Small Business Marketing:

Are They Buying What You're Selling?

What Really Provides Value To Your Customer?

We all want people to use the products and services we sell, and within our market we can be reasonably sure they want them. The tallest hurdle we have to overcome is convincing potential customers or clients that they should buy from us instead of our competitors. Here’s how to do it.

"Branding" vs. USP

Rosser Reeves, legendary ‘ad man’ from over 50 years ago, first developed the term Unique Selling Proposition and outlined the importance of the concept. It’s probably the single most valuable marketing asset you can have-- better than even a great product or service. (But maybe not both, of course.)

Sometime you’ll hear it referred to as the Customer’s Buying Advantage, Strategic Marketing Position, or something like that —but the reference point is the same.

What Exactly Is A Unique Selling Proposition?

Dan Kennedy, direct marketing wizard, says that a USP needs to answer the following question:

“Why, given all the other options available to me—including continuing to do what I’m currently doing, and, my option to do nothing at all—should I take you up on your offer, and do business with you-- rather than your competitor?”

If you use vague terms to describe your business, like, superior service, satisfaction guaranteed, service with a smile—you are, well, not unique. How about cutting edge technology, on time and under budget, money saving, (_____________) fill in the blank? You haven't distingushed your business from the 'herd'.

  • When It Absolutely, Positively Has To Be There Overnight! (Not ‘speedy service’)
  • We’re #2; We Try Harder! (Not convenience and superior customer service’)
  • It’s Not Live, It’s_______! (Not high quality’)

Don’t confuse these with slogans or, as they’re called, taglines like ‘progress is our most important product’.

Your USP has to offer, in a simple and specific way, a benefit (at most, two) that offers unique advantages, solves the problems, and connects with the desires and conversations that pervade your target market. This means, first of all, that you have to know your market.

Where Do You Find Your Unique Selling Proposition?

Everyone thinks they know their market-- and have formed a set of assumptions about it that may actually be untrue. As soon as one business exec abandons that all-knowing mindset, opportunities become apparent that others in the same industry have failed to grasp.

When FedEx began shipping, their first USP was "We Own Our Own Planes". How did it work? Their first flight had space reserved for 800 packages-- but they only had 8 packages to ship. Only 4 of them were from customers! "We Own Our Own Planes" just doesn't pass the "So What?" test.

After really investigating to see what their potential customers found important, they were able to wrest the market from the U.S. Postal Service within a year.

While you'll need to throughly investigate your industry data, looking outside your industry may reveal better examples. Ultimately, however, you'll need to ask the true experts-- your customers, patients, or clients. But don't just stop there. Ask your inactive and former customers. You'll learn a great deal when they tell you why they're no longer buying from you. [See: "Are They Buying What You're Selling?" small business marketing ]

Incorporating Your USP

Far more than just a declaration, your USP must be integrated into all your business processes-- management, delivery systems, inventory, personnel, office décor, web site, stationary, etc., so it is reflected from every aspect of your operation.

For example, Wal-Mart pushes cost savings in its’ USP and has integrated into all levels of its business. All the company executives fly to business meetings in coach class and share rooms at Motel-6 type motels. And, to be consistent, Sam Walton never moved from the house he lived in when he first started the company!

So, if you offer the fastest service, you have to make sure your shipping, inventory, tracking, vehicles, etc., won’t hinder you from making good on that promise. These are the fundamental internal business processes that have to be refined before there can be any rational discussion about “branding”.

Branding isn't abstract imagebuilding-- to be effective it must rely on the demonstrated validity of the "brand promise", i.e., the company's USP.

In case you’re wondering what makes Rosser Reeves such an authority, try: “Melts In Your Mouth, Not In Your Hand”…50 years and counting!

The Takeaway

When a bankrupt pizza shop owner was two weeks away from bankruptcy, image ads and 'branding' were luxuries he couldn't afford. Instead he incorporated his USP into a direct response challenge to his market as well as his industry. Fresh Hot Pizza Delivered In 30 Minutes or Less-- Or It's Free!

It took over 20 years before someone finally said "You know, this isn't very good pizza". By that time he was already included on the Fortune 500 list of the worlds wealthiest men-- none of whom made very good pizza either!

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