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Building a defensible value proposition

Today I want to share with you a really useful model to guide how you build and defend your value prop.

The Commodity Trap

One important challenge which businesses face is how to avoid becoming viewed as a commodity. This is a bad place to be because you are always competing on price, potentially with competitors who can sell at a loss for longer than you just to starve you out. If you are a startup it’s hard to disrupt commoditized markets because you don’t benefit from the economies of scale that the incumbents have.

Blue-ish Ocean?

That doesn’t mean it’s impossible, but it can’t be done through playing by the same rules. Instead, innovating in the business model or looking for ways to sell on value, not price (both elements of Blue Ocean strategy), are the most popular ways to do this.

How to build value

This brings me to how you can think about value using the model that is Bain’s Elements of Value. NOTE: I have redrawn this more simply than the original, which I recommend you check out in the HBR article.

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The main thrust of this is that your B2B buyer or user is a human being. This means you aren’t limited to talking about saving/making time and money. The best, most defensible, brands and products have a strong connection at all of the levels above (sharp-eyed readers will spot that this is analogous to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs).

Building value across the pyramid

This is something that can be done intentionally. Bain’s pyramid gives examples of areas within each pyramid level where value can be offered:

1) Inspirational Value


  • Vision
  • Hope
  • Social Responsibility

2) Individual Value


  • Network Expansion
  • Marketability
  • Reputational Assurance


  • Design and Aesthetics
  • Growth and Development
  • Reduced Anxiety
  • Fun and Perks

3) Ease-of-doing-business Value


  • Time Savings
  • Reduced Effort
  • Decreased Hassles
  • Information
  • Transparency


  • Availability
  • Variety
  • Configurability


  • Responsiveness
  • Expertise
  • Commitment
  • Stability
  • Cultural Fit


  • Organization
  • Simplification
  • Connection
  • Integration


  • Risk Reduction
  • Reach
  • Flexibility
  • Component Quality

4) Functional Value


  • Improved Top Line
  • Cost Reduction


  • Product Quality
  • Scalability
  • Innovation

5) Table stakes

  • Meeting Specifications
  • Acceptable Price
  • Regulatory Compliance
  • Ethical Standards

Multi-faceted value is more defensible

The more of these levels you can leverage to deliver value to your customers, the more loyalty you will engender and the less likely they will be to choose a competitor. Moreover, much of this value is relational (not transactional) and has an emotional content, meaning that it becomes easier to price on value rather than cost.

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