Taglines, punch lines and brand development people all start by focusing on your uniqueness. If you talk to most marketers, one of their first questions is “What is your Unique Selling Proposition or USP?”

If you don’t know, they move onto the heartening, “There are thousands of businesses in the same industry as yours. What makes you different from them? Why should people buy from you and not them?”

Answering this is as exciting and easy as answering what you were wearing on a Saturday evening, 15 years ago. Most people and businesses struggle with what makes them unique or different.

The problem with USPs

Let’s start by defining the problem with the word “unique”. Ask the average person on the street what the word means, and you will get answers “one of a kind”, “nothing else like it” and “incomparable”. So far so good.

Now ask them to think of one unique business – one that is a “one of a kind” with “nothing else like it” or “incomparable”, and the conversation rapidly dries up. They stutter and stammer. They start half saying something, and then trail away when you ask, “Is that really unique?”

The reality is that there are very few totally unique business types in this world (and if they start out unique they don’t stay that way for very long).

Asking businesses to identify their uniqueness sets up a mental paralysis for people. Their minds go into a hamster wheel loop with no conclusions being drawn.

Or they grab platitude answers such as “We deliver quality service”, which really is as exciting and useful as an ashtray on a motorbike.

They may leap on tangible things such as price, product range and decor to try and make themselves stand out. That is fine as far as it goes, but these can be replicated. If you compete on price, there will always be someone who will undercut you. If you compete on range, then someone will extend their range or mirror your product range. These are all temporary solutions.

It is darn hard to work out your USP from thin air!

Your Uniqueness is Hidden in Plain Sight

This is not to say that the quest to find out what makes you different is a fool’s quest and needs to be abandoned. People do want to know what makes your business different from the rest and why they should buy from you.

In my experience, every person and business has something that is mind-blowingly brilliant about it. The problem is that people are often so close to what they do and how they do it, that they do not see how amazing they truly are.

The things that come easiest to them, and the things that they assume “doesn’t everyone do it that way”, are often the very things that set them apart.

With a bit of digging, these pieces of brilliance can be spotted and unlocked for every business.

Black OpalLet me tell you a story. One of my favourite places to visit is a place called Lightning Ridge in outback NSW. Lightning Ridge is known for its amazing black opals, chiselled from tunnels deep in the ground.

When you visit Lightning Ridge on most days of the year, you come across a dry, dusty lunar landscape, littered with piles of white chalky pebble like rubble called Mullock Heaps and pocked by holes disappearing deep into the inky depths of the earth.

On any given day, most miners are underground … except when it rains. Then you will see people quietly appearing out of the caverns and wandering over the Mullock Heaps looking for flashes of colour.

You see, opals when they are covered in dust just look like any other pebble, yet with a splash of water the dust is removed, and the true brilliance of the colours shine through.

Lightning Ridge is awash with stories of people who picked up hundred thousand dollar opals off the side of the road after the rains – and yet during the dry many hundreds of people would have walked over or even kicked the dusty opal and not seen its true value or its deep flashes of colour.

This is the same with you and your business. Most people walk past their true brilliance, which is hidden in plain sight.

Finding What Makes You Unique

There are loads of different ways to discover what makes you and your business unique, none of which require bar charts, piles of statistics or never-ending PowerPoint presentations by hipster marketers sipping lattes.

Ask Your Customers

Ask your existing customers what made them buy from you. You must have done something right to get someone to buy from you – what was that thing? What made you stand out from other businesses?  Crank up the results by asking for testimonials from your clients at the same time, and you get a double whammy for your marketing.

Listen to Your Employees

Talk with your team about why they like working for your company. Find out what difference they think they make with your clients. Ask them why they think your clients choose you. Find out why they stay working with you. They often have insights that you have not considered.

Do Some Self-Reflection

Ask yourself some questions to help you tease out your difference:

  • What are your strengths?
  • What do you differently to other people?
  • How precisely do you do what you do?
  • What do people value about you?
  • What do people regularly say about you on feedback forms or testimonials?
  • If you asked your favourite clients to describe your business and what it does, what do they say?
  • What value do you add to other businesses?
  • How do businesses or people feel after they have worked with you?
  • Do they get the same feeling and value from all parts of your business, or do different parts create different results?

You could also ask yourself the questions from Finding Your Business Sweet Spot.

Have Someone Interview You

Have someone sit down with you over a coffee and ask you about your business.

The feedback we often get after we have finished our copywriting interviews with clients is that they didn’t know that they knew so much, and how much easier it is to talk with someone about their business than trying to think it through.

By listening to the stories the people in the business tell about their favourite customers, the goods or services they love most, how they go about doing what they do, and describing the people in their business and how they interact with each other, we start to get a glimpse of what makes each business unique.

We watch how people in businesses talk about their business. When do their eyes sparkle? When do their voices race with excitement and where do their voices go flat and dull? What topics do they keep coming back to again and again, and what topics do they skate over? What words or sayings do they repeat, and what words are silent?

A skilled interviewer picks up on the threads of your stories, gently teasing them out until the threads join to create an amazing tapestry.

Tell Your Story

The next time you are asked about your USP, take one of these ideas for a test run. Whatever way you choose to find what makes your business unique, know that your power comes from discovering your unique story and then sharing it with the world.

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