If your car needed repair work, would you go to a garage that offers free estimates? You likely would. Today, most garages offer them.
Not only has it become a customary practice, but also everyone expects a free estimate from mechanics.
However, here's an interesting scenario. Let's say your car broke down at the worst possible time, and you are in a terrible hurry. (If you're like most people these days, you are.) Plus, you specifically wanted a free estimate.
If you had to choose a garage quickly, which garage would you choose? Would you go to the one you only think that offers free estimates? Or would you go to the one you know for sure that does? Especially if you don't have much time?
As simple as it may sound, by communicating something that's usually taken for granted by your target market, you will be chosen more often. Rather than claiming superiority, like “we're #1,” you're implying it by demonstrating what makes you superior.
A mentor once told me, “Implication is more powerful than specification.” In marketing, it means that you should imply your superiority rather than claim it outright.
If you claim superiority, your claim appears self-serving and whatever you do say is suspect at best. But if you imply superiority, your claim, although not directly stated, is accepted as more credible, genuine, and, paradoxically, concrete.
People will unconsciously assume that you are superior. You are communicating your superiority, not in some marketing piece you wrote or paid for, but in that most elusive yet vital of places in all of marketing…
… Your target market's mind.
So, rather than outright stating that you are superior (e.g., that you're the “best,” that you have a product of superior or high quality, that you offer greater service, that you provide better rates, etc), explain specifically why you are superior.
In fact, the most critical word in marketing contains only three letters. It's the word “why.” It is much better to communicate why you are original, special, or unique, or why you are better, different, or superior than your competitors, and not the fact that you are.
In other words, the point is that you should imply your superiority by specifying, as much as possible, what exactly makes you better than anyone else and not that you are superior. This approach is far more powerful, and the effect lasts longer.
By implying your value proposition, it pierces through your market's natural psychological barriers, as people hate to be sold to. They hate making a bad decision. They hate being patronized. And more importantly, they hate being taken advantage of.
Realize that what makes you special, unique, or superior doesn't have to be your product in itself, although it certainly can be. But the easiest way to make your product unique is by what you add to it — specifically, to its value — as to appear superior.
Simply stated, you may offer something that everyone else does. But you could also offer something more, above and along with your product, than no one else does.
Let me explain. Your product is composed of three distinct levels:
- There's the core product (the product's main benefit),
- The actual product (the product itself and its features),
- And the augmented product (the product's value, such as the added value — additional features and benefits — you specifically bring to the table).
The latter of the three is probably the area most marketers fail to adequately communicate. It's also the easiest area you can use to develop or enhance your USP (or “unique selling proposition”). And it makes your product or service stand out among the crowd.
Here's an example. People may or may not know that you provide a certain value-add. A value-add is an extra product benefit or service added to your core offer. And, more often than not, they only assume that you do, especially if it's the norm in your industry.
Claude Hopkins, author of Scientific Advertising, revealed how he dramatically boosted Schlitz' brewery sales by making their beer appear unique using this method.
In the early 1900s, a beer's purity was important to consumers. Knowing this, most breweries claimed — but never really proved — that their beers were the purest available.
But instead of merely claiming purity, Hopkins would trumpet the reasons why Schlitz was purer than the rest. After a tour of the brewery, he began writing his sales copy describing in meticulous detail Schlitz' vigorous purification process.
According to Clayton Makepeace, Claude Hopkins described:
“The 4,000-foot-deep artesian wells from which Schlitz drew its water… the wood pulp filters that ensured the water was 100% pure… the spotless plant and “clean rooms” with their filtered air… how Schlitz's bottles were sanitized with germ-scalding steam… and more. But Hopkins did leave out one little fact: Pretty much every brewery made its beer just like Schlitz did!
By being the first to tell the public about Schlitz' generally assumed (or in this case, ignored) purification process, everyone was convinced Schlitz really was the purest beer anywhere. It's the main reason why it became the top-selling beer at the time.
Plus, the copy did double duty. Competing breweries' purity claims simply made them appear as copycats — or at the very least, it would remind the public of Schlitz.
By turning the assumed into the assured in the consumer's mind, even with a name in which people are assured that you do offer that particular service or benefit, your market will choose you over your competition many times over. Almost unconsciously.
And this is true, even when the value-add is the norm.
If I were Hopkins, I would have put a name on this purification process. That name would make the process appear unique. Even proprietary. It would help to instantly communicate this value-add, or at least cause people to want to learn more about it.
Using the earlier free estimates example, you might choose a garage offering “Hassle-Free Formulas” “Free Fix Finders,” or “No Greater than Guesstimate Estimates.” You might even choose one whose tagline is: “Where Smiles and Estimates are Free!”
In short, what you are doing — in this case, with a name, tagline, or marketing message — is turning the “assumed” into the “assured” in your market's mind.
In this day and age where people no longer have the time to shop around and are bombarded with commercial messages, then when they'll need the kind of service or product you provide, your name will pop into their minds — and will do so almost instantly.
On the Internet, time is a even scarcer commodity for most people. Click-happy online shoppers no longer have time to sit through countless, irrelevant search engine results, and pages upon pages of websites, to find exactly what they want.
