Want Results? Be Different.

Being different is essential for a successful product or service. A powerful point of differentiation can mean the difference between being a market leader or just one of the crowd. I was reminded of this once again recently when a campaign promoting a key difference led to exceptional results for one of our clients.

Marketers call this differentiation a Unique Selling Proposition, or USP. A USP is a distinct idea that sets your business favorably apart from the competition. It has to be something people care about, but sometimes people can care about funny things.

The campaign in question was for a local hospital. After an extensive remodeling, the hospital made the switch to all private rooms. They became the only hospital in the market where a patient knows they will not have to share a room with someone else. This is certainly a compelling difference. But other differences we have promoted seem to be more important, yet they did not create the same level of interest. For example, this hospital is also the only one in the area with a bedside bar coding system that double checks that the right medicine is being given to the right patient. Medication errors are a serious problem nationwide, and this system can actually save your life. But this is not as compelling as having a room to yourself.

Solve a "Point of Pain"

A benefit like bedside bar coding is somewhat technical and safeguards against what is perceived to be an unlikely problem. Not having to share a room with someone who is coughing up phlegm all night is an idea that is immediately understood and tangible to anyone who has been there. Private hospital rooms solve a “point of pain” for the patient.

Apparently, very much so. Shortly after the campaign launched, the hospital had their best month in years. Patients were quoting the ad copy verbatim to hospital administrators they met in the hall. Doctors commented that patients were asking to be sent to this hospital so they could get a private room. Ambulance crews asked for the campaign to be pulled since too many of their patients were asking to be taken to this hospital now. Our only problem now is how to top this next year.

The success of this campaign is due to more than good work from the marketing department and agency; the hospital put considerable effort and expense into creating a better product that stands out in the marketplace. With a USP this strong to work with, the marketing becomes relatively easy. Creating a USP that connects with customers like this is more likely when the marketing people are included in the strategic planning and operational decision-making process.

Hard and Soft USPs

Said another way, private hospital rooms are just giving people what they want. But a successful USP can be less obvious. Even if there is not such a strong differentiator to work with, it’s important to find a difference that separates you from the competition and positions you as the best choice. All the better if it solves a point of pain for the consumer. But great success can also be built on seemingly minor differences. Ivory Soap grew to be America’s best-selling soap partly due to the fact that it floats. Consumers equated being lighter with purity and this was enough to set Ivory apart. The Ivory Soap people probably did not plan on this being the cornerstone of the marketing effort, but they saw that it worked and they ran with it. Legend has it that it was all an accident. A worker supposedly left a mixing machine on during lunch and more air was mixed into one batch. A few months later, people were writing in to request more of the “floating soap.”

Find Your Sweet Spot

I recommend a bit more methodical approach to identifying or developing a unique selling proposition. We start by making sure we understand what is important to the customers. It may not be what you think or, at least, ranked in the order you think. Then we look at how your company is ranked compared to your competition in these areas. The sweet spot is the intersection of factors people value and what you do well.

Developing a strong USP will take some effort, but the added advantage it will give your business is worth it. A strong USP makes the job of marketing and selling much easier and allows you to realize more from your marketing budget. What makes you different?


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