Let's be automobile marketers for the next few paragraphs.
We create a strategy for launching a new car. An exciting, sleek and stylish, innovative, luxury car.
We've done the research. We know the demographics, the geography, the disposable income level required, the advertising venues. And we've found the ideal unique sales proposition.
Eventually we roll out the ad. And the headline reflects that best-of-all-possible Unique Selling Points (USPs):
“The New Slasher21XV. Goes Forward When You Put It In Drive.”
Whacky eh? But why isn't it a good idea?
We've told the truth. We've defined something that is important to everyone. We packaged the message and built first-quality promotion for it. And we've put it in the hands of highly competent sales people.
But in the end we promoted something that, from a marketing standpoint, is absolutely meaningless. And the reason it's meaningless is obvious—it promotes something that's not a selling point, but a core requirement. A car isn't a car if it doesn't go forward in Drive.
And when we promote products by using elements like ROI as our unique sales proposition, we're doing exactly the same thing.
Market Benefits, Not Requirements
If you provide a service or product that improves efficiency, cuts cost, accelerates processes, and so forth, you're providing a return on investment by definition—whether it's ERP systems, new manufacturing machines, Six Sigma training—or whatever.
You automate a process, replace a machine, buy new capital equipment, strengthen methodology: your customers are going to require a demonstrable return on investment.
And the keyword here is "require."
Satisfying market requirements are conditions of entry, not enticements to purchase. Things your product must have in order for you to even be considered as a company who will be asked to the table.
You cannot differentiate, you cannot position, you cannot create unique propositions by claiming to be able to accomplish the most fundamental function of your product category.
You can, of course, differentiate by claiming to do it better than the all the others. A Maserati goes forward faster than a Ford Escort. A Rolls Royce goes forward more smoothly than an F150. A Volvo goes forward more safely than a Chevy Blazer.
And if you have developed a product that brings ROI in more quickly, or for a lesser investment, or streamlines more processes across the enterprise, or also provides increased efficiency for your customers' customers, you have an opportunity here.
But here, you have to be able to objectively prove it. It's not enough to claim, you have to cite credible statistics—something that's not very easy to do.
If you take ROI as a position, a USP, or anything else that will translate into a marketing approach—without regard to the fact that it's true—you're going to be claiming your car goes forward in Drive.
Now, you will have to demonstrate that your product delivers ROI. I'm not suggesting otherwise. But that only means that you have to demonstrate that it belongs in the category. That it is, in fact, a car and not a left over shell from an A Team car stunt.
And there's no doubt that this is something that your sales force does need to do—but it is a core sales proposition, not a unique one. And as such it has no marketing value. If they can't demonstrate that it is an investment that delivers a return, they don't get on even the longest of the long lists.
I've focused on ROI here, but there are a lot of other equally vacuous claims put out by significant market players. Claims that have as much credibility as "goes forward in Drive." Like increased customer satisfaction, lower TCO, improved business performance.
That's right—the most common claims are often the most useless.
What to Do
Problems are so often generic and simple to write about. Solutions are always specific and never simple. It's easy for me to be a pebble in your shoe, but since I don't know what kind of shoe you're wearing, I'm at a disadvantage to suggest how to get that pebble out.
I don't have “five tips for generating powerful USPs”—at least any that reach beyond the usual generalizations.
But I can say this: every enterprise has its own inherent centers of excellence. Find yours—through a rigorous self-examination.
Then, translate that area of excellence into a benefit for your customer—remove yourself from the picture as much as you can. This is not easy—but it's possible.
In fact, it's fundamental. Be objective about it—find demonstrable proofs of excellence before you start promoting.
For instance, you may determine that HR is your strongest area: your rigorous hiring methods translate into better-engineered products serviced and supported by higher quality technicians. Translate that into market benefits—and there are many benefits that quality hiring brings—and you now have solid ground on which to make the claim.
From there, you can begin to proliferate that position into key marketing messages with which you'll address the marketplace. Messages that strum chords your marketplace will dance to. Something way beyond the ability to go forward in Drive.