T.S. Eliot’s Unique Selling Proposition

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If you think the Unique Selling Proposition (USP) is something only marketers need to worry about, have a look at this snippet from a letter to T.S. Eliot, by his boss. Geoffrey Faber is explaining why Eliot was the ideal candidate to take charge of poetry publishing at Faber and Gwyer, the firm that eventually became famous under the name Faber and Faber.

In you we have found a man who combines literary gifts with business instincts, who has a wide circle of literary friends, and who is quite as much at home on the lower levels as on the lonely peaks.

(Geoffrey Faber, from a letter in the current British Library exhibition T.S. Eliot the Publisher)

This appointment was a pivotal moment in Eliot’s career: it allowed him to escape his day job at Lloyds Bank, and helped him cement his literary reputation by becoming the most authoritative and influential poetry publisher in Britain, publishing writers such as W.H. Auden, Steven Spender, Louis MacNeice and Ted Hughes.

It was also a decisive moment for Geoffrey Faber, since securing Eliot helped him realise his ambition to grow the firm into a major player in the publishing industry.

So it’s interesting to note that Eliot’s Unique Selling Proposition- a critical factor in his own success as well as Faber’s – was his ability to understand and operate in two worlds at once, as both poet and businessman. As we saw in The T.S. Eliot Guide to Success, this made him something of an outsider among his business associates and literary friends. He didn’t fit the stereotype of either the poet or the banker.

But as Frans Johansson explains in The Medici Effect, creativity is often the result of combining different perspectives:

when you step into an intersection of fields, disciplines, or cultures, you can combine existing concepts into a large number of extraordinary new ideas.

In the marketing sphere, this leads to what Sonia Simone calls a Crossroads USP.

Eliot succeeded because he dared to be different and pursue his real interests, no matter how contradictory they appeared to other people. Most of the time, this meant he was a square peg in a round hole. But when a big opportunity came knocking, it was the very thing that made him a perfect fit.


To learn more about Eliot’s career and see some fascinating letters and other documents, visit the free exhibition at the British Library, In a Bloomsbury Square: T.S. Eliot the Publisher.

What’s Your USP?

Has anyone ever told you the USP that made them hire you or want to work with you?

How would you describe your USP?

About the Author: Mark McGuinness is a Coach for Artists, Creatives and Entrepreneurs. For a free 25-week guide to success as a creative professional, sign up for Mark’s course The Creative Pathfinder.

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“Motivation for Creative People will encourage you reflect sincerely on the factors that underpin your artistic achievements, ultimately giving you a ‘clarity of mission’ that will take your creativity to new heights.”

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  1. This is great and very timely for me, as I’ve been working on my own USP. Coming from a marketing and then a military marketing background (OK, more like propaganda), I think the intersection of internet marketing/blogging with real world experience might give me a unique angle.

    Thanks for giving me something to think about.

  2. Being an artist with an eye for business left me in a kind of no man’s land in art school as well as the mainstream world of work, but that left brain/right brain collision has been a huge benefit as a professional artisan.

    Add in a dry sense of humor, and you have the beginning stages of what will hopefully be a professional practice helping creatives build their own business brains.

    How did I come up with my USP? To quote Popeye, “I yam what I yam.” If it doesn’t work out, I guess I’m in for an identity crisis.

  3. Love this:

    “Eliot succeeded because he dared to be different and pursue his real interests, no matter how contradictory they appeared to other people.’

    This year I’ve been doing this – pursuing my real interests – fully. The joy, ease and happiness I’m feeling, and the traction I’m seeing is wonderful.

    Now, today, this year I feel on purpose very, very happy.

    This has been an evolving process, but I’ve come to understand that the essenceof my USP has been in front of me all along – even when I was doing my own versions of Eliot’s job at Lloyd’s Bank.

    Here’s what so great… when we decide to purse our real interests – not worrying about what others think or if they understand – our USP glows brighter and brighter and clearer and clearer and even more distinct.

    Soon everyone’s seeing it, acknowledging it and loving you for it.

    And, here’s the cool part – when you’re living your USP – you don’t need others to love you for being you. The praise is nice, but needed.

    Payment’s already been received within your own heart. THAT is the amazing gift of living on purpose & living your USP to the fullest.

    Interesting, huh?

  4. Edit this to read:
    And, here’s the cool part – when you’re living your USP – you don’t need others to love you for being you. The praise is nice, but NOT needed.

    Typing too fast… 🙂

  5. I like the idea of learning from literary life.
    Just reading Jane Austen’s Persuasion and came across the line ‘he had nothing to reccomend him but himself’ an early example of being his own brand ! In those days this was a bad thing as it meant you were not connected to the aritocracy, but of course these days those things don’t matter and we can all be our own advocates.

  6. @ Nathan – Your backgrounds definitely give you a unique angle. I had to do a double take when I first read your About page a few weeks ago.

    @ Stacey – Some might say “that left brain/right brain collision” is the essence of creativity. Not to mention creative business.

    @ Suzie –

    I’ve come to understand that the essenceof my USP has been in front of me all along

    I usually find my biggest revelations have been staring me in the face for years.

    @ Lucy – Well titles and class aren’t so important, but it’s still extremely important to have advocates to recommend us. Remember Seth Godin’s post where he compared two of his previous posts about books: the post about his own book resulted in modest sales; but when he wrote about someone else’s book, sales went through the roof!

  7. I’m not quite ready to accept that Faber’s description of Elliot is truly his USP. Faber did certainly recognize some useful traits, but I don’t think being a square peg in a round whole qualifies as a selling proposition. I see this more as description of character and personality. Anyway, it is an interesting view to ponder.

  8. I don’t think being a square peg in a round whole qualifies as a selling proposition.

    I never said it did, neither did Faber.

    Faber described the qualities that made Eliot the ideal candidate for the job – I don’t think we have any reason to doubt him.