My upcoming book, Breakthrough Marketing Secrets, which I'm writing while you watch on this site and in my daily emails!

My upcoming book, Breakthrough Marketing Secrets, which I’m writing while you watch on this site and in my daily emails!

Hey there Rainmaker, this chapter is ultimately the most important “piece of copy” you can write for your business — no matter what business you’re in, no matter what you sell.

Of all the aspects of your marketing marketing and selling communications, there is one element, above all, that will have a bigger impact than anything else.

Earlier in this book, I talked about the 80/20 Principle, and how it applies to many areas of your marketing.  And I talked about how it can be layered.  80/20 squared is 64/4 — 64% of your results are generated by 4% of your efforts.  80/20 cubed is 51.2/.8 — 51.2% of your results come from just 0.8% of your efforts.

What you’re about to learn is at that level.  This is something that may account for less than 1% of your total marketing efforts.  And yet it may be responsible for a full half of your success.

What am I talking about?

Your Unique Selling Proposition, or USP.

Easily mistaken for a slogan or catch phrase, your USP tells your ideal customer why they should do business with you, over every other option available to them.

It’s what makes your offer unique and compelling, proprietary and unmatched.

Dan Kennedy’s question that gets at the heart of a USP was something I memorized very early on, and that I think forms a great way to get at it…

“Why should I, your ideal customer, choose to do business with you, versus every other option available to me in the marketplace — including going with a competitor, doing it myself, or doing nothing at all?”

If you can provide a clear, concise answer to that question that provides substantial differentiation in the eyes of your prospect, you have a USP.

But how do you do that?  Well, let’s dive into some more detail on how you can come up with a USP for your business, products, or services.

I was recently listening to an interview with Mitch Russo, who you may or may not have heard of.  But Mitch has been business partners with Tony Robbins and Chet Holmes, and has worked with Jay Abraham.

Mitch explained a very simple way to uncover and express your USP, that he’d first heard decades ago at a Jay Abraham seminar, from the late Barney Zick.

“You know how… ?  What we do is…”

If you do a good job of filling in the blanks, answering those questions, you’re well on your way to a substantial USP.  I’ll explain.

The first part is a statement of a core market challenge, problem, or need.

For example, “You know how every single small business wants to get more customers to so they can grow?”

If you know your core audience, your target market, well enough that you can accurately identify and represent their biggest agitation, you have their attention.

The second part is to present your unique solution.

For example, “What we do is build a new customer acquisition program around the top three online sources of new customers, and set up a system that brings a steady stream of new leads and customers into your business.”

This problem-solution formula is very common in advertising, this just distills it down to the very essence.

So, what makes for a unique or differentiating selling proposition?

This is really easy to screw up.  But it’s also not that hard to get it right.

In their book Differentiate or Die: Survival in Our Era of Killer Competition, Jack Trout and Steve Rivkin explained chapter by chapter how you can differentiate your business, and how not to.

Let’s start with common mistakes in trying to define your business, product, or service as unique — how folks mess this up.

Common mistakes in differentiating your business

“Quality and Customer Orientation Are Rarely Differentiating Ideas”

All other businesses in your category have to be failing at these to make either Quality or Customer Orientation a basis of differentiation. Otherwise, most customers are generally happy with the quality of the products and services available. And most categories have at least a couple competitors that are focused on customer needs and do that well. Unless every competing business in your category is failing at either of these attributes, avoid these factors when you’re differentiating your business.

“Creativity is Not a Differentiating Idea”

This idea refers to being creative in your advertisements — being creative is a good way to draw attention, but won’t sell products. A creative approach to getting the attention of your prospects must be coupled with an explanation of what truly differentiates your business from competitors. Otherwise everyone will remember your advertisement without remembering what you’re selling. Remember, small businesses — and most large ones too — can’t really afford to make pure entertainment for advertising. Advertisements have to sell to be successful.

