Mark Ballett is an ecommerce expert with more than 25 years’ experience helping retailers to grow and evolve. He was Supply Director of Cable & Wireless, and CEO of several telecoms companies at the beginning of the internet era, played a leading role in an £80M broadband start up, as well as leading Norweb Telecom's growth from £10M to £100m turnover.
I have been party to many conversations over the years on the topic of differentiation: how to keep a product, or business, meaningfully different from the competition. It’s rather important in any business but it often gets little attention.
At some stage in the discourse my interlocutors will say, “All I need to do now is work out what my Unique Selling Point is.” The look on their faces always suggests that they are sub-vocalising the next line and, if I could only hear what they were thinking, it would be something like this – “It’s as simple as that.” It always reminds me of one of my favourite maxims: every complex problem always has a simple answer, and it is always wrong. One of the problems with marketing is that it all sounds rather simple.
In order to popularise ideas and train us some very important marketing fundamentals have been simplified to the extent that people find them unintelligible and hard to apply, but they think they are both obvious and easy. My personal marketing paradox is this: fundamental marketing (not just promoting things) is so simple to understand that it is almost impossible to do.
One of the problems with the idea of a USP is that it is commonly referred to as a unique selling Point, which suggests a rather discreet thing; one thing, rather than, two, three, or more. I like to think of it more as a unique selling Proposition that embodies a combination of things, as I have found that most businesses rely on several attributes that, taken together, make them different. Yes, I know this is all very simple stuff: that’s precisely my point.
“It always reminds me of one of my favourite maxims: every complex problem always has a simple answer, and it is always wrong.”
In order to create a unique Proposition for your business you need to manage your Marketing Mix. Yes, another apparently simple concept with implementation issues. You have at least seven dimensions to play with when you are searching for your elusive USP: exactly what product/service you sell and its attributes; where you sell it; how much you charge; how you promote it and exactly what you say; the people you involve in the process; the process itself; and the physical evidence of the service component of what you are selling. I’m sure you have come across all this before, but do you actively manage it in your business?
Another way to think of all this is to think of brands, which to my mind are great examples of unique propositions, each with their own unique marketing mix. No successful brand sells exactly the same thing as any other successful brand. All great brands are unique and they not only know how they are unique but they manage every aspect of their marketing mix in order to keep it that way. So, why don’t you do the same? Many people are lulled into a false sense of security and can’t see the need for it. Just like the ghosts in the pantomime, which the actors can’t see even though they are in plain sight, because they are looking the wrong way.
Of course, it isn’t always easy to do this but that isn’t any excuse for not trying. Many people don’t get very far because it can be very difficult to find a competitive edge in many sectors and businesses but it is ALWAYS possible to be different. If you can’t find any other way then the genie in the marketing pantomime lamp is emotion. In the same way that I might buy Lynx aftershave to make me irresistible to women, or drink Guinness to make me more of a man, or use Persil to wash my clothes and look after my family – all strong emotional elements of these products’ positioning and central to their brand and promotional strategies – you too can find an emotional angle to leverage. It just needs to be true, compelling, and different to what your competitors are saying.
If you want to build a more successful business you may find that there is scope to think a little deeper about these simple things. To what extent have you thought about the sustainability of your current marketing mix or what you can change? Have you thought about how emotion can be used to position you more strongly? Do you have a unique selling Proposition rather than a Point? If not, why not?
If you think this is all a bit obvious and basic you are not alone; there will be many of you reading this who think you do this anyway, but do you, really? If you are looking for your USP, but can’t quite put your finger on it, all you need to do is to look in the right place – your marketing mix – and don’t forget emotion, just like the emotion you felt as a child when you helped those actors on stage find what they were looking for, by shouting – “It’s behind you!”