What Would You Say You Do Here? 5 Steps to Clarify Your Paid Digital Membership’s Value Proposition

What Would You Say You Do Here? 5 Steps to Clarify Your Paid Digital Membership’s Value Proposition

One of my favorite parts of the movie Office Space is when the deadpan consultants are brought in to interview Initech employees. They begin each session by asking in a monotone, “What would you say . . . you do here?”

Sometimes when I’m visiting someone’s paid digital membership site, I find myself asking the same question.

Being unclear about your value is never good. And yet, many websites fail to communicate their value proposition. Maybe they forgot, maybe they don’t know how to, or maybe they just don’t have one.

But defining and trumpeting your value proposition is a critical step for any paid digital membership site. I’ve seen it first-hand: Refining how you communicate your value proposition can lead to double-digit improvements in conversion rate.

Components of a Paid Digital Membership Value Proposition

You value proposition should be a statement that communicates:

  • Who your target customer is.
  • What needs you meet for them.
  • A sense of how your paid digital membership will meet these needs better than anyone else.

Once you have a value proposition, you need to put it front and center on your homepage. Ideally, this will be followed closely by a call to action (e.g., “Sign up for a free trial,” “Contact us”). Let’s take a look at some examples of good value propositions from subscription services.

Sun Basket

“Healthy Cooking Made Easy. Organic produce, clean ingredients, and delicious recipes delivered weekly. Paleo, Lean & Clean, Gluten-Free, Vegan, and more.”

Blue Apron started the trend of home delivery meal kits, but in the last few years, the market has exploded with competitors. Sun Basket does a nice job of highlighting how they stand out from the rest: Their focus is on providing the healthiest options, with organic food and clean ingredients, and they cater to those following specific diets.

In just two lines of text, they’ve demonstrated that they’re not “just another meal kit.” What they offer is the healthiest alternative out there.


“Beauty for Real Life. We get it. You want products that make you feel your best without devoting your life to finding them. That’s why we created Birchbox. Get a personalized mix of makeup, hair, skincare, and fragrance samples for $10/month.”

There are a number of monthly beauty product subscription services. Birchbox emphasizes that their value lies in tailoring the contents of each box to each customer. They send different items based on what you need and want, so you can rest assured that the products you receive will be useful.

Birchbox also takes a playful approach with their writing. Like your best friend, they offer a sympathetic ear throughout your quest for the best beauty products—and they just happen to have the perfect solution. They tap into the emotional benefits of enrolling.


“The most flexible fitness membership ever. ClassPass is an all-access membership to a global network of 8,500 fitness studios. Try strength training, cycling and everything in between.”

Gyms and fitness centers have been around a long time, so how does ClassPass stand out from their many competitors? They allow subscribers to access classes at an impressive array of studios. Unlike a gym, where you can only take classes onsite, ClassPass allows you to branch out and try a wide variety of classes at various locations.

This means you’ll never get bored with your workout, and you can visit locations that are the most convenient for your busy life. This value proposition clearly defines how they stand out from the traditional model, and why their new model is of use to their subscribers.

Content Marketing University

“Take the next step to becoming a Content Marketing Rock Star. CMI University is your hub for all things related to content marketing education and training—your one-stop shop to help you do your job better and more effectively.”

CMI U is targeting marketing professionals who want to upgrade their content marketing skills and stay current on the latest topics in the field. Right below their headline is a section entitled “Who is enrolled at CMI,” so that you understand immediately if you fall into their target demographic. Beside that is a “What should I expect?” section, which outlines exactly what you would receive by subscribing.

How to Create Your Paid Digital Membership Value Proposition

Now that you understand what a value proposition is and why it’s so important, it’s time to create your own. There are five steps to building a paid digital membership value proposition. Read on for a step-by-step approach to creating your own value proposition.

1. Find Your “Whales”

When developing your membership model, you’ll want to cater to your most engaged and enthusiastic target customers. I like to call these customers your “whales.” But before you can cater to them, you need to find them.

The good news is you don’t even need to hire an expensive data science team to track them down. Here are a few practical suggestions:

  • Rely on your email service provider. Software solutions like MailChimp or HubSpot both offer lead scoring. Your whales will be the five percent of your database with the highest score.
  • Complete a simple RFM (Recency, Frequency, Monetary) analysis in Excel. Find your customers who engaged recently, have engaged frequently, and have purchased frequently over the past 12 months.
  • Find people who have shared or commented on at least three pieces of your content, and cross-reference that list with your paid customer list. “Likes” don’t count; it’s easy to give something the thumbs up.

2. Interview a Handful of Whales

Once you’ve found them, you’ll want to ask your whales for their input. Call, visit, or invite five to seven of your whales to participate in an interview. Here is a list of recommended questions to ask:

  • Why is this category important to you?
  • What are your needs/what do you care about?
  • How are your needs met today? (What do you buy, and how do you use it?)
  • How do these products make you feel?
  • How could the product better meet your needs?
  • What needs are not being met by these products?
  • What else (not directly related to this category) do you care about?

3. Survey a Larger Pod of Whales

Next, you’ll want to validate what you heard in the interviews with a larger group of whales. Aim to get responses from at least 30 to 100 of them. In this instance, you don’t need to talk with each whale one-on-one. A survey is the most effective way to confirm your hypotheses.

Develop a survey that contains 15 to 20 statements about attitudes towards the category, needs, and wants based on what you gleaned from your interviews. Create a scale for the responses, ranging from “Strongly Disagree” to “Strongly Agree,” so that the whales can weigh in on each issue. You can use a service like Survey Monkey or Google Forms to distribute the questionnaire.

4. Write Your Value Proposition

It’s now time to write your value proposition using the input from your whales. Remember to clarify your audience, the problems your paid digital membership solves, and how the membership solves those problems.

If you need inspiration, check out some of the examples above or notice how your favorite digital products communicate their value proposition. Ask friends and colleagues for feedback, and keep refining the statement that summarizes your value proposition.

5. Test Your Value Proposition

Once your value proposition is up and running, you need to keep an eye on it. The goal of the value proposition is to drive conversion, which could include signing up for an email list, asking for a demo, enrolling in a free trial, or making a purchase.

Continue A/B testing your value proposition until you find one that optimizes conversion. Come back every six months to make sure your value proposition still resonates.

What is your value proposition? Email me, and I’ll give you some thoughts on it.

About the Author

Rob Ristagno, Founder and CEO of Sterling Woods, previously served as a senior executive at several digital media and e-commerce businesses, including as COO of America’s Test Kitchen. He started his career as a consultant at McKinsey. Ristagno holds degrees from the Harvard Business School and Dartmouth College and has taught at both Harvard and Boston College.

Rob is the author of A Member is Worth a Thousand Visitors: A Proven Method for Making More Money Online. He regularly speaks at key media conferences, including at Niche Media events, Specialized Information Publishers Association meetings, and the Business Information and Media Summit.

Close Menu