From the moment of startup, small business owners must be concerned with establishing and exploiting their competitive advantage. The first step in this process is to determine the unique customer benefits which they provide and which their competitors do not.
The benefits which convey a competitive advantage should then be captured in a Unique Positioning Statement (or UPS). As it name implies, the UPS positions your competitive advantage against the backdrop of what you competition offers.
This tutorial demonstrates the place of your UPS as the underpinning of your marketing plan. Then it gives you step-by-step guidance on how to draft and refine a powerful positioning statement.
Author: Mike Armour
What Makes Your Business Unique?
Branding Yourself in the Customer's Eyes
Part 1 of a Four-Part Tutorial
In the 1940s, as the advertising industry was truly coming of age, marketing firms developed the concept of the Unique Selling Proposition, or USP for short.
The USP was a way to keep every advertising effort appropriately focused. Each advertising campaign, so the theory went, should set a single proposition before the buyer. And this proposition should be unique compared to what any competitor was offering. Hence, the Unique Selling Proposition.
Later, USPs were also utilized to govern the marketing of specific products across multiple campaigns. Think of Hallmark Card's historic tag line, "When you care enough to send the very best." Even though this slogan was not itself a USP, it spelled out the "quality" proposition that was part of every Hallmark advertising campaign.
Eventually businesses began developing USPs for the entire company. This worked best for companies with a singular line of products or services, as opposed to companies which offered a conglomerate of products. Enterprise Rent-a-Car's famous "We pick you up" is a good example. Of all the major car rental agencies, only Enterprise offered the convenience of bringing the car to you — the only one, that is, until their success led competitors to offer a look-alike service.
USP Gives Way to UPS
Today the USP is increasingly being set aside in favor of a slightly different concept, the Unique Positioning Statement, or UPS. Whereas the USP originally guided a single advertising campaign or the way that a specific product was sold, your Unique Positioning Statement governs the way your entire business presents itself to the public. It's the way you want to be branded in the mind of your customers. In this regard the Enterprise Rent-a-Car tag line was something of a crossover from a USP to a UPS.
As its name implies, the purpose of a Unique Positioning Statement is to position you against the backdrop of your competition. It spells out the value (or benefit) that customers receive by doing business with you instead of your competitors.
To give you an example, here is the UPS for Startups After 50:
Startups After 50 is the only one-stop site on the web with comprehensive business-development resources specifically tailored for men and women who start a business at mid-career or beyond.
Notice the components of this UPS. It identifies
- the product or service that we offer ("comprehensive business-development resources")
- our target customer ("men and women who start a business at mid-career or beyond;")
- and the unique benefit that we provide this customer (the convenience of a "one-stop site" with resources "specifically tailored" to customers in these circumstances)
A well-constructed UPS ought to contain these three elements as a minimum.
Setting the Tone for Your Marketing
Once your UPS is established, it should set the tone for your web site home page, your marketing materials, your elevator speech, and your sales presentations. It may not appear verbatim in any of these media. But its fingerprints should be all over them. For instance, if you look at the tag line at the top of this page, you will see phrasing taken directly from our Unique Positioning Statement.
From my experience as a business coach, I've concluded that it's far more helpful for business owners to focus on Unique Positioning Statements than on Unique Selling Propositions. Focusing on a Unique Selling Proposition invites us to see our primary task as selling something. In reality our primary task is positioning our business in the mind of customers so that they naturally gravitate to us when it's time to buy.
Today, you see, very few people want to be "sold" anything. In fact, they are likely to resent an effort to put a sales squeeze on them. On the other hand, people enjoy buying. But they want the decision to buy to feel like a choice that they have made on their own, not the result of someone "selling" them a product or service.
Your constant goal is to position your business in the eye of the customer so that his or her choice to buy from you is an easy one. Your UPS summarizes your sense of what that position should be.