How unique is your USP?

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Natural reactions to pandemic-enforced change mean there are common themes in marketing messages, so making our unique selling proposition stand out is a challenge.

Businesses have to focus on clarity of information or customer behaviours, or are forced to prioritise price promotions to boost sales.

Is this the time to concentrate on accentuating your USP or adapt to the times? Well, that really depends on your USP, how genuinely unique it is and how much it can reflect the inevitable changes your customers are facing.

As a simple definition, your USP is the aspect of your brand that differentiates it from others. It’s the reason your customers pick you.

However, more realistically, it’s a combination of reasons that tip the balance when potential customers are weighing up options.

The marketing text books of ye olde times talked about the four Ps of the marketing mix: product, price, place and promotion. Is your product different to others in the marketplace? Do your customers pick it because of cost? How easy it for customers to access your product or service? How do you tell them about it?

Our goal as marketers is to accentuate uniqueness in one or all of those aspects to create point of difference. But it’s a busy, busy old world out there, with many undifferentiated businesses and with customers facing an ever-growing barrage of “pick me, pick me”. Given that constant noise, the pressure to find something unique to your brand is immense, but perhaps uniqueness shouldn’t necessarily be our priority.

I’ve been in many workshops helping companies define their brand where we’ve struggled to agree that one single thing we’d want customers to say about it, or where the list of five words to describe the brand can’t be whittled
below nine.

Yes, brand owners should be able to hone this down to a clear and succinct focus. But if your business is diverse in its offer or there are numerous factors that genuinely influence customers’ decisions, perhaps the emphasis should be as much on authenticity as it is singularity.

The old four Ps in marketing theory have now been overtaken by extra Ps and a few other initials for good luck which, to me, goes to prove that a broader, more flexible approach is often more realistic.

For example, ExampleCo is a (fictional!) construction business who builds beautiful, high-spec homes. They have existing plans or use your architect, and work within an hour of the city. They are flexible around budget ranges but aim for quality finishes. They pride themselves on great service, craftsmanship, clear communication and always having a smile.

Sounds pretty familiar, doesn’t it. There are many businesses who simply do what they do well, just like others around them.

ExampleCo may find a particular USP for when they’re talking to the real high-end market, such as expertise with a special material, but that’s irrelevant to customers on modest budgets, so there’s no point focusing only on that.

They consciously hire people who get on well with customers, but others say that too. If it’s genuinely true that the experience is a great one, that should be part of their storytelling, but ExampleCo can’t claim to be the only good team to work with.

They like to try new things and are capable enough to be daring. ExampleCo could be classed as disrupters, but that word doesn’t sit well with them. They feel their typical customers find comfort in familiarity and that they can talk about new ideas and push boundaries once they’ve established a rapport, not as a key marketing message, so they’ll keep that for case studies. A cautious approach, but it’s where they’re comfortable. It’s authentic.

If we were talking in terms of the old Ps, ExampleCo can exhibit some uniqueness through their approach to promotion. For them, doing something different in their marketing through a new look or language could help them.  Perhaps they go for humour (appropriate to their conservative audience) or a creative design approach to visually stand out, like a unique colour for vehicles and hardhats or something eye-catching on the building sites’ signage.   

Your USP doesn’t, in my view, have to be a single aspect of your brand that is groundbreakingly individual, and neither does it have to be a grand gesture or a big idea.  It’s fantastic if it can, absolutely. But it’s the little things that count, they say, and a well-considered combination can make a big difference, especially in rapidly changing and challenging times.

Authenticity to your brand and relevance to your audience are your strongest tools, irrespective of uniqueness.

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About Author

Vicki Jones

Vicki Jones is director of Dugmore Jones, Hamilton-based marketing management consultancy. Email vicki@dugmorejones.co.nz