Therefore, since people usually search the web by topics, interests, or benefits, and if the term “free estimates” was specified in your marketing efforts and especially on your website, then when people search for free estimates they will likely find your site.
In fact, many new Internet business models have emerged and became wildly successful — and profitable — based on that simple premise.
For instance, while one website may offer the same product with the same features at the same price as other websites, what makes that one site any different is in the way it adds value to its clients' purchase decision. Its value proposition, in other words.
And it does so in the way it brands, packages, presents, or sells its product, even the way it delivers it to its customers. But above all, it does so in the way it communicates it.
You can certainly apply the same principle in your business.
If there's something that's a part of what you offer (such as free support, free delivery, free installation, etc), even if you must manufacture your USP by adding an extra feature or service to your product to make it unique, then put a name on it, too.
Once you do, you then need to communicate it clearly — with every promotional breath you take! You must make your value proposition your core marketing message.
This is the one area on which most businesses fail to capitalize. Why is that? In my experience, it's because too many people think that a standard, conventional, or customary part of their business or product is too simple, unimportant, or unnecessary to market.
(You would be amazed to know how much such simple value-adds have become the pivotal elements upon which a large number of businesses have prospered and profited!)
Additional or complementary bonuses, features, or services are part of what is called the “augmented product,” simply because they augment the product's value. More important is the fact they should be communicated and have benefit-based names just as well.
Remember that a product is more than a bunch of tangible features — it has three levels. In fact, the third level (i.e., the value) is where most competition occurs!
Here's a greater description of each level:
- Your core product is the benefit — your product's relative purpose. It's what people are really buying, in other words. If the name, packaging, or any of the features change, the core product remains the same. It comprises of the benefit (if it's a product) or the solution (if it's a service) that people seek.
- The actual product consists of attributes, qualities, and characteristics — such as features, design, model, form, function, style, dimensions, name, package, label, ingredients, product mix (i.e., the breadth and depth of the product line), etc. In essence, the actual product consists of what makes the product or service.
- But the augmented product includes complementary services or features — like warranties, guarantees, terms, financing, delivery, installation, discounts, toll-free customer service, reports, shipping and handling, after-sale service, consumption education materials or training, quickstart guides, etc. On the web, they also include things such as reminder services, search capabilities, email newsletters, online technical support, personalization, customization, information, and so on.
By adding a benefit-based name on your augmented product, it could actually become — or become part of — what is called your “positioning statement.”
A positioning statement is one that communicates your value proposition and specific position (i.e., what places you or your product above your competition in the mind).
Even if your product is similar to the competition's, then your augmented product can isolate and differentiate your actual product from those of others. Your message should indicate so, although names and taglines can do this quite efficiently.
For example, remember that Domino's Pizza, with its once popular tagline that said “delivered fresh in 30 minutes or less or it's free,” is known more for its augmented product (i.e., home delivery) than its actual product (i.e., pizza).
In your case, do you offer an augmented product that's not offered elsewhere?
Here's an example. Say your website sells software.
- Do you offer free delivery of the CD?
- Do you offer a free upgrade reminder service?
- Do you include a quickstart guide on how to use it fast?
- Do you provide a special toll-free support line?
- Do you have a unique money-back guarantee?
- Do you provide any kind of payment plan?
- Do you offer extended warranties or download times?
- Do you have a special trade-up program?
- Do you publish a best practices newsletter?
- Do you give access to a private community of users?
The possibilities are endless! Regardless of what you do offer, these should be named and/or communicated as well. Sure, they might seem like standard practice. But don't let people assume that you offer a certain additional benefit or service. Assure them!
If a competitor steps in and assures your market before you do, it might be too late. Thus, turning the “assumed” into the “assured” heightens perceived value and implies superiority over competitors who may offer the same, nameless services.
More important however is the fact that doing so also turns ordinary products into memorable ones. They become effective mnemonics. Or simply stated, one value-add can easily become your “hook.” Just like Domino's delivery guarantee, for instance.
Finally, if you don't offer anything that's unique or special, then you might want to look at manufacturing your USP. Stated differently, you might want to define your position by simply adding something to your actual product in order to augment its value.
For example, while your product or service may be similar to the competition, you can be the first to cater to a specific market, the first to cater to a market in a unique way, or the first to customize a general product or service for a specific market.
Sure, you can have a superior product or service, and have either its core or parts of its actual product level different than your competition. If you do, then great. But keep in mind that, if your product is totally new and untested, it's a huge risk.
But more often than not, the augmented product is the level at which many products create astonishing, memorable, and highly profitable USPs. The goal, therefore, is to communicate it in order to imply your superiority rather than directly competing with others.
Don't claim it. Frame it in the consumer's mind, in other words.
Michel Fortin is a senior marketing specialist, renowned copywriter, and digital marketing expert. For the better part of 30 years, he's produced countless successful marketing communications and profitable campaigns that generated in excess of $300 million in sales. He's broken many industry sales records, including being instrumental behind the first ever “million-dollar day” online marketing campaign in 2004. He's worked with thousands of businesses and entrepreneurs around the world in a wide variety of industries on building their businesses, improving their marketing, and increasing their profits. He's a published author and often speaks at industry events. To connect with him, visit his LinkedIn profile where he is most active.