The dirty secret to finding a Unique Selling Proposition for something that isn’t unique

♠ When you’re selling, finding a point of difference is essential. You have to set yourself apart in the minds of your ideal prospect as the only—or at least the best—choice. Typically, the basis for this differentiation is a strong unique selling proposition (USP).

Figuring out a USP can be pretty hard—because, bluntly, you usually aren’t unique in a way that your prospects care about. And you aren’t selling anything unique in a way they care about. Virtually no one is. So what do you do?

If you’re smart, you cheat. Not in a dishonest way. Just in a cunning way. Read on, and I’ll let you in on the dirty lil secret that makes finding a USP much easier.

The three ways in which you can differentiate yourself…>>

Okay, this advice won’t hold for industries in which companies can thrive by basically producing obscene amounts of stuff. But assuming you’re not in that kind of industry, then generally speaking there are only three ways to set yourself apart from your competition. Two are almost impossible to use, and the third one seems that way. Here they are:–

1. Quality

Everyone wants to spend their money on high-quality products or services. No one wants to hand over cash and get back horsesh…oes. Which is why, with the exception of industries which thrive purely on volume, pretty much all companies at least try to present themselves as producers of quality stuff. Strong guarantees, excellent service, outstanding products…the only way these things set you apart from your competition is if you don’t have them. And that’s not the kind of differentiation you want.

This isn’t to say that it’s impossible to differentiate on quality. A lot of companies do. From Côte d’Or to Rolls Royce, there are people who will pay through the nose for something on the dubious assumption that it’s the best in its class. (Personally, I don’t give a damn how Côte d’Or is made, where it’s shipped from, and how much it costs. My tongue prefers Cadbury.) But unless your market is brand new and never existed before, there is already someone who sells what you sell and is known as “the best”. Which means that if you’re going to make quality your USP, you’re in for a protracted battle against an entrenched foe.

2. Price

Differentiating on price is a terrible idea. Unless you’re in a developing country where 50 cents an hour is a respectable wage, you will be undercut by someone. And even if you are in such a country, making money off a business that pitches its value in terms of lowest cost…is essentially a contradiction in terms.

More importantly, is your ideal prospect a high-maintenance, low-balling, penny-pinching tire-kicker? If not, price cannot be your USP. (If you answered “yes” to this question, I doubt I can help you—you are lost on the wild and desolate plains of insanity with no gun, very little water, and a horse who hates you.)

3. Features (or their benefits)

Whether you’re selling a product or a service, you probably have some feature which your competition doesn’t. This probably translates to some benefit your competitors don’t offer. Even if you don’t have such a feature or benefit…in all honesty you could invent one this afternoon.

That’s because these things are usually trivial. The problem is, your ideal prospect doesn’t care about trivial benefits. Except in the rare event that your unique feature is a so-called “killer”, it just isn’t going to excite your prospect that much. Certainly not enough to get you the sale over your competitors—because remember, their own USPs are probably strong too, and they can offer features or benefits which you don’t. (Er, and it goes without saying that if you really do have a killer feature, that’s your USP—but then why are you reading this article?)

So what the hell do you do?

Finding a USP is actually surprisingly easy. You just have to stop making the wrong assumptions about what is meant by “unique”. M&Ms aren’t the only chocolates that melt in your mouth instead of in your hand. Have you heard of Smarties? And Energizer batteries aren’t the only ones that keep on going and going. Heard of Duracell?

In his book Scientific Advertising, Claude Hopkins tells a story of an advertiser who was hired by a brewer. While touring the brewery, the advertiser was very taken with a machine which sanitized beer bottles by blasting steam into them. But his client told him not to try to use this as a selling point—because all breweries have a machine like this. There’s nothing unique about it.

But the advertiser wondered: who in the beer-drinking public has heard of such a machine? And he went on to create a successful campaign for a beer advertised as “so pure the bottles are washed in live steam.”

Once the campaign was run, what could competing breweries do? Advertise that their bottles were also washed in live steam?

The dirty little secret

A unique selling proposition doesn’t have to be unique to you. It just has to be unique to your ideal prospect. It’s not necessarily something which no one else offers. What it is…is a feature or benefit which no one else has yet marketed to your ideal prospect.

Finding a strong USP is as simple as finding a commonplace feature or benefit which can, but hasn’t yet, been marketed in a compelling way to your ideal prospect. And that is just a matter of a lot of research and brainstorming. So get to it!


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Gabriel Catalano

julio 2010
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