“Price Is Rarely a Differentiating Idea”

When you live by the price sword, you’ll die by the price sword. Cutting your prices to below what your competitors charge destroys your margins, and is hard to maintain. For this reason, price is called the enemy of differentiation. Wal-Mart pulls it off with “Every Day Low Prices” but that is because they buy in massive quantities and control the supply chain where possible. Most businesses die quickly if they’re always trying to undercut the rest of the market on price, without having a significant buying advantage. Instead find a reason why your customers choose to do business with you above all others. This will make them willing to pay more if that’s what is necessary. One exception is to differentiate on high price — a high price creates exclusivity and tells customers looking for luxury that “the price is high because the product is worth a lot.” This works best when the product is something you manufacture or a special service you provide where competitors can’t come in with the same product and steal customers on a slightly lower price.

“Breadth of Line Is a Difficult Way to Differentiate”

The amount of products in your store or catalog can be a blessing or a curse. Many department stores and retailers who sought to give the customers the widest selection have failed. But others have chosen a niche, then provided a large selection within that niche, and gone on to be successful. Think Toys’R’Us for toys, specialty clothing retailers (western, business wear, etc.), or sports superstores. These are successful businesses because they focus on one area and become the “expert” source in that area. These large specialist stores find success, but over the last 100 years few generalist department stores have been able to stay out of financial trouble.

“Growth Can Destroy Differentiation”

If you’ve either purposefully or accidentally differentiated yourself as a specialist, growth can be your worst enemy. As you work to add more products or services to meet more customers’ needs, your focus becomes blurred — both in your business priorities and in the mind of your customers. When this happens, any differentiation you’ve created as a specialist goes away and you’ll fight to keep customers. You’re better off continuing to focus on your specialty, finding unique ways to repackage your products or services or finding new customers within your current niche. The one alternative to this is multi-branding — if you can’t help yourself from creating new products or going after new markets, create a new company and a new brand for your new offering, then throw new resources at it so you don’t dilute your core business.

How to successfully differentiate

“Being First Is a Differentiating Idea”

Get into your prospect’s mind first with a new product or benefit and your competition will have trouble catching up. People like to think they’ve made the right decision — and so they stick with what they’ve got. If your product or service is what they’ve got, you have a huge competitive advantage. Customers will continue to buy from you. You can do this by being first to market with a new solution — even if that means you’re not able to implement all the features and functionalities you dreamed up in the first edition. You can also be the first in your area to promote a unique benefit of your product or service — and win locally when you can’t win everywhere else.

“Attribute Ownership Is a Way to Differentiate”

First let’s clarify what an attribute is. Trout and Rivkin state, “An attribute is a characteristic, peculiarity, or distinctive feature of a person or thing. Next, persons or things are a mixture of attributes.” If your product is nails, it has size, strength, sharpness, color, and other attributes. If you were known for producing the strongest nails, nails that never bend when you’re hammering them in, you could own the market for nails — assuming you found that a large portion of the market was looking for strong nails. The key is to find an attribute that customers think is important. The attribute you choose needs to be very simple (strongest nails) and benefit-oriented (won’t bend) for it to resonate well and have significant impact.

“Leadership Is a Way to Differentiate”

Leadership is tough because you can’t just declare yourself the leader. But if you find a way in which you are truly a leader this is a powerful way to differentiate your business. Leadership works on a concept called “social proof” — people copy what other people are already doing because they think, “If it works for them, it’ll probably work for me too.” Three common types of leadership are sales leadership (best selling), technology leadership (track-record of the newest technologies), and performance leadership (works better for customers). If you find that you lead in one of these three areas — especially if endorsed by a third party — you can often increase sales by differentiating in this way.

“Heritage Is a Differentiating Idea”

We all crave tradition — this is why heritage is an effective way to differentiate your business. Also, if a business has been around for many years, we make an automatic assumption that they know how to do their business well. If you have a family history in the business… If your business has been around longer than most — if not all — of your competitors… If your business has an interesting history or founder’s story… If your business comes from an area known for producing your product… If your business has a history in your community… Each of these are leverage points for using heritage to differentiate your business. Tell this story and you will build customer trust and your business.

