The Value Proposition Canvas Is Your Marketing Strategy

So you think you have an awesome business idea or startup and you’re ready to start blasting people with ads all over Facebook? Maybe you believe you are just one or two viral YouTube videos away from hockey stick like growth?

Think again. You better take a few steps back and make sure you truly understand WHO your customers are and WHY they might value your products or services.

You need a Marketing Strategy.

Strategy image

-A quick personal story from a few months ago-

Kevin: “Have you ever heard of the Value Proposition Canvas?”

Me: “Uh… I thought I just showed you the Business Model Canvas I’ve been perfecting & validating over the past month?”

K: “No, no, no the Value Proposition Canvas. It’s a second canvas that Alexander Osterwalder made to work in conjunction with the Business Model Canvas.”

Me: “Oh, yeah. I think I saw something about that a while ago. Why? My Canvas is starting to look pretty damn good if I say so myself!”

K: “Well… I think it would be a good idea for you to spend some more time on the Value Prop Canvas before you say you clearly understand who your target market is and what value you are offering them. Do you have a couple more minutes so I can show you how it works?”

Me: “Uh… sure…”

-15 minutes later-

Me: “Damn! This is awesome!”

K: “Yeah, I had I feeling you were going to like this new tool.”

Me: “I didn’t realize how vague I was being about who my customers where and what value I was offering them with my business. Thank you for showing me how to use this!”


The above conversation was from a meeting I had with Kevin Learned at Venture College a few months ago. We were discussing some key decisions I needed to make about a startup I was working on.

I had already spent quite a bit of time working on my Business Model Canvas and had even started discovering some validated learnings about what my business model should look like.

Even though I was starting to see a clearer path forward with my business, I’m so grateful Kevin had me take a step back and learn about the Value Proposition Canvas. Why? Because I use it all the damn time now!

Value Proposition Canvas

Let’s build a Marketing Strategy/Plan!

Before we talk about why I use the Value Proposition Canvas when I develop a Marketing Strategy, I think it’s important to talk about the difference between a Marketing Strategy and a Marketing Plan.

People tend to use “plan” and “strategy” interchangeably. Like they have the same meaning. I used to do the same thing too. Now, however, I see how different they really are.

A Marketing Strategy is what you need to create before you build a Marketing Plan. Your Marketing Strategy is the foundation you build your Marketing Plan on. Both matter a great deal, but you can’t have a great Marketing Plan without first developing a great Marketing Strategy.

Marketing Strategy foundation for a Marketing Plan - House Example

Sure, you could get lucky and find a few marketing tactics that might work for your business without a solid marketing strategy in place, however, the odds are pretty good that you will fail if you build your marketing plan on top of a crappy strategy or no strategy at all.

Let’s define this a bit further, a Marketing Plan is all about actions and tactics. It’s basically a list of “what” you are going to do or test. This includes anything like the following:

  • Social Media Marketing
  • Conferences or Events
  • Pay-Per-Click (AdWords)
  • Email Marketing
  • SEO
  • Content Marketing
  • Lead nurturing campaigns
  • 1 gazillion other tactics & approaches…

A Marketing Strategy is all about “who” and “why”: WHO your target audience is and WHY they will they give a crap about your products or services.

Key takeaway: A Marketing Strategy is the foundation of a Marketing Plan


Who and Why

I can’t stress it enough, but who and why are some of the most important elements to know in Marketing. You literally can’t come up with a good marketing campaign if you don’t know who your target audience is and why you think they will want what you have to offer.

Simon Sinek’s great book, “Start with Why”, helped me better understand the reason why “why” is so important. Check out this great video of his TED talk on this topic if you want to know more.

I tend to take Simon’s teaching one step deeper by thinking about the “why” from my customer’s perspective vs. mine or my company’s. Yes, it’s important to know why your company does what it does like Simon discuses in the video above, but in marketing it’s critically important to understand why your target audience would even care about how or what you do.

