fantastic starting point for most aspects of implementing a holistic digital strategy.

    A “Design Thinking Methodology”

    My initial goal was a selfish one, to better connect detail-oriented aspects of projects to a client’s 10,000 feet level thinking.

    But what came a surprise for me was that clients themselves often have no clear value proposition driven content before undertaking a design or marketing projects.

    This can be especially true for smaller businesses, solopreneurs, and start-ups.

    Value Proposition Design Fit with Digital Strategy

    Do not overlook Value Proposition Design in your overall Digital Strategy

    How can clients discuss strategic aspects of a website re-design or a marketing effort without clear “language” to communicate around their business goals, around who the intended customers are, around the value propositions behind products and services involved?

    VPD establishes a design thinking methodology that works particularly well for web design, re-design, SEO, marketing and content strategy projects.

    How The Value Proposition Design Workshop Process Helps

    As we hold VPD workshops, clients not only love it as a process, but see the many ways in which the deliverables and outcomes are inter-connected with their marketing efforts. This is why we like to start most projects with a “Value Proposition Design” workshop, a win win approach for both our clients and ourselves.

    Benefits for clients

    • clarifies who their customers and customer segments really are
    • clarifies how their products and services help their customers “get jobs done”
    • informs web design, SEO, information architecture, content strategy
    • informs marketing efforts and other social media strategy
    • informs analytics and how to measure results
    • elevator pitches for your business (on steroids)

    Benefits for service providers

    • a common reference that links between detail and 10,000 foot thinking
    • is critical input for UX efforts such as persona development or customer journey mapping
    • meets clients where they are and supports big picture thinking
    • establishes a more strategic relationship


    As a result our clients have started to consider us as more than just a vendor, and as more of a thinking partner involved in multiple aspects of their business. And when the time comes to choose a vendor to provide the actual project execution, we are a more obvious choice.

    In the next post of this series, I will talk about the details of where VPD came from, how VPD workshops functions, and how it can achieve results and be systematically applied in our web design, SEO, and marketing projects.

    Value Proposition Design Resources

    In the meantime I can leave you with a resource to find out more on your own:

    Value Proposition Design Book

    About Alexander Osterwalder, Author of “Value Proposition Design”

    The authors of “Value Proposition Design” are obsessed with bringing practical tools and processes to the fields of strategy, innovation, and entrepreneurship. They all share a common passion for making business concepts simple, beautiful, and applicable so that they become useful and indispensable in the lives of business professionals and organizations.

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