Last week, Michael Stone called me out on my metaphorical reference to the “seven deadly marketing sins” in this posting about “We offer great customer service.”
“Where are the other six sins?” he asked. Well, I’ll see if I can deliver on the promise.
Diversification can sometimes be good — even vital — for business success — but unfocused “we can do it all” approaches, especially for marketing, will virtually assure you of failure. The concept, originally expressed by old-time marketing gurus Ries and Trout, but validated by plenty of research and experience, is that unless you have a clear differentiating advantage, you will fail.
For example, you should know that saying you “offer great customer service” will earn you zero points on this marketing exam. However, if you elect to offer a 100 per cent guarantee and a free follow-up inspection to ensure that all guarantee obligations are met, you might have a marketing home run — if that is something your clients would value, your competitors do not currently offer the advantage, and the guarantee won’t break your bank account with a massive unfunded liability (possible if you are selling crappy stuff, or you have crappy customers!)
This example shows you that you need to be thoughtful about your Unique Selling Proposition (USP). It is an important decision. It might come to you in a flash of inspiration, or it might require some digging. Sometimes, as it happened in my case, it was totally accidental. I started a local newspaper for real estate brokers and sales reps, and then decided to start another one for the construction industry. It turns out the real estate market was far too small, but I had tapped into a new, logical market for construction publications. The community, even in a middle-sized city, is large enough, and it has its own culture, community, values, and relationships. I didn’t know it at the time, but I had hit the holy grail of marketing — and the business continues today because of that fact. (And because I was first”in the niche, it would be a truly uphill challenge for anyone to break into the market now.)
Your challenge — discovering the USP, and then committing resources and efforts to make it work.
Here are some suggestions to discover the one that is right for you:
- Write down 10 possible ideas, quickly.
- Look at the parts of the business you have which are really doing well, and which you enjoy. What are they? Why?
- Can you see marketing ideas from similar businesses in other markets/communities which are not applied in your own area (“stealing” ideas is perfectly legitimate, especially when you transfer them to new markets?
- Ask your employees to brainstorm and suggest ideas.
You’ll need to filter the ideas. Here, you can create a decision matrix, ranking important factors, testing them, and then assessing costs and consequences.
Your USP could be a value offer, service area, specific product or service, guarantee, answer to clients’ pressing needs, answer to clients’ pressing emotions, culturally or community-segmented (we only work in this neighbourhood, but we know everything about this neighbourhood, and you can check with all these people about our services); or it could be something crazy, creative, off the wall, and totally unexpected (though of course you don’t want to try that approach if you are selling to straight-laced civil servants, at least without testing!)
These evaluation steps may take little effort or weeks of struggle, depending on your inspiration or market conditions. Just don’t come back to me and say “my USP is we can do it all”.