I bought my first pair of Lululemon yoga pants nearly 20 years ago, before the Vancouver-based retailer became a household name and its butt-sculpting leggings became a weekend wear staple.
Fast forward two decades and I’m still buying Lululemon athletic wear even though countless athleisure brands have since sprung up, all offering their own take on stretchy pants and technical tops, sometimes at half the price of Lulu’s offerings.
So why do I keep returning to Lulu?
It’s simple: the yoga gear purveyor has nailed its unique value proposition, or UVP.
A UVP describes the benefit of your product, how you solve customers’ pain points, and what differentiates you from the competition. A solid UVP is what keeps customers coming back to you instead of being lured away by the latest shiny new offering or a competitor offering a similar product at a lower price point.
Having a clearly defined UVP is important for many reasons. It ensures everyone in your organization uses the same language when talking about your product or service and it’s the foundation of your messaging strategy. If a customer asks why they should choose you over the myriad of competitors out there, a well-crafted UVP means everyone in your organization would answer this question the same way. And when customers have internalized your UVP, they end up choosing Lululemon pants over a less expensive facsimile, even 20 years later.
Let’s get to the heart of what a UVP is by taking a page from marketing expert and author Simon Sinek, who posits people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it. A well thought out, expertly crafted UVP should answer this question. If it does this successfully, your brand will invoke a certain feeling in customers. This will make you stand out in a sea of undifferentiated competitors.
Getting back to Lululemon: What would you describe as the company’s unique value proposition? Broadly speaking, it’s creating athletic clothing that’s both fashionable and functional. When Lululemon arrived on the scene in the late 90s, there was a gap in the market for trendy, well-made, comfortable athletic wear. Lululemon successfully filled this gap. They’ve since upped their game by promoting body positivity (their advertising uses models of all shapes and sizes), recruiting local fitness instructors as brand ambassadors, and by proving their commitment to fitness by sponsoring races and running yoga classes at in-store locations (pre-Covid). At this point, the brand has transcended its roots as a purveyor of athleisure wear. Customers remain loyal because the company’s products go beyond meeting their needs (wanting stylish, yet functional, athletic wear) and providing a benefit (technical gear specially made for different types of workouts.) Customers see their values – whether real or aspirational – reflected in the brand’s values.
Now, let’s get back to you. Still unsure what your unique value proposition is and how to articulate it? Read on.
Crafting your UVP
First, put yourself in the shoes of your customer. Which values are important to them? What language do they use when speaking about your product or service? This will probably be different from the language you use. If you’re not sure, go on a fact-finding mission and speak to your customers.
Your unique value proposition should answer these questions:
- What product or service are you selling?
- What’s the benefit of using it?
- Who is your target customer?
- What are your target customer’s problems?
- How does your offering solve those problems?
- What are your target customer’s values?
- How are your values aligned with your target customer’s values?
- What makes your offering unique or different from the competition?
After you’ve come up with answers to these questions, you’re ready to craft your UVP. When expressing your value proposition with words, follow these simple guidelines:
- Be clear! Use simple, easy to understand language.
- Articulate the benefit your customers get from using your product or service
- Communicate how your product or service is different and better than the competition
This last bullet point might be the hardest one to nail down. If your product or service is unique in its market category, your UVP will write itself. But what if it isn’t? You’ll need to find an original angle for your value proposition, even if your offering isn’t unique. Here are some themes to consider:
- Quality: Does your product or service deliver a superior experience? One product that competes on quality in the saturated and somewhat unexciting small household appliance segment is Vitamix. People are willing to shell out extra cash for a Vitamix blender because they believe it will do a better job than less expensive alternatives.
- Aspiration: Luxury brands tend to be aspirational (think Chanel or Rolex), but non-luxury brands can be aspirational too. Many health and wellness and cosmetic brands appeal to aspirational customers. Think of brands like Goop and Glossier, which use their customers’ aspirations as the basis for their value proposition.
- Indispensable: You can differentiate your offering by establishing it as a “must have” instead of a “nice to have” in the mind of consumers. Broadly speaking, a good example of an indispensable product is the diamond engagement ring, considered a “must have” when proposing to one’s significant other. Cellphones have long transitioned from being a “nice to have” gadget to a “must have” can’t-live-without-it product needed to survive in the modern world. On a more granular level, virtual meeting software platforms like Zoom and Microsoft Teams became indispensable during the coronavirus pandemic.
These are just a few angles to consider – there are many others that work well too. You can also differentiate your offering by mixing a few themes together. I would argue that Lululemon’s value proposition hinges on quality with a dose of aspiration mixed in. Loyal customers who follow an active lifestyle would likely characterize their Lululemon clothes as being “must have” workout wear staples.
So, to sum up: Figure out how to differentiate your offering. Then think about how to communicate the unique value you provide to customers as clearly as possible, using simple but effective language. If you successfully pull this off, customers won’t only continue buying your product or service – even if similar, less expensive offerings abound – they’ll happily promote it to others. And that, of course, is the holy grail of marketing.