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How To Differentiate Your Brand, Even When It’s Not That Unique

Standing out to consumers in an endlessly crowded market isn’t always about having a completely unique product.

How To Differentiate Your Brand, Even When It’s Not That Unique
[Photo: Flickr user torbakhopper HE DEAD]

The term USP, which stands for either unique selling proposition or unique selling point, is frequently thrown around in business seminars, books, and articles. It’s actually been in use since the 1940s, long before the Internet age; it’s not simply a trendy idea but a fundamental aspect of marketing.

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But many people don’t know exactly what it means, much less how to utilize it in their businesses.

You might wonder if it’s even possible to be unique in this day and age. After all, haven’t the global economy and Internet created a situation where everything is endlessly duplicated?

This is true to some extent, but at the same time, the most successful brands are experts at differentiating themselves.

Many people make the mistake of thinking that a USP must be something tangible. It can, but it doesn’t have to be. Unless you are in possession of a patented technology, chances are your competitors have products that are at least superficially similar to yours–but you can still have a powerful USP.

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Consider some of the leading brands of automobile. Mercedes has an instantly recognizable logo and is, in the minds of many people, a symbol of status and success. This doesn’t mean that a Mercedes is constructed in a fundamentally different manner than a Honda or Toyota. Yet no other brand of car has quite the same connotations.

Another company that has succeeded at differentiating itself in a powerful way is Geico, which has managed to become a universally recognized brand through a talking lizard that actually has nothing to do with insurance. Yet they’ve succeeded at making millions of people think there is something unique about their company. The word perception is key here, as what really counts is not how unique you are but how unique people think you are.

A USP can also refer to the way you do business as well as the product itself. The online retailer Zappos is widely known and admired for offering not only free shipping but also free return shipping. In other words, even though the company’s product is shoes, its USP has to do with customer service.

Your USP does not have to be universally unique, but only unique in your area, industry or market. If you are the only pet shop in your city that sells saltwater fish, that’s a USP even if there are stores in other cities that carry similar items.

You probably don’t have the marketing budget to create TV commercials that millions of people will watch. In this way, you are at a disadvantage relative to companies like Geico and Apple.

This doesn’t mean, however, that you can’t come up with a strong USP. Here are four ways startups can create a meaningful USP:

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1. Have A Distinctive Logo

A logo is a basic branding tool that enables people to instantly recognize your business.

2. Have A Precise Target Market

This is a crucial aspect of a USP. Is your product aimed at women, men, people in their 20s, seniors, students, techies, or weekend athletes? Some products or services are more precisely targeted than others, but the more you can narrow it down, the more you can differentiate yourself.

An important point here is that this doesn’t necessarily limit who will buy your product. A product aimed at young people may also be purchased by older people who want to feel young. A product aimed at hardcore exercise enthusiasts might be purchased by those who only go to the gym occasionally but aspire to be fitness freaks.

3. Maintain A Consistent Image

In order to emphasize your USP, you want to have a consistent voice or image in all of your marketing and communications. For example, if some of your promotions are lighthearted and humorous while others are conservative and formal, you are sending a mixed message. Developing a distinctive personality is part of becoming recognizable and unique.

4. Emphasize Your USP

A USP should be fundamental to your business’ identity. That’s why you shouldn’t hesitate to mention it frequently, especially in all of your marketing efforts. It may even be part of your logo or official slogan. The point is that if you have found a powerful USP, you want to let everyone know about it.

Having a USP will differentiate your company and help it stand out, regardless of its size.

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Shawn Porat is the CEO of Fortune Cookie Advertising, a non-traditional and out of home media placement company selling advertising space within fortune cookies at Chinese restaurants throughout the United States.

Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program.