So really, you should start with “Who” and THEN “Why”. 😉

Let me give you an example. When someone talks about their marketing strategy, you should hear them say something along the lines of, “We are targeting shift managers of coffee shops with an employee scheduling tool. One of the main reasons why coffee shop managers love our software is because it makes scheduling next week’s shift take 15 minutes instead of 2 hours. They also love how easy it is to communicate next week’s schedule to all of their employees at the same time. They used to have to do that over a bunch of text messages or emails, now they do it with the push of one button and a notification shows up on their employee’s phone.”

It’s not about how powerful your technology is or using stupid fancy lingo that no one understands or gives a crap about. It’s about who your target customer is and talking about the pain points solved (or gains given) using language they would understand or use.

Key takeaway: A Marketing Strategy is all about “who” and “why”. You must know these two things before you build an effective Marketing Plan.


The Value Proposition Canvas helps you discover your Marketing Strategy

Ok, first off, what is the Value Proposition Canvas? It’s a tool you can use that helps you dive deeper into the Customer Segment and Value Proposition cells located on the Business Model Canvas.

Customer Segment and Value Proposition Circled - Business Model Canvas

If you are unfamiliar with what this Canvas is or need a refresher, here is a quick video that explains it.

Alright, so why should the Value Proposition Canvas be used to discover the foundation of your Marketing Strategy?


Who and Why - Value Proposition Canvas

The Value Proposition Canvas forces us to clearly identify who our target audience is, what their pain points are, and how our product or service solves those pain points. If you seriously do a good job filling out this canvas and VALIDATING it, you have some of the most important pieces of a Marketing Strategy staring you right in the face.

On the right side, you are digging deep into the jobs or tasks your customer is doing, the pain points they are dealing with, and the gains they are seeking. You’re basically walking a mile or two in your customer’s shoes so you can see the world from their perspective.

On the left side of the canvas (to the right of your product or services), you literally end up with a list of value propositions you can test in your marketing. It’s a list of how your product or service will give your target customer the gains they are seeking or solve some of the biggest pains they are dealing with.

In the near future, I will write a follow up article on some of the tips and tricks I have developed for filling out and validating your value proposition canvas. One small tip I can give you now, however, is that each of your customer segments should have their own individual Value Proposition Canvas. You will have to wait a bit for my next tips, though. Patience young Padawan… patience.

Key takeaway: The Value Proposition Canvas helps you discover the “Who” and “Why” of your Marketing Strategy.


Now that you have your Value Proposition Canvas, what’s next?

This is where you need to start getting creative. Now that you have a list of value propositions written down on your Value Proposition Canvas, it’s time to start coming up with creative ways to tell those stories and test what messages get the greatest response. It’s time to build your Marketing Plan.

I wish I could tell you what kind of Marketing Plans will work well for you, but every business typically requires a unique approach. Heck, every one of your customer segments might even require a unique approach.

Some companies will do well to launch a Facebook Ad campaign; others might be better off going to an industry conference. It truly just depends on who your customers are, where they spend their time, and what your offering/message is. It will take creativity and probably a lot of trial and error.


Key Takeaways

Alright, let’s wrap this up and summarize the main points we discussed. First, we discussed the critical differences between a Marketing Plan and a Marketing Strategy. Your Marketing Strategy is the foundation of your Marketing Plan.

Second, we dug deeper into what a Marketing Strategy actually is and how it is focused on “who” and “why”. If you don’t know these two things, your Marketing Plan is probably going to be ineffective.

Third, I demonstrated how you can use the Value Proposition Canvas to discover what your Marketing Strategy could be.


Final Thoughts

Now, it’s up to you to take action. I know that the majority of people out there will never even read this. On top of that, a fraction of the people that actually do read this will take the time to use these tools. If you are one of those people, I want to know who you are. Seriously. Reach out to me and get connected. I’d love to know how these tools are helping you. I’m sure there are things I could learn from you!

Ready to work together? Contact