Step Two: Crafting a Unique Selling Proposition that is Actually Unique
In our April letter, we introduced this series by defining the key traits of a unique selling proposition (USP) and how it is fundamental for a business to succeed in making profits. In May, we saw examples of effective USPs that create new demand and the importance for a business to compete on more than just price. A key distinction between a USP and advertising is that while advertising concentrates on delivering a message to potential customers, a USP focuses on meeting a truly unique demand for a specific customer base. If your competition is doing it, you are not unique. This month, we will focus on why your USP needs to be based on facts and research, not on hopes and dreams.
A potential problem for business owners is that, because of their closeness to their own business, they may have a hard time stepping back to look at their own business from the customer’s perspective. This is why New York Times best-selling author Donald Miller argued in an interview for the podcast, Inspiring Game Changers: With Molly Fletcher, that “clarity is the new creativity” for effective, memorable branding. In short, having a memorable, viral ad can be useful, but not as useful as an ad that clearly communicates your business proposition to the customer.
The reason clarity can be hard for business owners is because they are so knowledgeable of all the tiny details of their business…they can’t see the forest through the trees. As Michael Senoff, CEO of Hard to Find Seminars, puts it, “Do not believe what a business owner tells you the USP is. He might be right, but if you don’t take the time to do thorough research, the costs could be traumatic.”
The benefit of this research is it can identify strengths that were previously hidden assets. For the model Senoff describes, there are three key target groups for your research to focus on:
- Your own employees, especially in sales. If they are successful in selling your product or service, they likely know why it sells, so ask them why people buy.
- Your current customers who have a reason for choosing you above the competition. Ask them why.
- Your competitors who may be offering the same service. What do they promote? Do they have a USP?
During the research phase, “yes or no” questions that only scratch the surface are not enough to identify your business’s strengths and weaknesses. As Senoff puts it, humorously, “…you don’t want your research to come back with, ‘Oh yeah, customers like your products.’ That’s not a USP.”
This means your research needs questions that focus on answering the “Why?”
Why did you buy this product or service? How are you improving your customers’ lives or their bottom line? If you lost a customer, what did the competition offer them? If you gain a customer, what did the competition fail to offer them?
While it can be costly to misidentify your business’s unique selling proposition, the value of research is that it allows you to course correct. As Senoff puts it, “The only way to know if a USP is working is to test it, so don’t be afraid of what that testing might come back with. Listen to the marketplace—be open-minded and willing to go back to the drawing board if necessary.”
While researching the market to identify a truly unique selling proposition takes extra work, it also reaps benefits. You must identify how you can win in a competitive market by finding a more specific promise to the customer than “good quality,” or “great customer service,” which are just not unique and have no power. The importance of surveying your staff is to identify traits they can sell and be excited about; the importance of surveying your customers is to ask about these specific traits and identify their demands and expectations; and the importance of surveying your competition is to know whether they even are competing with you to provide for a specific need and return to the drawing board as the market evolves.
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