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Oneliner: How to Describe Your Offering in One Sentence

Jul 18, 2013 · 6 min read

Oneliner is a one-sentence description of your product or service. Entrepreneurs use different types of oneliners depending on the context:

  • Product description. Boatbound is a boat rental marketplace.
  • Value proposition. Rent boats safely and easily on Boatbound.
  • Company description. Boatbound is like AirBnB for boat rentals.
  • Mission. Boatbound is making sailing open to everyone.

Generally, product description and value proposition are used for customers, company description is for investors and mission is for prospective employees.

You start with a product description. Use it in market research and early sales. After some initial customer conversations, the most convincing value proposition comes out. Mission statement and company description can wait for a few months, until you start building a lasting organization around your product.

One-line product description is necessary for three things:

  • Customers interviews. Tell a customer the first sentence, and she describes the rest of the product-she-needs back to you.
  • Marketing copy. Homepage, social, ads. Customers use oneliners to recommend your service to friends.
  • Product roadmap. You need to sync the team around a simple definition of what you are building.

Action steps

  • Write one-sentence description for your product or service.

The structure of product oneliner

Near-term product. Focus on product that ships in three months or less. Your long-term view is likely to change dramatically in the first few weeks on a project. Learn from your short-term efforts first then set the vision.

For your first product, do not say it is “a platform”. It can be a platform in the future, but until you have several solid applications on one side and large customer base on the other, you are not a platform yet. Focus your oneliner on the best app you have on your ecosystem. In the early days you can use platform view when talking to investors, but not to customers.

One thing. You may offer many products and services, but focus your oneliner on just one thing. Clarity is more important and all-inclusive definition. One offering and, ideally, one defining quality.

Category-based. Your oneliner should put you in some product category. Use most narrow category that exist in consumer mind. There should be other players in this category known to customers.

Problem is secondary to category. Describing your product as <solution for problem X> is less efficient than category-based. You rarely hear customers say something like “I just used my new transportation solution to get to the grocery store”. If you have a problem-based oneliner, try to rewrite it as a category-based one. Usually you get a better description this way. The problem can be mentioned as a secondary term, but category is almost always present in a good oneliner.

Defining qualities. Once you have a category, add qualities to mark your place in it. Preferably, just one quality. Ideally, it should answer questions like “why are you the best choice in category?” and “for what types of customers is your product the best choice in category?”. .

Short sentence, simple words. Explain your product to someone else. Then ask them to summarize it one sentence. Best products take 4-6 words.

Customers are like kids, they speak in simple words.

True. If you say you are the cheapest, make sure you are. Unless you have some awards and rankings to back it up, do not use “best” at the start. If true, “first in country” or “most popular” are good substitutes for the “best”.

Define your oneliner

Strong qualities. Focus on qualities with strong influence on customer decisions. What customers want from category leader? Where do your competitors fail?

Largest product selection is a strong one. All forms of availability and accessibility work well: all languages, ships worldwide, convenient locations, open 24/7, site/mobile/tablet/tv version.

“Optimized for some well-defined customer group.” For many years, Apple’s positioning was “best computer for creatives”. Tesla Model S is “a premium sedan for tech enthusiasts and eco-minded people”.

Qualities that only work in certain circumstances. “Highest-rated” or “Expert-recommended” works for experience products (movies, books, tours), where it is hard to judge the product before you buy it.

“Most popular” works for products where community matters.

“The cheapest.” Works when you have an exclusive supplier or a technology breakthrough. Otherwise, it is very hard to maintain. Better to bet on other qualities.

“The only one” only works when it is the only solution to a painful problem.

Weak qualities. “First on the market”, “unique” are not selling well enough. There is no benefit communication in these oneliners. Customer choose from a broader, well-defined category. Being “unique” in an imaginary subcategory does not make you a top consumer choice.

Being “many-in-one” solution is rarely a good oneliner for a new offering. At the start, all your services are far from market leaders and putting them together does not help many people. Ask prospects whether they prefer two good services from different providers or two bad services from a single provider. If you are good at something, focus on this one service.

New subcategory. You can define your product as the only (or first) member of a new niche within an existing category. This only works if there is conscious demand for this new niche. Subcategories based on new features or technology do not work. In these cases, focus on performance improvements instead.

Test your oneliner

Search your oneliner on Google. Try different category words and defining qualities. What results are showing up? How big is search volume for these queries? What are search suggestions for these terms?

Test on customers. Is it clear? Is it convincing? Do people understand what is your product most useful for? Can customers guess other details of your offering from the basic description?

Listen how customers describe you. What category do they put you in? What do they see as your defining quality?

Be ready for word-of-mouth. Is it natural for customers to use your oneliner in recommendations to each other? What other descriptions do they give for your product?

Compare to competitors. How do other market players describe themselves? If you put all oneliners next to each other, which one is the most attractive for your target audience?

Like finding opportunities and selling non-existing products, writing oneliners is a key skill at the start. You will need it a lot. It comes with practice, so just write oneliners for everything you see around.

This article is a part of Earlydays, an open guide for first-time entrepreneurs.

Written by Yury Lifshits —


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    An open guide for first-time entrepreneurs