Week 4 – What is Your Unique Selling Proposition?
Last week we talked about your personality type. Did you take the Meyers-Briggs? What is your personality type? Did it ring true? What did you learn about yourself?
This week, I want you to focus on you (your personality and background) and your product in the context of the market. We are all selling something. As Dan Kennedy wrote:
The breakthrough realization for you is that you are in the marketing business. You are not in the dry cleaning or restaurant or widget manufacturing or wedding planning or industrial chemicals businesses. You are in the business of marketing dry cleaning or restaurants or widgets or wedding planning or industrial chemicals. (Kennedy, as cited in Ellsberg, 2011, p. 105).
We are All in Marketing
This observation holds true even if you do not hold a sales position. In To Sell is Human, Dan Pink explains that while only a fraction of us are salesmen by trade, we all sell all the time. He wrote,
Some of you, no doubt are selling in the literal sense—convincing existing customers and fresh prospects to buy casualty insurance or consulting services or homemade pies at the farmers market. But all of you are likely spending more time than you realize selling in a broader sense—pitching colleagues, persuading funders, cajoling kids. Like it or not, we’re all in sales now. And most people, upon hearing this, don’t like it much at all. (2012, p. 2)
Pink is right. Even those who do not appear to be selling something are selling something. Though only one in nine Americans are involved in direct selling, we all sell all of the time. Teachers want you to buy a better tomorrow with hard work and study. Ministers want you to choose to follow God as opposed to a destructive path. Your children lobby you to stay up later. Pink calls these activities non-sales selling (p. 19).
What is Your USP?
Since we are all in some type of sales, we should ask the obvious question: Why should anyone buy what you are selling? In other words, what is your Unique Selling Proposition (USP)?
This concept is widespread in the marketing literature. In 1961, Rosser Reeves attempted to answer that question in Reality in Advertising. According to a review of his book in the Wall Street Journal:
Reeves invented the term Unique Selling Proposition, or USP, for a technique that enabled his advertising agency, Ted Bates, to sell more candy, aspirin, cigarettes, toothpaste, white bread and breath mints than any other agency in the history of advertising. M&M’s: ‘. . . melts in your mouth, not in your hand.’ ‘Colgate cleans your breath while it cleans your teeth.’ ‘Wonder Bread helps build strong bodies eight ways.’ (Femina, 2006, p. 8)
According to Reeves, the USP has a specific meaning and it is comprised of three parts. The seller 1) must propose what he wants to sell, 2) in a way that the competition cannot match, and this 3) must induce people to buy from you. In Reeves own words:
Each advertisement must make a proposition to the consumer. Not just words, not just product puffery, not just show-window advertising. Each advertisement must say to each reader: “Buy this product, and you will get this specific benefit.”
The proposition must be one that the competition either cannot, or does not, offer. It must he unique—either a uniqueness of the brand or a claim not otherwise made in that particular field of advertising.
The proposition must be so strong that it can move the mass millions, i.e., pull over new customers to your product. (Reeves, 1961)
Economics Principle #1 – A Competitive Advantage Increases Value
What is so compelling about your product or service that would cause a customer to purchase from you instead of someone else? Economists call this a competitive advantage. When you have a competitive advantage, you can provide greater value to your customers than others who sell similar products.
How can you provide greater value? Dan Kennedy suggests that to identify your USB, you must answer the following question, “Why should I choose your business/product/service versus any/every other competitive option available to me?” (Kennedy, 2011, p. 10). When you provide greater value than your rivals, you have a winning USP. Let me offer a few examples before I ask you to write your own USP.
I know GBN members who have a lot to offer. Take, for example, the Advocare distributor. He sells supplements, but a lot of people sell supplements for a number of different companies. Some of these companies are more established. Others have cheaper products. Why should anyone choose him over his competition? Well, he is a former football coach turned body-builder who worked hard to lose his own weight. He is not just selling supplements; he literally embodies the products he is selling. He knows from personal experience how to help you meet your health goals. This is a powerful USP.
