You are unique and special.
In the whole of human history, there has never been anyone exactly like you, and there never will be again.
The same goes for your creative talent. You have a unique gift, shaped by unique experiences. You are like a snowflake.
There’s only one problem.
There are millions of creative people in the same position. Re-read the opening of this article and you can see that the same words apply to any of them. Of course they are true, and they truly apply to you. But they don’t do anything to differentiate you from all the other uniquely talented creative people out there.
The reason they don’t help you stand out from the crowd is that they are not specific enough. And by ‘specific’, I specifically mean something that is not only genuinely, unmistakeably unique to you, but also highly relevant and attractive to the people you are trying to sell to.
(Even if you’re looking for a job, not running a business, you still need to ‘sell’ to land the job. And the selling doesn’t stop there – more on that in a couple of lessons’ time. So this lesson applies to you too!)
Your Unique and Special Proposition (USP)
In marketing circles, this kind of specific attractive quality is what’s known as a Unique Selling Proposition, or USP.
Here’s the official definition of a USP, from Rosser Reeves, the Madmen-era advertising guru who invented it:
- Each advertisement must make a proposition to the consumer. Not just words, not just product puffery, not just show-window advertising. Each advertisement must say to each reader: “Buy this product, and you will get this specific benefit.”
- The proposition must be one that the competition either cannot, or does not, offer. It must be unique-either a uniqueness of the brand or a claim not otherwise made in that particular field of advertising.
- The proposition must be so strong that it can move the mass millions, i.e., pull over new customers to your product.
(Reality in Advertising by Rosser Reeves, 1961, pp. 46-48)
A few points on the definition:
- The USP must be very specific. E.g. “Head & Shoulders will remove your dandruff”, not “Head & Shoulders is an excellent shampoo”.
- Your competitors cannot or will not offer it. This is why it’s no good saying “I’m talented, creative and hardworking” on your resume, or “We provide outstanding service” on your website. Chances are your competitors are not writing “I’m clueless, devoid of imagination and lazy” on resumes, or “We never answer the phone” on their websites.
- Don’t worry about reaching ‘mass millions’. Rosser was writing in the golden age of mass marketing. These days, according to Kevin Kelly, a creator only needs 1,000 true fans to make a living, which is a bit more manageable.
Now I know a lot of creative people have a hard time with marketing language like ‘brand’ and ‘target market’ and so on. As an introverted poet, I can relate. But sometimes in the course of this course, I’m going to have to call a spade a spade, or in this case a USP a USP.
Being a poet, I can’t resist playing with words, so feel free to call it your Unique and Special Proposition if you like the sound of it better.
If you’re wondering whether you really need to bother with a USP, here are the words of 21st-century marketing guru Naomi Dunford:
Figure out your USP. If you don’t have one, create one. Every other marketing effort you engage in is effectively useless without this.
Good things have happened to me when I followed Naomi’s advice.ney. So take it from me, when Naomi puts something in bold, we all need to sit up straight and pay attention.
Are you a Purple Cow?
Seth Godin adds an interesting twist to the USP: being remarkable, i.e. worth talking about. If you’re driving past a field of black-and-white cows and you suddenly spot a purple-and-white cow, chances are you’re going to notice it. You may stop and take a photo, show it to your friends and post it on Twitter.
If you or your company are so distinctive that people can’t help talking about you to their friends, your marketing becomes a lot easier. And online, where customers are continuously talking to each other via social media, being remarkable is critical to your success. More on that next week… Meanwhile Seth’s Purple Cow is the book to read on creating a 21st-century USP that spreads like wildfire.
How I discovered my USP
Once upon a time I was a partner in a business coaching consultancy. We delivered coaching and training for large corporate organisations. We were really good at it and our clients were thrilled with our work.
When it came to marketing, it helped that the senior partners had written several books. It also helped that we had a great client list and testimonials. And our marketing brochures and website were slick and professional.
We did pretty well for ourselves, especially once I’d worked out the corporate sales process. But after a while it occurred to me that although we were really good at what we did, there were several other consultancies who looked remarkably similar to us.
At the same time, I wasn’t entirely comfortable with my image as a management consultant. Taking advice from a banker friend, I had kitted myself out in a good suit and the ‘right’ shirts, ties and cufflinks. And I kept quiet about my poetry. But my (apparently) off-the-wall sense of humour kept escaping during training sessions. I once asked a group of corporate middle managers who were giving me funny looks during a presentation: “Do I come across as a bit weird to you?”
They smiled kindly and nodded their heads.
On the other hand, my poetry-writing friends also seemed to think I was a little odd, for taking an interest in business.
Eventually, I decided to take off the suit, ‘come out’ as a poet, and focus 100% on my work with clients in the creative industries. It meant I could combine my interests in creativity AND business, and accept the contradictions in my character, instead of sweeping them under the carpet.
And on the very first sales phone call I made, it paid off. I rang Chris Arnold, an advertising creative director, and was amazed to get straight through to him. He didn’t waste any time getting to the point:
Chris: Do you actually do anything creative yourself, or are you one of these creativity consultants who just talk about creativity?
Me: Well, I write poetry …
Chris: [Bursts out laughing] I’ve never had a sales call from a poet before! Why don’t you come in for a chat?
That chat led to several speaking engagements and Chris and I are still good friends. (He’s now conductor of the very cool Creative Orchestra.)
Now if you’ve never tried to sell creativity to a creative director, take it from me it’s a pretty tough sell. After all, they aren’t just creative professionals, they are the crème de la crème. And the crucial thing that got me through the door and past Chris’s scepticism was that he hadn’t come across anything like me before.
My USP (poetry + business consulting) had piqued his curiosity, which gave me a shot at making the sale.
(These days, I don’t have to do any more cold calling. I discovered something that works much better. But we’ll get to that next week…)
How to find your USP
I found my USP by paying attention to the little clues that had been staring me in the face all along. Feeling uncomfortable with a bland corporate image dovetailed neatly with my desire to bring my creative interests to the fore.
Crucially, I wasn’t trying to concoct a clever brand image – my USP came from combining apparently contradictory elements of my own character. Maybe you could do the same.
Here are some options for identifying your own USP. The worksheet will take you through these as a series of questions, so find some quiet time this week, make yourself a drink, and read through them and reflect.
- What you are better at than anyone else
- What you enjoy doing the most
- What no one else in your field is doing
- What annoys people the most about your industry
- A combination of unusual elements
- Your personality
Image by Liz West
The following episodes of The 21st Century Creative Podcast touch on the themes of today’s lesson:
Written by me, unless otherwise indicated
Reality in Advertising by Rosser Reeves
Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable by Seth Godin.
Take 15 Minutes to Find Your Winning Difference by Sonia Simone
The Rock and Roll Approach to Your Winning Difference by Brian Clark
Your Unique Story Proposition by Brian Clark
Tune in next week …
… When we’ll look at how you can use the internet to spread your fame across the globe.
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