“Market Specialty Is a Differentiating Idea”

This is the secret behind niche marketing and the success of businesses that choose to market to one specific niche. The assumption we make when we find a business marketing to a particular niche is that they are the expert on that niche. By choosing a niche and sticking to it, customers recognize us as the go-to authority in that niche. When others mention that niche, the customer thinks of us. If you choose to differentiate yourself this way, be careful of the natural inclination to branch out. This can destroy customers’ trust in your specialty — then they won’t choose you for either your niche or your new venture.

“Preference Is a Differentiating Idea”

This idea falls close to leadership — but instead of statistics such as sales, preference is defined by what a sample of your market thinks is correct or better. This goes back to social proof. If you do a taste test and your cola comes out on top, you can say that customers prefer your cola. An even stronger form of preference is getting endorsements from celebrities and members of the media — people want to use the same products used by the people they look up to. One warning — if you use preference to differentiate your business, be sure that it is legitimate and that it stands up to scrutiny. There is nothing worse for your brand than to declare consumer preference and be made a fool when someone proves you wrong through more exhaustive research.

“How a Product Is Made Can Be a Differentiating Idea”

If your product has a “magic ingredient” or special process you use to make it, you can feature this and successfully differentiate your business. If possible, give this unique ingredient or process a catchy trademarked or service marked name. Competitors won’t legally be able to copy this, and it can make your business stand out as having something the other guys don’t. Also, if you put extra care into making your product, if you don’t take shortcuts, or if you make things the “old-fashioned way,” you can use this as a differentiating factor.

“Being the Latest Can Be a Differentiating Idea”

As humans, we have an endless fascination with the latest big thing — rightfully or not we also consider the latest to be the greatest. Constantly innovating your product so you add new features and functionalities is one way of always having the latest product. If you’re doing it, it’ll be hard for your competition to keep up. And you can wear the “latest and greatest” banner with pride. Be sure in your quest to always have the latest that every feature and functionality you add is actually needed by your customers — people are smart, and if you’re just selling a flashier version of what you had before, customers will see right through it and you’ll lose reputation.

“Hotness Is a Way to Differentiate”

Hotness is the third and final differentiating idea that links to the concept of social proof. If everybody else is doing something right now, we want to be involved too. We don’t want to miss out. Because hotness is such a transient concept though, it’s hard to come up with a long-term differentiation strategy based on it alone. But you can leverage the media through PR and create hotness that can set your brand apart and gain customers quickly. This strategy can be used as a way to get your differentiating ideas to a wider audience, after which you will benefit from the lingering effect on customer awareness and your increased list of prospects and customers.

These make a great starting point and measuring stick for differentiation…  Now here’s where to apply it in your business…

First off, you may wonder if you need to have a USP for your business as a whole, or do you need one for all of your products and services?

The answer is yes, and yes.  Ideally, each of your products and services would be differentiated in some way from every other competing or comparable product in the marketplace.

And, as a business, your bigger-picture USP should call out to your target customers, and make them feel at home.

Each element of your business that involves a customer making a “buying” decision — whether that means handing over cash for products, or “buying” into following your business, through joining an email list, requesting information, coming into your store, or whatever else — these should all have a USP.

And where do you use your USP?

Ultimately, use it everywhere it is appropriate.  If you have a great USP, the better job you do integrating it into every piece of communication with your prospects and customers, the bigger impact it will have on your business.

When I develop a piece of marketing, I always use the USP or some variation on its message at the point where I introduce the product to be sold.  It is integrated into all talk about the product itself.

If you have a sales team, they should be well-versed in the USP for each product they sell, and able to tell it to you on demand, even if woken from a deep slumber.

In fact, every member of your staff should know your company’s USP, and the USPs for your core products.  Because it represents the single-most important aspect of your product, in the eyes of your customer.  For this reason, it should become part of your company’s culture.

If you live, eat, breathe, work, sleep a great USP, it’s hard for your business to not reap substantial rewards.

Have a great weekend!

Yours for bigger breakthroughs,

Roy Furr

Editor, Breakthrough Marketing Secrets