Developing a Unique Selling Proposition

Many small businesses don’t have a reason to exist. Take away their name and logo from their website or other marketing material, and you’d never know who they are. They could be any of the other businesses in their category. Their reason for existence is to survive and pay the bills of the owner who is usually only just getting by or possibly not even.

From a customer’s perspective, there is no compelling reason to buy from them and they make sales just because they happen to be there. You see a lot of these businesses in retail. The only sales they get are through random walk-in traffic. No one is seeking them out. No one actively desires what they have to offer and if they weren’t there no one would miss them. Harsh but true.

The problem is that these businesses are just another “me too” business. How did they decide on the price? How did they decide on the product? How did they decide on marketing? Usually, the answer is they just had a look at what their nearest competitor was doing and did the same thing or slightly changed something, Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong in modeling something that’s already working, In fact, that’s a very smart thing to do. However, it’s likely the competitors they are modeling are in the same boat they you should buy from them. They based their most important business decisions on guesses and on what their mediocre competitors are doing, It’s the blind leading the blind.

After some time of torturing themselves to death ‘making just enough money to survive but not enough money to do well’ many of these businesses finally decide to “try marketing”. So they start marketing their “me too” business with an equally boring “me too” message. As expected, it doesn’t work. Any profit from additional sales they do bring in often don’t even cover their marketing costs.

Here’s the thing: the chance of you getting your marketing perfectly right-message to market and media match-on the first go is impossibly small. Even the most experienced marketer will tell you they hardly ever hit a home run on their first go. It takes several iterations. It takes testing and measuring to finally get your message to market and media match right. Yet these guys can’t afford the time, money and effort needed to get it right. Worse still, with a “me too” style of offer, they don’t have a hope.

Think of marketing as an amplifier. Here’s an example. You tell one person about what you do, and they don’t get excited. You then try telling ten people about what you do, and they don’t get excited either. If you amplify this message through marketing and tell 10000 people, what makes you think that the result will be any different?

If you haven’t first clarified in your mind why your business exists and why people should buy from you rather than your nearest competitor, marketing will be an uphill battle. You need to develop your unique selling proposition (USP). This is where a lot of people get stuck. They say something like “I sell coffee. There’s nothing unique about that.” Really? Then why aren’t we all just getting our $1 coffee from 7-Eleven? Why do we queue up to spend $4 to $5 to buy our coffee from some hipster that looks like he’s in urgent need of a bath?

Think about it. You regularly pay 400% to 500% more for the same commodity. Think about water-one of the most abundant commodities on earth. When you buy this commodity, in bottled form at either a convenience store or from a vending machine, you happily pay 2,000 times the price compared with getting it from your tap at home. See how the commodity in both examples hasn’t changed, but the circumstances and things around the commodity have changed, or die way they are packaged and delivered has changed?

The entire goal of your USP is to answer this question: Why should I buy from you rather than from your nearest competitor? Another good test is this: if I removed the company name and logo from your website, would people still know that it’s you or could it be any other company in your industry? The common place that people go wrong with developing this USP is they say “quality” or “great service” is their USP. There a two things wrong with that:

1. Quality and great service are expectations; they are just part of good business practice - not something unique.

2. People only find out about your quality and great service after they’ve bought. A good USP is designed to attract prospects before they’ve made a purchasing decision.

You know you’re marketing your business as a commodity when prospects start the conversation by asking you about price. Positioning yourself as a commodity and hence being shopped on price alone is a terrible position for a small business owner to be in. It’s soul crushing, and this race to the bottom is bound to end in tears.

The answer is to develop a unique selling proposition. Something that positions you differently, so that prospects are forced to make an apples-to-oranges comparison when comparing you with your competitor. If they can do an apples-to-apples comparison of you and your competitors, then it comes down to price, and you’re toast. There is always someone willing to sell cheaper than you.

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Adil Zafar

Adil Zafar

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A marketing consultant trying to write on subjects ranging from persona; finance to child psychology. As founder of Marketing Realm, I help businesses grow.