Everyone is saying the same thing – and no one is listening.
That’s the reality in most industries. Everyone is copying best practices from everyone else until everyone looks, from the customers’ perspective, exactly the same.

When this happens the only way to choose is on price.

In this situation it’s tempting to throw money at marketing in the hopes of differentiating yourself. But if you’re not saying anything different – then no one will be listening.

And this applies whether you’re spending £40 a month on promoting yourself at a networking meeting, or £4million a month on cross media marketing campaigns. Unless you have a distinctive voice you won’t be remembered and your customers will have no reason to choose you over the competition.

It sounds simple – and obvious. So why do most companies fail to stand out? Why do you forget an advert moments after you’ve seen it, or forget a person minutes after you’ve met them?

According to company growth expert, Roderic Michelson from Aralex Consulting, it’s because they aren’t distinctive.

Most companies know they need to be distinctive, but they give precious little to thought to how to be distinctive or what might already be distinctive about them. Just because we all know about the importance of a unique selling proposition – doesn’t mean we do anything about it.

So I asked Roderic what we can learn from the companies that have managed to stand out from the crowd – those companies that we’d immediately spring to mind for a certain product or service?

His reply? “The one thing they all have in common is a unique voice”.

Essentially they present themselves in a distinctive way and in a manner that ticks all the boxes for a particular niche in the market. This is important whether you are talking face-to-face with a prospect or buying ad space in the mass media.

“To have a unique voice you must position yourself as the best choice for a particular segment of the market through a Unique Selling Proposition, or USP. This is a succinct phrase that relates the most desired outcome your prospective client wants.” says Roderic.

For example if everyone else is pushing how lightweight their product is, then make yours stand out on styling, or if they are all selling style then highlight how yours can be personalised. Choose something that’s different. But beware – if that difference doesn’t speak to your customers then you still won’t stand out!

It will significantly improve the marketability of your product or service by addressing a recognised need or pain point for the prospect. This achieves two goals with the same effort: it builds both sales and your long-term reputation. It infuses with meaning every single marketing vehicle - internet collateral, telephone scripts, business cards, ads, flyers, etc. A USP helps you pre-open customers’ wallets.

Here are some examples from Roderic to give us a better idea of how a USP can work…

1) If you are a chocolate lover, there are few outlets where you can buy higher quality chocolate – the boutique chocolatiers. But what about daily chocolate? From a labour of love Green & Black grew into a strong brand riding on a smart USP: organic, luxurious but affordable, ethically-produced chocolate.

2) With a loyal following at home, built over 300 years, Twinings is one of the quintessentially British brands. It keeps growing abroad and it’s now sold in over 100 countries. What makes people in non-tea drinking countries choose Twinnings when they want tea? Their USP: Proper tea steeped in tradition, a little taste of Britain.

3) When was the last time you made a fresh juice yourself or mixed a smoothie? There was a need in the market for an easy way to have a healthy fruit drink. And Innocent Smoothies in the UK successfully grew from a stall to a sizeable company in a very tough market category. The USP: Convenient, naturally functional fruit drinks from an ethical supplier.

4) The need for fast, timely and secure delivery of important documents grew together with globalisation and international trade. Enter Federal Express, a courier company with appetite for growth and an outstanding USP: When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight. The rest is history.

5) Finding a consistently good blend of coffee especially for espresso-based drinks is not an easy task. But there is a solution. Illy Coffee is well on its way to become the first global brand coffee in the world. Their marketing is based around: outstanding taste, authentic Italian experience in every cup, the choice of connoisseurs and coffee lovers.

Your USP is the distilled essence of what you are offering. Make it sound fast, easy and low-risk. Your USP should be so compelling that it can be written on a board in front of your shop, if you had one, and can be quoted when meeting potential customers.

How to create a USP? Here is Roderic Michelson’s step by step guide to creating a USP, using a slimming herbal tea as an example;

Step1: Write down the list of benefits that your product/service offers. They could be centred around your price, technical excellence, taste, specialism, exclusivity. Think about the end result your customer wants from such a product. The best way is to pair each feature of your product with the benefit it brings. So let’s illustrate...

The new Slim Pam is a great tasting product. Is that enough? No. Let’s dig deeper. It is 100% natural, organic, acts fast, one has to eat reasonably but no dieting is required while taking the product, has a nice taste, uses roses from the famous Valley of the Roses, it is easy to use as it is offered as a tea and it has a long-lasting effect. Which three of these will you choose? Stay with me for the answer below.

Step 2: Quick market research: Sit down at your computer and find out who your most prominent competitors are. What are they saying on their web sites, in their marketing materials, in their ads? Which benefits do they emphasise? What are their messages? Again, try to match product features to their stated benefits. Once you compare your own notes to competitor messages it will be easy to fine tune your own positioning so you have a unique voice against the rest of the market.

Step 3: Look at areas of underperformance or customer needs/pain points in your industry. Which of these are addressed by your product? Make sure your USP ties in with a market need. In our example, most people who want to lose weight, go through different diets and exercising routines. Very often, after the diet is over, they regain weight. And most people don’t have the self-discipline to stick to the diet or go to the gym regularly. So Slim Pam offers a more effortless way to lose weight and has longer effect.

Step 4: Strengthen your claims, if you can. Do you have some proof, testimonials, research results to overcome the apathy and scepticism of today’s over-marketed consumer? In our example, Slim Pam was developed by a medical doctor doing research and has been used since the early 1970s in Europe.

Step 5: Synthesise your USP into one to two sentences. Write down and rework versions until it sounds right. Don’t assume you will do it in one sitting. The USP should answer the customer’s question “why should I choose your product?” One possible version of Slim Pam’s USP could then be: Fast-acting and easy to prepare slimming tea with long-lasting effect.

“Your USP is not a simple slogan or tagline. It is the mainstay, the common thread of all your communications and no message should go out from your business without your USP in it, or emphasising one of the elements of your USP. Your USP will spark interest and single you out as the best choice in your prospects’ eyes.” concludes Roderic.

Author's Bio: 

About Roderic Michelson
Roderic Michelson is a growth expert for Aralex Consulting Ltd. He is author of “The Recession-Fighting Guide” and publishes the Business Growth Blog. See: www.aralex.co.uk.

About Chantal Cooke
Chantal Cooke is an award winning journalist and founder of PASSION for the PLANET radio. You can access 100’s business growth articles and podcasts at http://www.passionforfreshideas.com