Most insurance salesmen would love to do business with doctors, but I know an insurance salesman who once was a pharmacist. Because he comes from the medical community, he has an edge over other insurance agents because he already speaks the language of the profession. Though he has a powerful USP, he can squander it if he is not careful. He can sell insurance to any target of opportunity, but if he does this, he will turn his premium position into a me-too commodity.
I also know an accountant with a killer competitive advantage. He is an enrolled agent with the IRS. Enrolled agents obtain a special license that allows them to represent clients before the IRS (“Enrolled Agent Info,” 2015). According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (2015), there are more than 1.3 million accountants in the United States. But, there are only 50,000 enrolled agents. According to Forbes, “In practice, most of the roughly 1.2 million attorneys and roughly 650,000 CPAs who, in principle, could represent you at an audit are really not qualified.” (Reilly, 2013, para. 2).
Economics Principle #2 – Scarcity Increases Value
This is great news for this particular accountant because it sets him apart from the competition. In general, desirable items are even more valuable when they are rare. Diamonds are expensive, but if they were abundant as rocks, they would not command such a high price. Water is, perhaps, the most necessary resource for human survival, but it is cheap because of its abundance. However, if you were completely without water, you would gladly trade your diamonds for a jug of water in order to survive.
In each of these examples, backgrounds and life experiences amplify competitive positions. This particular accountant has developed a rapport with agents at the IRS and the South Carolina Department of Revenue. When he places a call, the faceless, impenetrable bureaucracy picks up the phone and gladly talks to him. As a consequence, he regularly gets favorable tax resolution settlements for his clients. If you need someone to audit your books, I am sure he is a competent bookkeeper, but if you are facing an IRS audit, it might be difficult to find someone better for the job. He too has a powerful USP.
How are you positioned in the market? What do bring to the table that others do not? What is your Unique Selling Position? Unless you answer these questions, you will be lost in the crowd.
Specific steps to create your Unique Selling Proposition (USP):
What are the benefits of my product or service?
What is different about me or my product that provides me with a competitive edge in the market? With whom do I have this edge? Be specific.
Is my offer strong enough to compel the market (or at least my niche) to come to me?
What is your unique selling position? Reduce it to one line and write it down.
About the GBNers mentioned in the lesson:
The Advocare distributor is Greg Crum:
(508) 450-9717 or email@example.com
The accountant is Steve Nettles of Tax Pros Plus:
843-277-9128 or firstname.lastname@example.org
The insurance salesmen to the medical community is Perry Lagina:
843-480-2872 or email@example.com
Now that you know them, add them to your personal network.
Note: I mention these individuals because I have had one-to-ones with each and I am happy to highlight any GBN members where mentioning them adds to the lesson. I will also mention members that contribute meaningfully to the substance of a lesson.
In February and again in April, I will be discussing social media. If you feel that you have substance to contribute, please let me know: firstname.lastname@example.org
Accountants and auditors (2015). Occupational Outlook Handbook. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Retrieved from http://www.bls.gov/ooh/business-and-financial/accountants-and-auditors.htm
Ellsberg, M. (2011). The education of millionaires: It’s not what you think and it’s not too late. New York: Portfolio/Penguin.
Enrolled Agent Information (2015). Internal Revenue Service. Retrieved from https://www.irs.gov/Tax-Professionals/Enrolled-Agents/Enrolled-Agent-Information
Femina, J. D. (2006, March 18). Pursuits; Books: Five best. The Wall Street Journal. 8. Retrieved from http://www.online.wsj.com
Kennedy, D. S. (2011). The ultimate marketing plan: Target you audience! Get out your message! Build your brand! Avon, Mass: Adams Business.
Pink, D. H. (2012). To sell is human: The surprising truth about moving others. New York: Riverhead Books.
Reilly, P. J. ( 2013, June 26). Enrolled agents deserve more respect. Forbes. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/peterjreilly/2013/06/26/enrolled-agents-deserve-more-respect/#3b3ab0de2f3c
Reeves, R. (1961). Reality in advertising. New York, NY: Knopf.
Week 4 – What is Your Unique Selling Proposition?