Unique is an over used word!

In this increasingly competitive and crowded global market place it is tempting to claim our product or service is unique in order to stand out from the crowd, but is it true? The definition of ‘unique’ is ‘the only one of its kind’, ‘unlike anything else’, use the word to describe anything that doesn’t meet this definition and you are lying. Maybe lying is a harsh word but it could well be the way your audience perceives your claim and if they think you have lied with one word they may think that none of your claims are true.

There's not much to set this builder apart from the competition.

There’s not much to set this builder apart from the competition.

The trouble with the overuse of unique is that nobody really believes it any more so, to add credibility, the word has to be justified with an explanation.

Is Rosser Reeves to blame?

I believe that many business owners get hung up on the idea of the unique selling proposition (USP) invented by Rosser Reeves in the 1940s. Reeves applied the concept to advertising rather than to business as a whole. He believed that advertisements should sell and that to do so an advert needed to:

  • make a proposition to the reader: Buy this product for this benefit
  • the proposition should be distinguishable from competitors by being something that a competitor does not, or cannot, offer so therefore a unique offer
  • the offer needs to be strong enough to get people to take the action you want them to take i.e. buy, so should therefore sell

You can see therefore that it is the offer that has to be unique. This is a very different concept to thinking that your whole business or even one product or service has to be unique. Your product maybe very popular in the USA but you may be the only distributor in the UK which means that, whilst the product is not unique, you do have a unique selling proposition. You may not be the only pharmacist in town but you may be the only one open 24/7, therefore you have a unique offer.

The trick is to sell your unique offer without using the word

At least this builder is trying to find an angle.

At least this builder is trying to find an angle.

So try and find another way to describe what makes you, your product or service different. You could try an alternative word or phrase such as:

  • bespoke
  • original
  • rare
  • distinctive
  • exclusive
  • one-off
  • purpose built
  • personal
  • tailor made

Alternatively you could try to sum up your point of difference in a sentence or two of persuasive marketing copy. John Lewis sum up their offer in ‘Never knowingly undersold’, it’s immediately clear what is different about their business. Another good example would be Fedex’s ‘when it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight’, or Bose’s ‘better sound through research’. An old Timex slogan, ‘it takes a licking but still keeps on ticking’ describes the robustness of the watch in a few, well chosen words. Apple has built it’s business on the principle of ‘Think Different’ Another good old one was Opal Fruit’s ‘Made to make your mouth water’. None of these are incapable of imitation but they are so owned by the brands that any attempt to copy is likely to result in legal action.

How can you develop an offer which you can ‘own’; an offer that sets you apart from your competitors; an offer which appeals to your target market? How can you communicate this offer without using the word ‘unique’? This is a topic we’ll be developing in my Plan for Results programme which launches soon. Find out more here.

Glenda Shawley helps owners of small businesses understand what matters to their customers and then communicate this in a way that turns suspects into prospects, prospects into customers and customers into fans.


Help me to choose you.

Last weekend I found myself looking for a restaurant in central Paris, now with the French reputation for good food you would think that it would be easy but it wasn’t. We walked miles looking for somewhere to take our fancy but there was little to differentiate one restaurant from another. They looked the same, the menus were indistinguishable and the prices all comparable. On Friday night we got it wrong and had a dreadful overpriced meal and when we got the bill they tried to overcharge us for wine.

Determined to do better on Saturday night we asked the hotel receptionist for a recommendation, he couldn’t recommend anywhere special at short notice but did tell us which area to head for. Our meal was better but unexciting and not great value.

Stand out from the crowd.

I know we were in the main tourist area so perhaps it’s too easy for restaurants to fill their tables with one time visitors but when we were there few of the restaurants were really busy. Waiters tended to be standing by the doorway encouraging people to come in to their restaurant but is that the best way to win business? I think not.

A photo can help stimulate the taste buds and help prospects to make a decision.

A photo can help stimulate the taste buds and encourage prospects to make a decision.

Prospects need help to choose who to spend their money with. When there is nothing to distinguish one option from another they are confused and find it difficult to make a decision. Every business needs to stand out from the crowd by offering something different to its competitors. In the case of a restaurant it might be a different menu, a different ambiance or a different pricing model. One Japanese restaurant had some mocked up dishes in the window, it was full. Perhaps some positive quotes from Trip Adviser with the menu display would have helped.

Every customer is important.

Tourists may not give a restaurant long term repeat business but that does not mean they have no influence. How many people consult Trip Advisor for recommendations when visiting an unfamiliar place? A negative review can lose business, a positive one could really help fill tables. Surely it’s important for every business to give every customer a good experience even if they might only visit once.

What are the lessons for the small business owner?

Make it easy for prospects to choose you. Is it easy for them to understand your offer? Can they see how you differ from your competitors? Do they recognise the benefits your product or service will give them? What steps do you take to make sure that people of influence, like the hotel receptionist, know enough about you to ensure they recommend you?

How do you differentiate your business?

We live an increasingly homogeneous world. Visit a shopping mall in the USA and you’ll find many of the brands present in UK shopping centres and the same is true in many parts of Europe. Whether we operate on a global scale or a local one we face increasing competition. So how do we differentiate one business from another? A recent walk around my local neighbourhood got me thinking about how you would choose a real estate agent on the basis of these boards.

Example real estate board

Frankly these boards wouldn’t help. Estate agents’ boards have been the same for as long as I can remember. Now I know that the boards are designed to attract the passing motorist so information is kept brief but I think these boards are a missed opportunity. How do we sort one agent from another?

If I was house hunting I would start on the Internet so why don’t these boards give me a website address? If I saw a For Sale board outside a house I liked the look of I would want to know if it was the right size and if I could afford it so why not include a QR code? Surely I can’t be the only person who would stop her car to take a closer look at a house I admired. How many househunters have tablet computers or smartphones with them most of the time? A high percentage I would guess so a QR code would get the potential buyer to the property details very quickly. A ‘book now’ button would speed up the whole process of arranging viewings especially if the ‘book now’ took me through to a calendar that allowed me to choose my appointment time.

Real estate boards are a form of marketing communication so surely they should have a call to action and should differentiate one business from another. Perhaps a strap line could help. Whilst Estate Agents’ boards are there to draw attention to houses for sale their other purpose is surely to attract new vendors. The Estate Agent who showed imagination and originality would be one I would consider asking to market my property. What about you?

Can your prospects and customers easily differentiate your business from your competitors? Is the difference instantly obvious or do they have to get to know you before they spot the differences? Will they bother? Success rarely comes from being a copycat of a successful business. Can you give your brand a personality which will differentiate it from your competitors? A good example of how to do this would be Innocent where each pack contains a conversation with the customer.

I’d love to hear how you make your business stand out from the competition. What makes you different and how do people find out about that difference? Why not comment here?