The critical “marketing question” no one talks about

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ne of the things I love to do most is help people get clear on their USP. And one of the things people working on their USP love to do most is get ahead of themselves.

But no judging here – it’s only natural!

Let me explain…

Every business owner, entrepreneur or product creator get excited when starting to talk about our products.

As a prime example of this, a business owner recently sent me their “USP in the making”, looking for feedback on their first attempt (after using my USP Builder’s Toolset).

My first impression was, “Fantastic! It’s great to see someone motivated enough to take action.”

Especially on improving their USP — which IMO is one of the most worthwhile things a business owner can spend their time on.

USP Crafting Case Study

Overall, he’d done a great job on thinking through the claims of value his product — in this case, a supplement.

As I told him, “This is more than most business owners do these days.”

(Something that was blatantly revealed to me in a conversation I recently had with a restaurant owner – but anyway, back to the point…)

Let’s start by taking a look at what he shared:

My Moringa Capsules USP below

…because [Product Name] is the only company to offer “Fresh Caps”, a vegan tapioca based capsule providing the best oxygen barrier properties, which means optimal freshness and absorption every time. We want our customers to get the most out of our “Ultra fine”, “Minimal Processed” Moringa powder by using “Fresh Caps”.

Not a bad start. Notice how the USP is starting with a “because” and has exclusivity.

This is a great way to start your thinking.

If you get just this alone, you’re already miles ahead of your competition.

He expanded on this by adding:

My USP is based off of the type of capsule I use. I was told by my manufacturer that this is a new capsule on the market so I thought I emphasize this feature to separate myself.

The “ultra fine” (feature) isn’t that exclusive but most companies don’t mention it.

The minimal processed part isn’t that exclusive either but again no one mentions it.

Other USP we could use:
– Hawaii based
– Premium Grade
– I do grow Moringa on my land (I don’t process my own powder yet though) but I am a Moringa farmer.

So, it’s clear he’s done a great job at looking for what’s exclusive.

He’s also done a great job of identifying what his competitors aren’t saying.

“Back in the day….”

Notice though, that he’s skeptical about using claims that are not technically exclusive.

This echoes back to the classic “Schlitz Beer” case study, which Claude Hopkins talks about in Scientific Advertising:

schiltz-gender-rolesWTF – What were people thinking in the 1900s?

Wait, no… sorry. Not that embarrassing, gender-role reinforcing trash.

This one:

schiltz-bottled-purity

In commodity markets, most products aren’t unique in the eyes of the customer – but how you sell them can be.

In the early 1900s, Schlitz were trailing 5th in the US beer market.

They hired Claude Hopkins — one of the father’s of modern advertising — to shake things up.

He tells the brief story in his book “My Life in Advertising”.

All brewers at that time were crying “Pure”. They put the word “Pure” in larger letters.

Their claim made about as much impression on people as water makes on a duck.

I went to brewing school to learn the science of brewing, but that helped not at all. Then I went to the brewery.

I saw plate-glass rooms where beer was dripping over pipes, and I asked the reason for them. They told me those rooms were filled with filtered air, so the beer could be cooled in purity.

I saw great filters filled with wood pulp. They explained how that filtered the beer.

They showed me how they cleaned every pump and pipe, twice daily, to avoid contaminations. How every bottle was cleaned four times by machinery.

They showed me artesian wells, where they went 4,000 feet deep for pure water, though their brewery was on Lake Michigan.

They showed me the vats where beer was aged for six months before it went out to the user.

They took me to their laboratory and showed me the original mother yeast cell. It had been developed by 1,200 experiments to bring out the utmost in flavor.

All of the yeast used in making Schlitz Beer was developed from that original cell.

I came back to the office amazed. I said: “Why don’t you tell people those things? Why do you merely try to cry louder than others that your beer is pure? Why don’t you tell the reasons?”

“Why,” they said, “the processes we use are just the same as others use. No one can make good beer without them.”

“But,” I replied, “others have never told the story. It amazes everyone who goes through your brewery. It will startle everyone in print.”

So I pictured in print those plate-glass rooms and every other factor in purity. I told a story common to all good brewers, but a story which had never been told. I gave purity a meaning.

Within a few months, Schlitz accelerated into first position in their highly competitive market.

How?

Because Hopkins found what was appealing and was the first to start talking about it in detail, making it exclusive.

So, the first lesson here is:

Unique doesn’t have to mean unique. I just has to mean unique in the eyes of the customer.

Now, if you look at what’s going on in the original USP statement at the top of this post, there are a few things worth highlighting.

Build with Purpose

But for the rest of this article, I’m just going to focus on the most common mistake people make while building their first USP:

They don’t define the Value Proposition Question:

If I am your ideal customer, why should I buy from you, rather than any of your competitors?

A well phrased question will open a lot of doors for you — producing 10x the impact of a poorly phrased one.

Let’s analyze the USP above using the 3 parts of the “Value Proposition Question”

If I am your ideal customer…

From the USP we’re talking about, can you tell who the ideal customer is?

This may not seem important while crafting your initial USP, but it’s a crucial thinking tool to allow you to see if you’re on the right track.

If you don’t know whose perspective the decision is being made from, it’s hard to determine what they’ll find appealing.

The biggest cause of this is that people don’t want to “exclude” anyone from their marketing.

