The USP Paradox: How to Imitate Being Different
When Rhonda Abrams polled readers of her Planning Shop newsletter a few years back, she discovered that every new business idea was, in one way or another, rooted in her or his previous experience or knowledge.
But straight imitation, while sincerely flattering, will not necessarily yield success. Abrams went on to encourage entrepreneurs to eventually find their own niche within an industry.
"I like to think that a good business idea is like a parking space," she wrote. "It might be just around the corner, and it only takes one!"
In Abrams' article, we see the innate contradiction that lies at the heart of marketing: A new business must understand the success of its predecessors in order to follow suit. But unless that business can distinguish itself from existing competitors it will almost surely fail.
Back in the early days of mass media, an advertising executive named Rosser Reeves coined the term "Unique Selling Proposition" (USP) to describe this need for competing brands to differentiate. Even today, the USP remains one of the most powerful concepts in marketing and should be at the foundation of any entrepreneur's new business strategy.
Target a niche.
TheLadders was able to distinguish itself in the already glutted online job postings market by catering to middle and upper-management listings that purportedly paid six-figure salaries. Business Insider said the startup doubled its revenue in each of its first five years. And even though growth has slowed with the continued downward trend in employment, TheLadders remains committed to its USP.
Mix and match.
When it feels like everything under the sun has already been tried, finding the right combination of value points can lead to the discovery of a USP. This approach spans any number of industries as Corbett Barr once pointed out on Think Traffic website. "Merge Manhattan-bred customs with African-inspired music and you get the band Vampire Weekend. Mix collective buying power with the social web and you get Groupon," wrote Barr.
The way a product is made is frequently held up as a USP. Coors Light claims to be the only domestic light beer that is cold-filtered instead of heat-pasteurized. Consumers may not understand exactly what that means, but most American light beer drinkers certainly associate cold with tasting better.
Who you are as a business owner can shape your USP. No one would ever confuse Martha Stewart with Crazy Eddie, yet both embodied what their customers wanted. Think about how your personal story has shaped the value and expertise you bring to the table, and you'll likely find a USP that cannot be copied.
Chris Lenois is a small business owner, professional journalist, and freelance writer for VistaprintDeals.com, the official coupon site for Vistaprint. Chris has covered small business marketing topics for over a decade, and has contributed articles to many newspapers and publications, including The Times-Picayune and Wired.
Photo credit: Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net