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Positioning: Setting Your Business Apart

December 5, 2006

This article was excerpted from MadScam

What you have to impress on prospective customers is the added value they can expect when they establish a relationship with you. It may be a single specific feature so unique to your company that it can stand alone as a persuasive reason to deal with you. But the odds on finding and isolating that single 24-carat nugget of information that makes you so special are pretty small. More than likely it's a combination of less spectacular reasons that when added up give you a definite perceived advantage over your competition.

This single feature, or combination of distinguishing features, has been given many names over the years by various marketing pundits, but the most commonly accepted and longest lived is the unique selling proposition (USP), a term coined by Rosser Reeves, the CEO of Bates Advertising back in the 1950s. The interesting thing about a USP is that this unique attribute or feature doesn't necessarily have to be unique to you, your product, or your services; you only have to create the perception that it is unique in the mind of the audience you are addressing. And if by so doing, you become the only one in your business category talking about your product's special attribute, you end up owning its uniqueness.

Rosser Reeves did this with Gleam toothpaste. At the time, toothpaste was seen as merely a cleaning and whitening aid. (In those days most people smoked three packs a day of unfiltered cigarettes and drank gallons of diesel-strength coffee, so less-than-pearly-white teeth and paint-stripper breath was a fairly common problem.)

After talking to the people who made the stuff, Rosser discovered Gleam had chlorophyll in it, which was primarily a breath freshener. Rosser immediately renamed and advertised the product as "Gleam Toothpaste with miracle ingredient GL70." This so-called miracle ingredient was vigorously hyped as the answer to effective oral hygiene for people who couldn't brush after every meal because it helped fight both tooth decay and bad breath. If you didn't want to put up with the operating-room taste of things like Listerine, this was seen as the answer to your problems. Within months, the product was selling like gangbusters to hordes of Camel-smoking, high-test coffee drinking, hamburger-munching Americans.

But the most interesting part of the story is that just about every other brand of toothpaste on the market had chlorophyll in it. It was only because Rosser took the time to find out about every single product ingredient and its attributes, recognize that one of them presented an opportunity to create a USP, develop a completely new way to position Gleam than the way toothpaste had always been marketed to the public, and then be the only one in the marketplace to talk about it (making it the core element of all the advertising), that he was able to turn a me-too toothpaste into a huge brand.

This concept of a USP is an important lesson to consider when putting together a marketing strategy. Do not doubt for one minute that there will be some particular facet of your business you can promote as being unique, whether it's in the products or services you create, the way you sell them or the second-to-none after-sales services you develop that keep customers coming back. Believe me, somewhere in that mix there will be something you can transform into a USP. All you have to do is find it, then communicate it to your potential market.

But a word of caution here, virtually all the ads that Rosser Reeves created were appalling. Yes, they worked like gangbusters and sold a lot of products, in spite of the fact that virtually everyone hated them. He was responsible for flaming stomachs, anvils in heads, and lots and lots of charts and diagrams with unremitting supers (onscreen titles) flashing product benefits over and over. He also had a fetish about dressing every actor in every commercial in a white coat to give the impression they were doctors.

Under no circumstances should you model your efforts on the Rosser Reeves school of hard sell when it comes to executing your advertising. But by all means rely on that fundamental principle of the unique selling proposition when it comes to doing the spadework necessary to develop your communications plan.

Nailing Your USP
Whether you're a startup or reinventing yourself, identifying the essential core elements that can help build your company's name and reputation will get you started on the road to fame, fortune and fast cars.

As you develop a marketing strategy you can use as the foundation of your communications plan, some questions you should consider, and hopefully come up with solid answers to are:

So let's assume you can answer yes to at least one of the above items. (Perhaps, even more than one.) If so, congratulations, you have a USP. Put it down on paper.