When you get excited about an idea, it's easy to lose focus of what you're doing: building things for other people. And unless you're building a free product or service, you're expecting that idea to generate money once it's implemented.

In order to do that, your idea has to resonate with a certain segment of the "market." The "market" is just a fancy word for people who have a problem and cash on hand, but want to trade that cash for a solution.

For example, unless you're keen to emit body odor wherever you go, you'd be in the "deodorant market." Within the deodorant market, there are market segments: sub-groups of the market with additional, more-specific attributes (or needs).

When it comes to offering a product to a market, you have to have a value proposition, sometimes formally referred to as a Unique Selling Proposition or USP. Your value proposition is literally the "here's why you'd want to buy this" statement designed to attract a certain market segment to your product.

In order to create a successful product, it's important to be as clear as possible when it comes to your value proposition.

Know who you're building for

The first place to start clarifying your value proposition is at the individual level. Who is the specific person your product is intended for? What is their life like? What is their day-to-day like? What do they care about most?

The who is important here for a few reasons:

  1. It ensures what you build solves a problem that person actually has.
  2. It enables you to adjust your messaging to better resonate with that person.
  3. It enables you to price your product according to that person's financial position.

When you know who is buying your product, it makes defining your value proposition that much easier. It's far easier to both build and sell your product if you know the customer is "a young mother with three kids who's trying to balance her work schedule with her kid's activities."

For example, consider Etsy. Etsy is a marketplace-style site just like Facebook Marketplace, Ebay, or even Amazon.

The reason Etsy doesn't get swallowed whole by bigger competitors is their value proposition: "If it’s handcrafted, vintage, custom, or unique, it’s on Etsy."

That value proposition speaks to a specific type of person: someone who prefers handcrafted items over mass-production items. The person who shops on Etsy prefers the things they buy to be unique and have a bit of a "story."

Further, Etsy can tailor everything they do to match this type of customer. By doing this, they give themselves a unique position in the market making them easier for customers to find and more difficult to compete with.

Identify what's not working for them

The next thing to consider is the actual problem you're solving, or, the pain that someone haves that you want to alleviate.

For example, a problem or pain point that I've had in my business is scheduling content like this blog post on social media. Over the years, this has grown increasingly more painful:

  1. Each social network I want to post to has its own rules for the type and length of content I can post.
  2. Each social network has its own rules for whether or not I can post "duplicate" content.
  3. Each social network has its own system that I have to learn and adapt to that can change at any minute.
  4. Each social network requires that I post in real-time, meaning I can't schedule up content for later.

This also creates sub-problems, too. Because I have to clear these hurdles to get my content out, it means that I may not post as frequently or at all.

Products like Buffer, HootSuite, and MeetEdgar have focused on alleviating these pain points. Even though they're all servicing the same market, too, they each have different value propositions and pain points that they focus on.

Walking Sleeping Bag
Do you Really Need to Walk in a Sleeping Bag? (via 9GAG)

The pain points you're solving don't have to be complex or overly-original, they just need to exist. Where you have to be careful is in creating pain points that don't actually exist. Avoid identifying something as a pain point just to justify your idea.

Think about your unique qualities

While knowing who your market is and what their pain points are is great, that doesn't mean your product is just magically going to "work." Where you can really do well is in finding the thing that separates you from everywhere else.

Your gut instinct may be to think "oh, we have this feature!" But remember: features can be copied by competitors. Consider your own buying preferences. Why do you buy from that company instead of the other company?

Generally, this comes down to messaging or packaging. What you offer may already exist but how you offer it makes all the difference.

For example, the company Keeps is selling a product that's existed for quite awhile: hair restoration for men. While their product isn't unique in itself, how they sell it is. Their marketing is focused on a streamlined process with messaging that makes you feel hopeful and packaging that makes you feel cool.

That's unique. Where other solutions force men to find a doctor (potentially embarrassing, stressful), Keeps has streamlined the process by connecting you with a physician and delivering medicine to the door. In taking this approach, Keeps has turned what can be a potentially upsetting experience into something that makes you feel good about yourself.

Get Specific and Evolve

One of the nice things about your value proposition is that it can evolve. While being specific is of the utmost importance, realize that you can change and adjust as you learn more. While it's good to get it right up front, you don't have to stress about getting it 100% right on your first attempt.

This is how brands or products that have been around forever suddenly pop back up and take over the market.

What's most important is committing to a specific market and then making a point to learn and adapt your value proposition to that market as you go.