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There’s No Such Thing As A Unique Selling Proposition?

The other day, I received an email from someone I follow. She’s well-known in her niche and teaches marketing for a very specific type of professional. I don’t want to mention the industry, because if I do you will probably know who she is.

She said that you do not need a USP, a unique selling proposition. She alluded to the idea that it’s a term that's hyped up, overused, and not applicable to professional services firms (e.g., lawyers, accountants, financial advisors, etc).

In fact, she says it’s nearly impossible to have a truly unique selling proposition, and that a tiny percentage of firms (less than 1%) can claim a real USP.

I disagree.

First, I do admit that her approach makes sense.

She talked about having an “ideal” selling proposition instead, which is to focus on showing your ideal clients that you are the ideal firm with the ideal solution to their problems.

That, I agree with 100%.

But you can be unique, still. 

Perhaps what she meant was that a firm or professional service, by itself, cannot be truly unique. But having a unique selling proposition is different. It doesn’t have to be entirely new.

It just needs to be different than others in the market.

Defined, a USP is where one feature or perceived benefit makes it unique. While you can have a firm like everyone else, or offer the same services everyone else does, you only need one difference to have a viable USP.

Obviously, being wildly unique is a better proposition, but it’s risky and not truly applicable to professional services, which I believe is what this person meant. 

But all you need is a key differentiator.

Just one.

It can be a feature, a perceived benefit, a process, an add-on, a delivery method, an approach, a piece of intellectual property, even a regular feature or benefit that others offer but no one else advertises.

If something is universally offered in your industry, chances are no one bothers to promote it for that reason. You can claim it as your own and promote it. This creates a perceived competitive advantage by merely stating it.

I call this “turning the assumed into the assured.” You’re turning something that’s a typically assumed part of your business or service into something that you assuredly offer.

In the early 1900s, contaminated beer poisoned thousands of people. It created a major food safety crisis that led to a massive recall, and forced breweries to certify all fresh batches and advertise their beers as such.

As a result, most breweries claimed their beers were the purest available.

After a tour of the Schlitz brewery, Claude Hopkins, author of Scientific Advertising, who was tasked to promote their beer, had an idea.

His ad copy described in meticulous detail Schlitz' vigorous purification process, using purified water, a sophisticated filtering system, clean rooms with filtered air, pasteurization, and bottles that were sanitized with scalding steam.

By trumpeting the reasons why Schlitz was pure rather than simply claiming it, he dramatically boosted Schlitz' sales — in spite of the fact that other breweries were claiming to be pure, too.

So your USP doesn’t have to be unique.

It has to be perceived as unique.

A USP is not something so generic that everyone else can claim it, like having the “highest quality customer service” in your industry. If a competitor can claim it, it’s not unique.

But if you position yourself by presenting something as unique and that no one else is claiming, you gain a competitive advantage.

Most licensed professionals cannot make claims or guarantees, which are often used as USPs in most other industries. Many say they can’t be unique because everyone does the same thing, or that they’re bound by laws and regulations on what they can say.

But there is indeed something unique about you or your services. 

It may be hidden, yet uncovered, or inconspicuous because it's so obvious. It may need to be coaxed out or tinkered with. But it's there, I assure you. With each and every client I worked with, I found this to be true. Without exception.

For one, you are unique. And as the creator and deliverer of your service, that service is already unique by its very nature. 

A management consulting firm is a management consulting firm. But what makes McKinsey different is… the fact that it’s McKinsey!

But if you truly feel there’s nothing unique, you can manufacture a USP by simply positioning something you do or offer as unique as a way to differentiate yourself. Often, positioning can be as simple as giving your process, approach, or intellectual property a unique name.

For example, if I were Hopkins, I would have named Schlitz’ purification process, like “The Schlitz Purity Process.” By itself, that name would make the process appear unique, even proprietary. It would help to instantly communicate this differentiator and set it apart in the mind.

If other breweries ever decided to copy Schlitz, the name would still make it stand out, and other competitors’ efforts to copy them would only remind people of Schlitz.

Finally, remember this.

You may offer the same thing others do. By specializing and focusing on a niche, you have a USP already or the groundwork to build one on. But also, what you do, offer, say, or deliver is also unique.

Because you are.

But it's not about being unique for uniqueness sake. It's about being the best solution possible for the client's situation or problem, which, in their mind, is unique to them.

Because it is.

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