There’s no doubt that the Internet has leveled the playing field. Anyone can have a slice of a market: google the generic service/product you offer & see what all comes up! It feels like you’re sucked into a Digital Void. You’ve no control; you simply can’t compete any more, right?
The secret lies in your USP’s (Unique Selling Points). Just as you feel overwhelmed when you see the list Google returns, so does your client. This prompts them to narrow their searches – and here-in lies your salvation.
Example to illustrate:
Let’s pretend for a moment we own a business for which we need packaging services for our product as we do not want to invest in packaging infrastructure ourselves (we are good at delegating and outsourcing). We go to Google of course!
If I start off with ‘packaging services‘ right now, I get 16 100 000 results and I immediately know that I will have to narrow my search, so I try ‘packaging service “Cape Town” ‘ and I’m down to 720 000 results – still too many. ‘affordable packaging services “cape town” ‘ brings it down to 402 000 results. I notice furniture removers are included, so I try ‘affordable product packaging services “cape town” -furniture‘ (Hint: use google.co.za and then use “tools” to search in South Africa only). Now only do I have a manageable list of about 10 pages to start investigating and getting quotes from. Get it?
Note: this does not mean that you must (necessarily) add the words “affordable” and “product” etc to your search terms if you are in the Packaging industry!
This does mean Three Important Things:
- You need to search like you imagine your ideal client will be searching, often and creatively and using different phrases and approaches
- You need to be clear on what is different about what you offer, i.e. your Unique Selling Points (e.g. you may be a Premium Packaging Service rather than an Affordable one, Or a Custom Packaging Service or a Socially Responsible Packaging Service or a Packaging Service using only organic biodegradable materials – there is space for all of them!)
- You then need to marry the words that your client is likely to be searching for, that would indicate that they are interested in your specific USP’s, with your marketing descriptions. This means finding synonyms and related concepts for what you offer – there are tools available for doing this research.
Whenever a client tells me that they are exactly like Competitor ABC down the road, I cringe, as this is a tell-tale sign that they have never done the work to find (or create) their USP’s. There is hope though! And there is necessity…
Just think! If companies could get this right, it would make a HUGE difference to overcoming the sense of overwhelm that is now synonymous with the Internet! Let’s face it, you DON’T want clients who won’t be absolutely thrilled with exactly what you offer; neither do those clients want to be faced with an endless list of suppliers to wade through. THIS is how we can keep the Internet RELEVANT and Your Small Business COMPETITIVE.
There could be 5 self-catering establishments with 2-bedroomed cottages all within 2 kilometers of one another and all with views of the Knysna Lagoon… and there will be aspects to each of them that will make them more attractive to their respective ideal client. Often it is in the terms, e.g. one establishment may disallow children and therefore would be attractive to elderly travelers seeking a quiet getaway; it may be in a signature welcome basket they provide which their competitors don’t; it may be in the fact that they have wheelchair access or that they offer covered parking or that they are expensive and never offer discounts and hence appeal to a more exclusive market.
If all the self-caterings were 100% clear on their USP’s and consistently portrayed (and delivered on) them, they’d all be fully booked most of the time. Why? Because there is a world of people out there all desiring different things! Yay!
How to find your USP’s: 11 steps to differentiating yourself from the crowd
A Unique Selling Point is also known as a Unique Selling Proposition or USP. It is essentially a differentiating factor that makes you stand out, even from your closest competitors, in a given aspect. It is a KEY component of strategy.
- My advice to clients is to always start with what resonates with them best in their small businesses, e.g. in our self-catering example above, if the hosts themselves want peace, they may choose to not allow children under a certain age, alternatively if they have young children of their own, they may want to encourage family visits and punt a paddling pool. This one step, if done with good self-knowledge and total honesty, can in itself often create USP’s not previously thought of.
- Next, list every aspect of your offering that you can think of. Then list every aspect that you DON’T offer. Again, remember there is no right or wrong to any of this. It could also be HOW you do things (not just what you do or offer) – e.g. speed or quality. Often your SWOT analysis will remind you of aspects you may have missed, e.g. if your self-catering is in the forest where spiders and wildlife may visit, this will be a huge off-putting factor to many people… and a massive attractor to nature-lovers!
- Your next step will be to look to your market analysis (you’ve done one, right?) of your top 5-7 competitors. If not, do it now! It will need to list pricing, terms, what is offered, what is not, their marketing, what is special about them (even if THEY don’t realise or market it) and most importantly, how you differ from each of your top competitors in different aspects.
