3 Key Principles from Steve Jobs for Developing a Value Proposition

1997 was a seminal year for both Steve Jobs and Apple. This was the point of his return to the company that he founded; when its fortunes were far from certain, and many questions still remained on his ability to turn around Apple’s ailing fortunes. Yet, Jobs admits that initially being ‘fired’ from Apple, and his subsequent period of exodus, was the best thing that could have happened to him; allowing him time for reflection and releasing the pressures to reinvigorate his creativity. It’s notable that on his return and just before the launch of the iMac in 1998, a product that initiated the re-birth of Apple, Jobs came out with a series of quotes that shed light on his thinking at the time; thoughts that were central to his ethos for developing, delivering and marketing products that would ultimately define a new era for both the company and the world. These insights speak directly to how to consider, construct and deliver Value Propositions that will engage, stimulate and mobilise customers; something that Jobs excelled at more than any other (although unlikely that he ever considered it in such a formalised manner): 

1. Start with what you want people to know about you

“To me, marketing is about values. This is a very complicated world, it’s a very noisy world. And we’re not going to get the chance to get people to remember much about us. No company is. So we have to be really clear on what we want them to know about us.”
Steve Jobs to Apple employees, 1997

Jobs recognised that the essence of the Value Proposition is clarity around a core vision or purpose. Put simply (as he did): “what do we want (people) to know about us?” This central thought guided both Apple’s internal dialogue and external Marketing. What did he, his team and the company (/brand) want to be recognised for, and by extension, what did they want their customers to take away from the products that they delivered and marketed? This clarity provided focus, enabling internal teams and external customers to rally behind a central core belief (by taking risks and ‘thinking different’, you can bring about positive change). The Value Proposition is the clear articulation of what it is that you want your employees, customers, partners and stakeholders to know about you. It is the encapsulation of your product or business, starting with why you’re doing it. If this isn’t clear, then your audience won’t give you their attention, they won’t care, and ultimately thy won’t buy what you’re offering.

2. What you leave out is more important than what you put in

“I’m as proud of many of the things we haven’t done as the things we have done. Innovation is saying no to a thousand things.”
Steve Jobs, Apple WWDC, 1997
 
Jobs built the Apple brand around the core concept of simplicity. Not only simplicity in how customers were able to use Apple products, but in every aspect of the overall ‘Apple experience’. Key to developing a powerful Value Proposition is to first understanding what to leave out. Avoid the temptation to cram everything in; a strong Value Proposition doesn’t include every benefit that you can deliver. It is single-minded, focusing on the central premise that will have the greatest resonance with the intended audience. Being able to identify that one aspect that will create the most powerful connection in the mind of the customer is the art of the Value Proposition. Jobs was the master at this, for instance, when Apple first launched the iPod in 2001 they didn’t describe it based on technical features such as memory size; they simply said “1,000 Songs in Your Pocket” – clear, compelling and easy for the audience to understand and internalise.3. Focus on better, not different

“I don’t think it’s good that we’re perceived as different, I think it’s important we’re perceived as MUCH BETTER. If being different is essential to doing that, then we have to do that, but if we could be much better without being different, that’d be fine with me. I want to be much better! I don’t care about being different, but we’ll have to be different in some ways to be much better.”
Steve Jobs, Apple WWDC Closing Keynote, 1997

Most marketers focus on ‘differentiation’. Jobs recognised that differentiation for the sake of it is irrelevant. What actually matters is being better. Being different merely provides an alternative to what customers are currently doing or using, and people generally don’t buy mere alternatives given the effort involved in changing. If something is better, then it creates preference, and customers are willing to change for things that they prefer. In the Value Proposition, it is crucial to consider what makes you better; what gives you a clear advantage compared to your competition, rather than just being different.

By devising a Value Proposition that has a clear purpose, focuses on your core benefit, and explains why you’re better than what else is out there, you will achieve standout and resonance with your intended audience. Steve Jobs and Apple used these principles and “made a dent in the universe”…how will you?

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