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How to Convince Customers to Buy From You and Not the Competition

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In The Marketing Plan Handbook, author Robert W. Bly explains how you can develop big-picture marketing plans for pennies on the dollar with his 12-step marketing plan. In this edited excerpt, Bly offers smart advice for creating a USP for your products that really set you apart from your competition.


Here's a trick question: What's better -- chopped liver or filet mignon? Most people answer "filet mignon." But that's the wrong answer. The correct answer is that filet mignon isn't better than chopped liver, nor is chopped liver better than filet mignon. If you picked filet mignon, you should have said, "I like filet mignon better," and not "Filet mignon is better." That's because one is not inherently superior to the other -- it's a matter of taste.

But what does this have to do with your unique selling propostion (USP)? Plenty! Every business needs to have a USP, a reason why customers should buy from you instead of from your competitors.

Do you know what the most common USP is? The one business owners give most frequently when customers ask why they should buy your product instead of the competition's? Strangely enough, it's also the weakest USP. It's "We're better."

Why is "We're better" such a weak and ineffective USP? Because "better" is nonspecific and difficult to prove. You say you're better. I say I'm better. It's difficult to prove -- and just saying it causes prospects to disbelieve you. Also, better is such a general term that it has little meaning. Same thing with the overused "quality."

So how do you create a USP that gets people to want to buy your product instead of the competition's? There are many methods, but I will describe three of the most effective here.

The first is to focus on a feature of your product -- one that's different or unique, and one that delivers an important benefit to the user. Consider Crispix cereal. The manufacturer didn't say it "tasted better." They said Crispix "stays crisp in milk" -- a benefit consumers wanted.

The second way to create a USP with selling power is to narrow your target market and focus on a specific market niche. For example, there are thousands of business consultants out there, all fighting for clients. But not my old high school chum, Gary Gerber. He has all the clients he can handle, with potential clients waiting in line to hire him. Why? Because he's not just a business development consultant -- Gary is a business development consultant who specializes in eye doctors.

It doesn't hurt that, before becoming a business development consultant to eye doctors, he owned the largest and most successful optometry practice in New Jersey. If you were an eye doctor looking to build your practice, who would you want to work with -- Gary or a consultant who says he can help you but has never worked with an eye doctor before?

The third way to create a winning USP is with branding. The branding approach usually takes a massive, costly advertising campaign that small businesses can't usually afford, although there are ways to shortcut this, such as with a celebrity spokesperson. A great example is the George Foreman grill: This is clearly not the world's best grill, nor do I recall the manufacturer making this claim in their commercials. But it is the only grill you can buy with the name "George Foreman" on it. So if you want a grill that cooks good food, you can get it lots of places. But if you want a "George Foreman" grill, you can only get it from the George Foreman grill company.

A good place to start when formulating your own USP is by asking yourself these questions:

  • What is different about my product that delivers an important benefit to the user?
  • Is there an industry, application, or other niche I can special­ize in?
  • Is there a way to brand my company or product in a unique fashion with appeal to consumers?

The more your positioning statement differentiates you from your competitors, the easier it will be for you to promote and sell your product. Conversely, a positioning statement that doesn't reflect a strong USP is a handicap. After all, the USP is the reason prospects should buy from you instead of other vendors. If you cannot articulate why they should hire you instead of your competitor across the street, how can you answer the question "Why should we buy from you?" when prospects ask it? And they ask it all the time.

Let's take a closer look at the USP and how to create one that powerfully differentiates you from your competitors while giving consumers a compelling reason to prefer your service, offer, or brand.

Here are the three components of a successful USP:

1. Each advertisement must make a proposition to the consumer.

It must say "Buy this product, and you will get this specific benefit." So to begin with, there must be a compelling ben­efit. For instance, "The CryoQuad Quiet-Cool air conditioner reduces your summer electric bills by 25 percent while keep­ing your house cool and comfortable."

2. The proposition must be one that the competition either can­not, or does not, offer.

It must be unique -- either in brand or a claim not otherwise made in that particular field. This is the "unique" in "unique selling proposition." You must clearly differentiate yourself from the competition. For example, "The CryoQuad Quiet-Cool air conditioner features our patented energy-saving TwinStar freon pump that spreads the cool air evenly throughout the room vs. other units that only cool the air in their immediate area."

3. The proposition must be so strong that it can move the mass millions (i.e., pull in new customers to your product).

This means the USP cannot be a trivial difference; it has to be something important, something customers really care about. Consider our A/C example again: "The energy savings you get by cooling your home with a CryoQuad Quiet-Cool can pay back the cost of the unit by the end of the summer if you get it now ... and save you hundreds of dollars more in energy costs over the lifetime of the unit."

To sum it up, you only need three criteria for effectively advertising with a USP:

1. Does the ad project a proposition?

2. Is it unique?

3. Does it sell?

The old ad campaigns for Wonder Bread are a classic example of a USP stated clearly, simply, and lucidly. "Wonder Bread helps build strong bodies 12 ways." What's interesting is that if you associate your product with a strong USP in the consumer's mind, it's difficult for competitors to take it away from you. After all, could you imagine another brand of bread saying, "We also build strong bodies 12 ways?" Every time they said it, the buyer would think of Wonder Bread -- and nothing else.

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