If you can identify your unique selling point, you’re in a position to stamp your place on the map and even make inroads into enemy territory. If you don’t have anything that differentiates you from others you’re in trouble.
For the Brits among you, imagine that I showed you photographs of the scenery at Brighton, Bognor Regis and Bournemouth and asked you which was which. Most people would find it difficult to tell them apart.
Now suppose I added a photo of Blackpool. Nearly everyone would recognize it. Why? Because it has an enormous iron tower that is well known around the world. The tower is not modern, not used by most visitors to the town and not particularly attractive, but it is easily recognizable.
Blackpool has something unique and memorable, which is one of the reasons why it gets 12 million visitors a year – more than any other seaside resort in the UK.
Try this simple exercise with your marketing team. Write the phrase “Only we can…” at the top of a flip chart and ask each member of the group to complete the sentence. They might describe anything from a product, a service, a feature, a market segment, a geographic area, a personality or a patent. But it must be something that only your organization can do or offer. What is your Blackpool Tower?
If nobody can think of anything that fits then you are in trouble. It means you don’t have anything that significantly differentiates you from other similar organizations.
Getting to this point should then provoke questioning such as “What can we do about this? How can we offer something unique?”
As Seth Godin argues in his book, Purple Cow, it is more important to be different than to be better. If you have a hotel that is a little better than most other hotels then that is a good starting point. But to boost your business you need to find something that makes you different from other hotels – even if it is something silly like a large plastic purple cow in the reception area.
If you do not have a differentiating factor then you should create one. Lager beers are very similar. To differentiate their product Heineken ran an advertising campaign with the slogan “Heineken refreshes the parts that other beers cannot reach”. It was a patently ridiculous claim yet it was highly successful. The adverts were humorous and memorable. The campaign ran for many years and the slogan became well known.
Maybe you can think of a shortlist of different things that only you can do. You should focus on this list and ask how you can use this to differentiate your offering in the marketplace – do your customers even know about it as a result of your marketing?
Could building on your list help you to move still further away from competitors – perhaps you should think about charging more for these factors, or targeting a more specific customer group that appreciates and desires what is unique to you.
The “only we can” element exploited by the Virgin Group’s marketing team is that they have Sir Richard Branson. So they use him extensively in promotional activities.
A recent “only we can” for ITV is The X Factor – its line?up of judges and their little arguments – so ITV ensures this aspect of the show gets plenty of press coverage.
We are all trying to move away from the cut-throat competition of commodity products and services. The “only we can” exercise helps you to focus on how to do that. Why not try it at your next marketing meeting.
- With your team, create a shortlist of things that are unique to your offering and base your marketing strategy around them
- If you can’t identify any differentiating factors then create some and make them the focus of an advertising campaign
- Once you’ve recognized your unique selling points then build on them by highlighting customers who value these differentiators and consider charging more for them
Paul Sloane writes, speaks and leads workshops on creativity, innovation and leadership. He is the author of The Innovative Leader published by Kogan-Page.