- Slowly a picture should start to emerge of the key ways in which you can differentiate from your competitors. If you really battle even at this point, look at how YOU differ from your competitors (rather than just comparing businesses) – it may be that you are very outgoing, or very adventurous, or very honest – the latter, for example, a rare thing and therefore a great USP that you create to stamp onto your business as its creator and leader.
- If you still cannot find a differentiating factor, you’d better create one! If none of those self-caterings offer a jacuzzi, there you go! What goes with jacuzzi? Romance, honeymoon – you see how this works? If all packaging companies in your area do exactly what you do, can you collect the product from your client; or ship directly to outlets; or create edible packaging?
- Once you can list 2-5 ways in which you are markedly different from your competitors, you need to look to how you punt these differences in key ways in your marketing efforts. Often we find that our clients DON’T, especially if they perceive something to be a weakness, forgetting that framed correctly for their ideal client, it is EXACTLY what will make such client choose them, e.g. a small, isolated School for Writers in the mountains way off the beaten track along a dirt road that winds through tribal huts – SELL this, don’t hide it!
- To really work at its best, groups of USP’s will work together in THEMES: e.g. your service may be affordable, internet-based and repetitive (to be able to keep rates affordable); or your product “green”, your payment terms and marketing efforts with smallest “footprint” and your customer-facing staff natural and eco-aware.
- Next you can consider creating special packages around your USP’s. Imagine you offered farm stays where there is great opportunity for Mountainbiking. You can create a Mountainbiking package where you include the rental bikes, some energy bars and drinks and a 30 minute sports massage after a day’s ride – and you will be full for periods where you are currently contemplating your navel!
- An obvious step is to then consistently portray and state your USP’s throughout your marketing, on your website and in your brochure. If you don’t have a good logo yet, you will take the special archetype your business represents and put it together with your USP’s if at all possible – a picture is worth a thousand words…
- It goes without saying to then deliver on your USP’s. THIS can be tricky at times as a USP like peacefulness can easily be disturbed by a 3rd party even if only once a year; but it is worth it to fight for it tooth and nail.
- In your follow-up with your client, ask to be rated on your USP’s, not only will you get immensely valuable feedback on how you’re doing; it will also subtly remind the client of what made you different and why they probably chose you.
Is this everything you need to know about USP’s?
No, there is one critical component to understand: trying to copy what you think your competitor’s USP is, will NOT bring you results.
Reasons why copying your competitor won’t work:
- Sustainable Competitive Advantage – this is a concept whereby an entire network of offerings, processes, customer interaction points, ethos and marketing presence interact in a mutually reinforcing way that make it truly impossible to copy, as only the marketing presence portion may be visible from the outside, but the entire network is what creates a coherent, consistent EXPERIENCE for the customer.
- Trying to copy only one aspect that you think you understand without it truly resonating with your own values and wishes, will NOT satisfy the client’s expectations and either via bad reviews or poor take-up, your business will slowly wither.
- Dilution damages all parties – not only will your competitor suffer (“Great!” I hear you say…) but so will YOU and so will the market in which you operate. I once operated a business in an industry where competitors were particularly nasty and would put all their competitors down. Eventually we found online comments on review sites that slated the entire industry (or area, or discipline) and prospective clients started looking to alternatives.
In an ideal world Competitors would meet over a great, happy dinner and there would be a pool of USP’s standing in the middle, more than enough for all the competitors.
Competitors would “pick their USP teams” turn by turn so that everyone could build their businesses serving their ideal clients, and no 2 businesses tried to compete on the same USP… this would be fantastic!
Alas, this is unlikely to ever happen, so its back to strategy, SWOT’s, market research, critical thinking, self-awareness and other time-consuming and sometimes painful processes to carve out your niche on the Internet.
And if you still don’t feel confident in finding your USP’s you can ask for help with your marketing strategy – this is a critical aspect of marketing that will make or break your business, ESPECIALLY in the digital landscape.
Let’s do ourselves, our clients & the Internet a huge service, and start punting our Unique Selling Points!
STAY AHEAD OF YOUR COMPETITION!
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Author: Ronel Pieterse
Ronel has spent 24 years in the corporate world (finance, banking, mining, manufacturing and agriculture) and has also started 5 small businesses herself over the past 20 years. Four of these are still operational today in one form or another. Ronel's passion is to use her considerable skills in spheres of business and IT to help other small business owners and entrepreneurs to grow their businesses to the next level and to attain sustainable competitive advantage in the process. View all posts by Ronel Pieterse