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 website, I find myself asking the same question.

Being unclear about your value is never good. And yet, many sites 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 business—paid digital membership site or otherwise. 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 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.

Rent the Runway

“Everywhere to go. Everything to wear. Feel amazing whatever the occasion with unlimited.”

Rent the Runway began as a site where women could rent dresses and accessories for formal events. In the past few years, however, they’ve expanded to offer a monthly subscription that allows women to access clothes for all days and occasions—from a humdrum Monday at the office to a madcap Saturday in Vegas.

They communicate that concept in just 13 words with a sharp, zippy value proposition. Next to those two lines of text, they have a collage of images featuring a variety of young, urbanite women in different outfits. Some are in suits, others in sundresses. All look effortlessly chic. It’s the perfect way for Rent the Runway to show and tell what they do.


“You deserve a great shave at a fair price. Everything you need is right here, when you need it.”

Looking to capitalize on the runaway success of Dollar Shave Club, a number of competitors have entered the subscription razor and men’s grooming space. Harry’s is one of them, and they look to differentiate themselves from DSC by talking about the quality of their products. They emphasize that everything is engineered and manufactured in their factory in Germany, whereas DSC famously began because the founder was looking for a way to offload a warehouse full of cheap razors from South Korea.

Harry’s doesn’t get into the weeds of how they’re different from DSC in their value proposition, though. That they keep very simple by quickly identifying the problem (you need to shave, but the good products are expensive) and offering their solution (we deliver German-engineered blades and Paraben- and sulfate-free shave cream to your door).


“Every class with one fitness pass. Committing is hard—so don’t. Work out at any gym, try any workout and do it all with one app.”

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 traditional 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, you can visit locations that are the most convenient for your busy life, and you can do it all through a few taps in their app. 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 Own Value Proposition

Now that you understand what a value proposition is and why it’s so important, it’s time to construct your own. There are five steps to building a great 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. 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. 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 Typeform, 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  membership solves, and how it solves those problems.

If you need inspiration, check out some of the examples above or notice how your favorite 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 Sterling Woods Group, LLC

The Sterling Woods Group’s mission is to help clients make sense of their data to build deeper relationships with their best customers, launch new products and membership programs, and execute smarter marketing strategies.

We use a hypothesis-driven, data supported methodology to discover your “spin”—a simple insight that no one else is paying attention to. Then, we help you assemble the right technologies, marketing plans, and resources to seize this opportunity.

About the Author

Rob Ristagno, founder and CEO of the Sterling Woods Group, previously served as a senior executive at several digital media and e-commerce businesses, including as COO of America’s Test Kitchen. Throughout his career, his focus has been on embracing technology and analytics to spur strategic development and growth.

At the Sterling Woods Group, he and the team are passionate about helping clients understand their best customers through data, and developing products and membership programs that exceed expectations – and generate impressive revenues.

Committed to spreading this message, Rob is the author of A Member is Worth a Thousand Visitors and is a regular keynote speaker at conferences around the world. He has been featured on ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox, and Digiday.

He holds degrees from the Harvard Business School and Dartmouth College and has taught at both Harvard and Boston College.