Defining Your Unique Selling Proposition

Why should anyone choose your sign shop rather than your competitors’ shops? As a marketer, this is the first question that you should ask yourself? If you can’t articulate your company’s unique product differential, you are leaving your chances for success up to chance.

Perhaps your prospects walk through your shop door because they see your shop, while driving past it. Or maybe your company was listed in an internet search. Perhaps someone mentioned your shop in passing. These are hardly world-sharing marketing advantages.

In a competitive sales situation, you are often relegated to selling price without a unique selling proposition or USP. Without a product differential, your products and services are no better than commodities. That makes realizing healthy profit margins difficult if not impossible.

Discovering and defining your USP is not an easy job. It requires significant soul searching. Unfortunately, most shop owners give little thought to how they will differentiate their business from the others.

If you examine how your competitors describe their business, you will likely read a number of tired and trite clichés:

● Commitment to Service
● First Choice for Quality and Value
● Guaranteed Lowest Prices
● Dedicated to Professionalism

Which business isn’t committed to service? What shop doesn’t sell quality products? Don’t all companies have low prices? None of these statements is compelling enough for any customer to choose one business over another. If you are not different from the other guys, you have nothing.

Sometimes a great USP can fall into your lap, even if your product or service is unremarkable. This happened to me, when I worked as a product manager for an application tape manufacturer.

This product line had to overcome some significant disadvantages. The biggest obstacle to surmount was that the company had come late to the party. They had no base of customers in the graphics market and little understanding of the sign and screen print industries. By comparison, the two competitors were powerhouses, with long histories in the market and were well established.

Both of these competitors manufactured very good products, had good name recognition and had experienced sales teams, which had established networks of dominant distribution.

The company that I worked for had none of these advantages. The company, though, did manufacturer a product that was different. No one, however, realized the significance of that difference.

To solve a technical issue, my employer had started to prime the paper before adhesive coating. The acrylic primer used allowed the user to tear the paper cleanly with no adhesive strings.

Having worked in production for a graphics provider and as a truck graphics installer, I recognized how annoying it could be if you tried to tear or cut application tape and had to contend with adhesive legging. Voila! I instantly realized that I had a new product name and my USP.

I named the product “PerfecTear”. My USP was “PerfecTear tape tears cleanly with no stringy adhesive. At the time, PerfecTear was the only application tape using a primer. That feature provided other benefits to the sign maker that I could use on advertising and in sales presentations. The primer and adhesive used prevented blocking and allowed the tape to unwind easily. The primer also anchored the adhesive to the paper facestock so if adhesive touches adhesive, the tape pulled apart easily without damage to the graphic. For those sign makers, who performed wet applications, the adhesive stayed on the paper instead of delaminating and leaving a gluey mess.

To emphasize my USP in trade magazine advertising, I used photographic proof. One picture showed our tape tearing cleanly. Another picture showed a competitor’s tape tearing with stringy adhesive. To add some dramatic effect, I took the photo with a black background. To highlight the adhesive strings, I sprayed them with spray adhesive and backlit them.

In addition to advertising, the USP provided me with a product differential that I could use in demonstrations at tradeshows. Within five years, sales for my product line quadrupled. Best of all, a competitor noticed my success and hired me.

If you haven’t already done it, your challenge is to discover and define your USP. As a business, what do you stand for that would compel prospective customers to do business with you? As a company, what value do you provide that differentiates you from your competitors?

Once you have decided upon your shop’s USP, you need to develop a plan for delivering your message on your website, in social media and in your advertising. If your unique selling proposition centers around a concept that you can dramatically transform a company’s identity, you need to demonstrate that in your messaging. One way you can do that is to show before and after pictures of a company’s signage, fleet graphics or interior store graphics. Another way is to develop testimonial stories about your customers, explaining how your shop designed and implemented new identity programs.

To support your marketing claims, you can present statistics showing how your programs affected your customers’ business by increasing store traffic or by improving sales and profits.

Today you have a number of media channels, which can help deliver your message. Many of these platforms are low cost, such as email marketing, social media and your website. Stories about satisfied customers are powerful because people believe in the written word. Equally important are the messages that you deliver in video clips, in which a satisfied customer relates his personal story.

The storyline could begin with the customer describing a problem or challenge facing his business. This set up leads to the solution in which the customer explains how the new graphics program was developed and executed. To conclude this testimonial, the customer describes what impact the program had on the company’s business and the uplifting effect it had on employee attitudes. A testimonial is one type of storytelling device that you can use to support your unique selling proposition.

After defining your USP, you must project what differentiates your shop from others consistently in your corporate imagery and in the messaging in your advertising and marketing materials to your target markets, community and your employees.

Discovering Your USP

Everyone and every business is unique and special in some way. Recognizing what makes your business special is usually difficult for business owners to realize. Often an outsider, who knows you and your business well, can more easily identify and articulate your differentials better than you can. That’s why, you might consider asking a trusted friend for help in defining your USP.

Early in my marketing career I was assigned to create a sales brochure for a plastics molding company on the Southside of Chicago. Upon first touring the facility, the manufacturing plant seemed unremarkable at best. In fact, the interior presented a grim picture of an aging industrial setting.

The president of the company, George, viewed his plant through very different eyes. He didn’t see an assortment of grey, grease-covered old equipment.  George had built his company from the ground up and was proud of his array of various types of compression and injection molding machinery that he had collected in his 35 years of business.

What George did not realize was that his business was more than machines. All of his competitors had machines, too. After spending time with his employees, they explained what made their company remarkable. It was George himself. When you bought from their plastics molding company, you bought 35 years of George’s experience in engineering and producing difficult jobs that other companies could not produce.

Instead of featuring machinery, we decided to feature George. He was the company’s unique selling proposition: if you have a plastics molding problem, call George. His 35 years of experience made impossible jobs possible.

On the cover of the brochure, we used a picture of George, who looked like Lee Iacocca. To keep George happy, the machinery was in the distant background. As company president, George wore a white shirt and tie, but his sleeves were rolled up as his elbows rested on bags of plastic pellets. The image that he projected was friendly, down to earth, experienced and approachable.

The narrative of the brochure supported the theme that George could make the impossible project possible. A selection of stories explained how George produced difficult jobs that his competitors could not produce. These were the stories that the employees told about their boss. George’s 35 years of problem solving was why a prospective buyer should buy from his shop instead of another.

Here’s my point. If you are having difficulty defining what makes your shop unique and special, you may not see the forest for the trees. You probably need a fresh set of eyes that see you for who you are.

Good Luck Selling!