When starting and running any business or organization, differentiating yourself from those similar to yours is essential for future growth, and frankly, even for short-term survival. For instance, if you are going to be one of 5 bakeries in a town of 25,000, you need to find a way to stand out—why should anyone prefer your bakery over others? That is the driving question. In the earliest stages of your business you need to establish your USP. Otherwise known as the unique selling proposition, it is a statement that every company develops to describe what they offer, how it takes care of customer needs, and how it distinguishes them from the competition. It’s a declaration of why you’re better than everyone else who essentially does the same thing.
As the business owner of our theoretical bakery, there are many ways you could decide to differentiate yourself before you open the door the first day. Maybe you’re the only 24 hour bakery in the community or the only one open on Mondays. As it relates to product, maybe you’re the only bakery that makes bagels or caters weddings. Whatever it is, you need to state this as your USP as this will guide all of your marketing efforts moving forward, or at least until you reach the point where you need to rethink your unique selling proposition and make appropriate changes as you’re responding to the marketplace.
To be a bit more specific, if your plan is to offer the best customer service ever, your USP might be “Made Fresh 24/7.” If you want to differentiate with more of an emotional tactic, your USP might be “Just Like Mom Baked.” The USP doesn’t have to be an exhaustive document on all the minutia that makes you different, its a summary statement honing in on the one thing that will drive people into your business even though its likely there are many factors that can differentiate one bakery from another.
The USP for my company is “Building Relationships so You can Build Your Business.” While my team is always focused on taking care of client needs, from logo designs to websites and marketing strategy, we want to build a relationship with our clients. After the website is built or the corporate training is complete, we hope to continue to support our clients through encouragement, networking and sending them opportunities as they present themselves. What we’re not building is a conveyor belt system such that when we’re finished with one task we quickly move on to the next one. We want to take care of our customers because we care about them as people, too. Whether local or glocal, we share the same community, and we can thrive together.
Once you have developed your USP, you might want to go back to some of your closest friends and colleagues and run it past them. People who know you, know your passion, and know your business, will be able to provide input that will help you to move forward. It’s always good to have a circle support to shine a light on your path and make the journey a bit easier.
It can be a huge step to finally decide “this is what I want to be known for” because there are other things you also want to be known for. It’s human nature to experience self-doubt and hesitate on a course of action. At some point, any course of action is better than none because there is so much to be learned in the process.
No one in business gets it right every time. And sometimes when they do get it right, its completely by accident. If you’d like some feedback on your unique selling proposition or you’re not sure where to start, let us know. We’d love to connect with you and help you get things started.
You remember your first business endeavor. You were probably around the age of 10. It was a lemonade stand and the reason you started it is because you wanted to buy something that either your parents couldn’t afford to buy for you or you needed earn the money to do it yourself. So without regard for any cost-benefit analysis, you asked your parents for the sugar, the lemons, and the markers and tag board for your marketing materials and you set up on the front sidewalk in front of your house with your plan to make all the money you needed all before dinner.
You didn’t know at the time that you needed a business plan and a marketing strategy. All you knew was that 1) you needed the cash fast and 2) people get thirsty. There was a definitive need for what you were selling.
But you were selling more than lemonade. You were selling a dream. Every child who got a nickel from their parents to buy your product was thirsty. Every adult who told you to keep the change was sold on your dream—whatever it was. They didn’t care to know.
It gets a little harder to sell anything as a budding entrepreneur. People don’t buy because they think you’re adorable and want to play a role in helping you buy your next toy. They want to buy because you’ve sold them on the notion that your product or service fills a need or solves a problem. That connection has been made in their mind, at least a few moments before they have presented you with payment.
Moving product is as much about selling ideas as much as it is the transaction at the cash register. Successful businesses know this. Many fast food establishments have sold you their product before you even get in the car. If having it “your way” is more important than “fresh never frozen,” then your lunch-time path is predetermined and the work of sales has been reduced to “may I take your order?”
Its never been more important that you know who you are and what you’re selling. Differentiating yourself and your product is one of the clearest ways consumers can answer the question of need or desire. You need to be willing to make your personality, your store, your product and your service look different from the 20 other similar establishments in your community. Standing out is how people begin to make product considerations. You can’t be seen among the competition if you look exactly like them.