They feel that if they build a USP specific to only one segment of their market, then they’ll hurt their sales.

The problem with this thinking is that if you try to compel everyone, you’ll end up diluting your appeal.

Why should I choose you/option A…

From our example, can you tell what the person is looking for?

The takeaway here is that if you’re not using the prospect’s clearly defined “selection criteria”, it’s impossible to think about how they’ll make a choice.

Our product for this example is a supplement.

But is that what the customer is looking for?

Or is it nutritional powder? Or “Moringa capsules”?

With each of these possibilities, it means a different Value Proposition Question. And each of those questions can lead to dramatically different USPs.

Rather than any of your competitors…

What are the other options available to prospect?

Being able to determine “The Powerful Only Factor” can be challenging. And that’s because it all comes down to understanding what you’re going up against.

You need to understand the Selection Field — the environment from which the choice is being made.

Without being aware of what else is in your Selection Field, you won’t be able to tell what makes your option stand out.

multiple-choice-selection-field

Which option stands out for Choice 1? And which stands out for Choice 2? How does Option B perform in in both? Understanding this concept shows you the powerful role the “Selection Field” plays in a choice being made.

Again, like I’ve mentioned before, the Value Proposition Question is deceivingly simple.

The best way to make sure your USP is on point, is to clearly define the Value Proposition Question from the perspective of a customer.

It’s very easy for the business owner to overlook this step and simply dive into what’s great about their product.

That’s the fun part, right?

The problem is that it’s natural to think “all of these things are valuable to my customer”

But, who specifically is your customer?

And what specifically are they looking for?

And what specifically are the other choices they have in mind?

This is territory most business owners haven’t explored before.

The Value Proposition Question in action

If you’re going through the USP Building Exercise thinking “maybe this would be appealing”, then you are approaching it wrong.

Let’s take a look about how to do it correctly, with an example: Kevin Roger’s Copy Chief.

This is a great example because his market has clearly defined customer avatars that are easy to understand.

Copy Chief is a online community where business owners and copywriters can come together.

The idea behind the community is everyone can develop their marketing skills, get to know each other, bridge the professional gap between copywriters and business owners — and increase conversions for everyone across the board.

Therefore, Copy Chief has 2 main ideal customers:

  1. Business owners wanting to improve their copy
  2. Freelancers wanting to grow their business

How Copy Chief answer the Value Proposition Question for each of these ideal customers will determine whether they choose to join.

If there was a single “mish-mashed” answer given for both groups, it would be nowhere near as appealing as giving a single specific reason to each group.

The answer to “If I am an online business owner who is looking to improve their copy skills, why should I join Copy Chief, rather than any other online marketing community?”

… is going to be very different to…

“If I am freelance copywriter who wants to grow their freelance business, why should I join Copy Chief, rather than any other online marketing community?”

What sparks the interest of a business owner — say, “learning how to write your own basic sales copy in 30 days, without needing to spend a fortune” — may not appeal to a freelancer.

And vice versa.

The “Selection Field” in action

But now let’s get even more specific.

Notice the Selection Field above is “online marketing community”.

How would the answers to those Value Proposition Questions change if we switched the Selection Field to “copywriting community”

What is the difference between an online marketing community and a copywriting community?

They may exist in the same domain, but small changes to the Selection Field can mean a big difference to what your “Powerful Only Factor” is.

For example, if Copy Chief needs to be selected versus Ryan Deiss’s Digital Marketers Labs, or Ryan Levesque’s Next Level Mastermind as an online marketing community, there are specific things that need to be said to show it’s exclusive appeal.

And this will vary greatly if it’s being positioned against copywriting communities like John Carlton’s Marketing Rebel Insider’s Club, or Colin Theriot’s The Cult of Copy.

Remember: the two qualities you need to craft into your USP are Appeal and Exclusivity.

How you infuse your product with Appeal will depend on what the person is LOOKING for.

And what you need to STAND OUT will depend largely on where they are looking.

“The Powerful Only Factor” is achieved when you can combine the two.

The main takeaway here is that listing your top 10 claims of value is just the beginning.

Scoring them will not just depend on what’s appealing for the customer.

So, to guarantee that your USP is as powerful as possible, you need to start by crafting your Value Proposition Question.

Below I’ve laid out 4 simple action steps to get you on the right path to correct your question for maximum results.

Action steps:

  1. Identify what your ideal customer is – One formula you can use to define this correctly is: “If I am a _____ that wants to __________”
  2. Identify the “option” you are creating your USP for – is it for your company, your product or your personal USP? Specifically define the category it belongs to.
  3. Identify the Selection Field that your target customer is choosing from. What are they looking for? Where are they looking? What is the “space” that the choice being made from? This will require an understanding of your customer and their state of awareness and sophistication.
  4. Craft your value proposition question for your desired USP – “If I am (your ideal customer), why should I choose (option), rather than any other (options in selection field)?

Happy converting!

Meet the Author

Ross O'Lochlainn

Hi, I'm Ross. I set out on an adventure to understand what really makes prospects convert into customers, but I quickly become fed up with the barrage of dishonest and unethical marketing tactics touted by so-called "experts" online. So I created Conversion Engineering -- a site that shows you the systems, structures and copywriting techniques that ethically (and repeatedly) generate sales.

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