(Originally posted 04/24/2018)
As an entrepreneur—a small to medium-sized business owner—unless you’ve created a totally new product or service, chances are, whatever you’re selling can be bought somewhere else.
The fact is, very few companies offer their customers a truly unique product. So, why should anyone buy yours?
You have to create a reason for your product to stand out.
To target your sales efforts successfully, you need to focus on what makes your product, your approach to business, or your story unique in a world of homogeneous competitors. What you need is a unique selling proposition.
A unique selling proposition isn’t a new marketing concept. It was first proposed as a theory to explain a pattern in successful advertising campaigns of the early 1940s. It refers to the feature presented by the seller that makes the perception of his or her product or service either different from or better than that of the competition.
Determining your unique selling proposition requires some reality-based objectivity and some out-of-the-box creativity. What is your greatest strength? Or, even harder: What is your greatest perceived weakness that can be turned into a strength?
Take Avis car rental company, for example. Back in 1962, it was the second largest car rental company, but the company was struggling to make a profit. Both Hertz and Avis rented similar cars at similar prices in similar locations, but consumers lined up at the Hertz counter.
Legendary adman, Bill Bernbach, asked Avis management the question every business owner needs to ask: Why would anyone rent (buy) from you? Their response from Avis was that the delivered exceptional customer service, which led to the brilliant tagline: “We try harder.”
That promise resonated with their audience. In just one year, the “We try harder” campaign reversed the company’s fortunes and helped it go from losing $3.2 million to turning a profit for the first time in 13 years; with $1.2 million in profit, they experienced a 266% improvement.
It’s not surprising that Avis continued the “We try harder” promise for half a century, because if price and quality of goods are equal, consumers will gravitate to the vendor that does everything they can to earn the business.
So, how do you go about uncovering your unique selling proposition?
Simple. Put yourself in your customers’ shoes. Ask the question, “Why would anybody buy my product or service as opposed to doing business with every other company in my industry?”
Too often, entrepreneurs fall in love with their product or service and forget that it’s the customer’s needs, not their own, that they must satisfy. Step back from your daily operations and carefully scrutinize what your customers really want.
Effective marketing requires you to be an amateur psychologist. You need to know what drives and motivates your customers’ behavior and buying decisions. Go beyond the traditional customer demographics that businesses typically collect—age, gender, income, and geographic location—to analyze their buying motivation. You need to know what goes on inside their heads.
If you already have customers, ask them. If your business is just starting out, “shop” your competition. Many retailers routinely drop into their competitors’ stores to see what and how they’re selling. If you’re really brave, try asking a few of their customers after they leave the premises what they like and dislike about the competitors’ products and services.
Listen to what buyers say. Your goal is to find that one feature of the product you’re offering that your audience will embrace.
When you have that figured out, you’re halfway there. Before you move forward with that selling proposition, make sure that it’s unique.
One way to determine whether you’re on the right track is to analyze other companies’ ads and marketing messages. If they’re successful, chances are they sell more than just their products or services . . . they also sell how they separate themselves from you . . . their competiton.
See what positions have already been successfully taken in the marketplace. For example, since the 1940’s, m&m’s candies positioned itself with: “Melts in your mouth, not in your hand.” So, when Reese’s Pieces came along about thirty-five years later, the candy coating advantage was already owned by the competition in the minds of consumers.
Similarly, FedEx owns fast and dependable delivery service . . . “when it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight.”
What features of your business jump out at you as something that sets you apart? What can you promote that will make customers want to patronize your business? How can you position your business to highlight your unique selling proposition?
Don’t get discouraged. Successful business ownership is not about having a unique product or service; it’s about making your product stand out—even in a market filled with similar items.