Starting a business and having any long-term success is well beyond the anecdote of the lemonade stand. You’re just not cute enough anymore to start a business venture that inspires people much older than you to buy things because it will make you feel good. Before you can move any product or service or persuade people to give to your cause, you have to convince them of the need it fills in their life. Eventually you’ll create a brand reputation that stands out among the competition and that people have learned to trust.
It’s said by so many people, including me, that knowledge is power. So if you have an idea about how your customers and acquaintances think about you, then you have a starting point for knowing what to fix and why (or to know what isn’t broken!). Your brand is the experience others have with your business, product, service, or relationship. As Jeff Bezos is widely quoted as saying, “Your brand is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room.”
Your personal brand can and should be both passive and active. It’s how people know you and what you know about yourself and want to refine. A recent article at Fast Company made some interesting claims about the concept of brand.
Brands shape themselves to what others want to hear. A brand is a politician in a cheap suit with over-whitened teeth that calculates relationships in ROI. A personal brand lives in constant fear of discovery, that others will see them for who they aren’t or what they don’t know.
Whatever the answer is to the question, “How do you want to be known?”, the answer is a goal which may or may not be actually achievable. That I might want to be known as a recording artist with at least one top 40 hit is totally not achievable….it’s an unrealistic fantasy. But that I want to be known as a marketing and leadership coach is not outside the bounds of my skills and experience. Brands can always start off as a lie, but brands that attempt to perpetuate that lie have a high mortality rate.
Where a ‘brand is artificial and phony, ethos is an authentic expression of your values and identity as a leader. Ethos includes your accomplishments, mastery, reputation, knowledge, and credibility. A professional ethos is an incomplete expression of your entire self.
Though I love the fact that a leader in the marketing arena is espousing the teachings of Aristotle in their work, I think the logical fallacy here is that brand and ethos must be contradictory terms. I would suggest that a “brand” is incredibly difficult to fake because you can’t alter a person’s experience with your product or service. You can’t lie to consumers and suggest that they can “have it your way” and not let them have it their way. The market doesn’t allow for false advertising for very long or with brands that don’t deliver the experience they’re attempting to convey through their marketing strategy. Of course, ethos is a great way to understand the depths of an individual or business culture, but a brand is simply reminiscent of the experience a customer has with your product or service—and your logo and entire brand identity serves as a reminder of that experience.
How is your business known? What do your customers say about their experience with your product or service? Branding goes way beyond a logo, color scheme and brand usage guide. Before you get to any of that, you have to decide how you want to be known and go for creating that climate for your customers.
For example, when I get my hair done, I have a pampered experience with lots of fun conversation with my stylist. Of course, I come out with a great product – no more roots and beautiful highlights! – but what I also take away the memory of the experience and its something I look forward to every few weeks. Its not the stylist’s logo that keeps me coming back, its the experience she provides and that is her brand.
The same is said of Starbucks, Apple and McDonald’s. The Starbucks brand begins with the social model they’ve created in each store. You want to have that bold cup of coffee with the chance to meet up with someone you know while working on your laptop or smart device. Starbucks is selling you a social experience. And while Apple might be selling technology and innovation, what you’re buying is innovation and an obvious “cool” factor. McDonald’s isn’t selling you the greatest burger on the planet, nor are they claiming to. McDonald’s brand is consistent flavor and a generally speedy experience.
How do you want to be known? Are customers coming away from your business saying they want to shop with you again? Are you providing a consistent experience that people are talking about?
Branding includes many elements including your logo, advertising, store layout & lighting….and the consumer experience. Starting with the question “how do I want to be known?” will guide decision making in these other areas. For instance, your logo should try to reflect your brand’s personality. If your retail establishment prides itself on minimalism with a lot of space, flat edges and dark lines, your logo shouldn’t embody a lot of noise, curves and color.
Consistency is the key to successful branding. Decide who you are and how you want to be known, and from there your brand identity, advertising and other marketing materials will be easier to make decisions on without being entirely random or arbitrary. You won’t just pick a logo because its pretty, you’ll choose it because it coheres with the image you want to communicate about your business. Your brand will be remembered for the experience you provide. That experience is what differentiates your product or service from the competition. it will be recognized by your company or product logo.