“On the Box Thinking” to Build a Better MVP

Printed in the foreground is white text that reads "Product MVP Meets Marketing MVP." Woman in a pink dress works on her laptop in the background.

If you can’t clearly identify what will ultimately make your product sell BEFORE you build it, you won’t build what will sell.

Before the Product MVP (Minimally Viable Product) is specified, Product Managers need to establish another kind of “MVP”. Here the acronym stands for: Messaging, Value proposition, and Positioning.

Think of it as the “Marketing MVP”.

These “MVP” elements are foundational to strategy and absolutely critical to the product’s ultimate commercial success. Without knowing the Positioning you want your product to take, its Value proposition to customers, and how you will Message these things, you don’t have a path to market success. Moreover, you can’t really make critical Product MVP (Minimally Viable Product) decisions because those decisions must be based upon the Marketing MVP factors (Messaging, Value proposition & Positioning) that lead to market success.

Simply stated: If you can’t clearly identify what will ultimately make your product sell BEFORE you build it, you won’t build what will sell.

You’ll Find the Marketing MVP on Every Box

The essence of your Marketing MVP is right on the box.

“Box!? We don’t even have a product yet!”

Exactly the point. Design what you will need to say about the product on its box BEFORE you design what goes inside. The box is metaphorical of course; your product may not come in a box. But you can still start by designing that metaphorical box such that it communicates the Messaging, Value proposition, and Positioning that will sell the customer.

What goes on the box is the distillation of these things. Get it right and the marketing of the product can go very well. Get it wrong and no amount of spectacularly creative marketing will fix it.

It’s only after establishing that winning Messaging, Value proposition, and Positioning that your product’s features can be purposefully chosen. You choose the features of the Product MVP specifically in order to deliver on that winning Marketing MVP.

Markers Out

You can utilize structured processes to derive each of the Product’s Marketing MVP elements, not to mention the market assessment, segmentation, personas, and competitive intelligence that feeds that Marketing MVP. Those are all subjects unto themselves, and yes, there are good methods to resolve each.

Yes, get a box

Assuming that you are getting a handle on those inputs, get out the markers and let’s put what you know to the test. Start designing that metaphorical box for your product. Start with a blank box and then mark it up to display the information that will make it sell. Literally write it on a box (or the drawing of a box). Just remember, whatever you put down must fit on the box—you’re not doing a brochure. The exercise is to identify and express the most critical stuff.

Practice this with a team

It’s valuable to do this exercise with a cross-functional team because the discussion about what should go on the box reveals assumptions and knowledge gaps. It also allows team members to inform each other and/or to agree where more research is required. You may find that the technology person is focused on getting specifications on the box, while the marketing person drives toward the value proposition, and the salesperson comes up with points of competitive differentiation. Great. That helps the team see the differing perspectives and to then turn focus to the customer’s most important interests.

Here are some practical steps to get you started:

Start with Positioning

Product positioning strategy is what gets your product position from A to B.

  • How are you different from competitors?
  • How is that difference relevant to customers?
  • Is it something they can believe?
  • Write a few versions and give each the test: Is it Differentiated, Relevant, Credible?

Proceed to Messaging

  • What features let the product deliver on that positioning?
  • Write up 3 using the format: [Description of feature] so that [Statement of key customer benefit]. You can vary the format, but the “so that” part is critical. The box can talk about features but only in the context of the benefits they deliver. Use customer-understandable language and avoid superlatives here.

Now, Value Proposition

  • Construct it in the following manner: An attention-getting Lead Line that states the product’s overarching, special benefit that can be read and understood in 3 seconds or less. Next, a Clarifying Statement that describes how that benefit is delivered to target customers that makes it particularly valuable. Just one, brief sentence here please. Of course, your Messages must support this statement.

Learning to Box

I’ve also done this with groups by breaking them into small teams. Each team designs a box, then later all the boxes are shared and discussed in the larger group. Each group learns from the others and can then improve their own box. But, regardless of how you approach the challenge, designing what goes on the box is an acid test that can make any knowledge shortfalls quite clear. It also gets everyone thinking in terms of that Marketing MVP—you know, the things that will actually sell customers on the product.

You can even ask customers to respond to what you’ve put on the metaphorical box. That’s the real question for any product. However innovative, carefully designed, and quality assured the product is – will it sell? Ultimately, the answer comes down to what you may say about it on the box that will either powerfully resonate with your target customer or not. What gets their attention and what’s missing? However rough around the edges, engaging customers with your box is the way to learn what wins in the marketplace.


When you start by expressing your Marketing MVP on the box, you make it tangible to everyone and gain the insights that can improve it. Once that box has been refined, you have the guide-point needed to design the product that will fulfill the promise made by the box.

If you take this approach, your Product MVP will appreciate meeting your Marketing MVP!

If you could use some help learning more about developing either your Marketing MVP or your Product MVP, consider taking one of our Online Optimal Product Management and Product Marketing courses. Remember, build what will sell.


About the Author

Bill Haines - B2B Marketing Rules
Bill Haines is a Principal Consultant and Trainer at 280 Group.
Bill is a product management and marketing advisor, five-time corporate VP Product/Marketing, consultant on over 90 projects, and author of: The 21 Rules of B2B Marketing. His corporate experience included leadership roles at two, $1B+ information companies, a continuing medical education provider, a boutique software firm, and an internet start-up with $29M in funding that was subsequently acquired by its industry’s leading company. In addition, Bill previously served as Partner of an award-winning marketing communications agency.

280 Group is the world’s leading Product Management training and consulting firm. We help companies and individuals do GREAT Product Management and Product Marketing using our Optimal Product Process™.

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