Something Decidedly Different – by Geri Seiberling

We do our best here at Etc Graphics to play devil’s advocate with our small business clients. We really are not trying to cause any trouble. Well . . . maybe. But trouble in a good sort of way. So virtually every startup we work with will eventually hear the question: So what is your USP? What in the world is a USP you might ask? This acronym stands for Unique Selling Proposition. A USP makes clear differentiation between you and the competitor. Your competitor cannot say it. Only you can say it. Easy to come up with? No. But since we began business 25 years ago, any entrepreneur who could clearly state his/her USP off the cuff is still with us today. Since we want to see every small business survive and thrive, we continue to ask this clarifying question over and over again.

We cannot say enough about the value of clarity when branding a business. I’m thinking about the Iowa State Fair for an example of a strong brand. So much of the Fair is the same year to year, with certain things us locals must see and eat and do that only the Iowa State Fair can deliver. We love it for that reason alone. But each year, there is also an element of surprise. Perhaps we happen upon a live musician that rocks our socks off, or find a demonstration that shows us a way to upgrade our lives. There is always a serendipity. We love the Fair for that too. This is exactly how a strong brand should behave. Mostly predictable, but with a decided twist. And this how brands worm their way into our hearts and minds: with a strong story, a clear mission, and an element of surprise.

There are many clarifying statements that every business needs, besides the USP. Mission. Vision. Brand Promise and Position. Yet many entrepreneurs struggle with them. To the new business owner they seem unimportant–considering the other more pressing things that are on their to-do list. What these statements do, however, is provide clarity. Clarity to the rest of the world, yes. But most of all, to you. When the immediate answer to our questions is as clear as a bell, we know a company’s advertising will also resonate far and wide.

Want to write better Brand Statements for your business? Here are 5 problems “newbie” entrepreneurs always seem to have:

Going through the motions just to say “I did it”.

Symptoms: Branding Statements are like a dull knife, with unclear descriptions of the real unique value that you are placing on the table. Like a bad novel, the statement defines no real problem and delivers no satisfying solution. No one is moved, compelled to buy, and no one wants to read the sequel.

Point: Read your Branding Statements to someone who does not know anything about your business. If they do not understand what it means, no one else will either.

Writing for someone else.

Symptoms: The Statements sound like blah blah blah. They are not written in language anyone would actually use–like they were developed in a Board Room (Bored Room?). You could not deliver them as an elevator speech without sounding like a complete snob. No one, after hearing the ‘speech,’ asks you any questions.

Point: These statements are for you first, others second. They help you clarify your own business. Revise the statements for you, until they sound like something you could say to anyone, like Fanfare for the Common Man.

Feigning you are the best.

Symptoms:  Claiming to be so. Not only does this cast immediate doubt upon the veracity of the rest of what you have to say, but you may also be fooling yourself.

Point: Success is found in being the best company you can possibly be, having systems in place to ensure continual improvement, and by being completely open and honest with internal and external customers.

Too full of platitudes.

Symptoms: Almost any company could say the same thing. Contains words and phrases such as “quality” or  “maximize ROI”. The statements could apply to most any industry. Statements lack memorability.

Point: Find out why your customers buy. If you have never asked, the answers may surprise you. Your statements should contain this unique raison d’etre, and provide compelling reasons to buy that no one else can copy. Emulate yes–that is a compliment. But copy, no.

Being different for different’s sake.

Symptoms: Trying to be so avant-garde that no one can understand what you do at all.

Point: The point isn’t to just be different. The point is to determine and place, on purpose and by design, real value in the hands of the customer that no one else can match.

Clarifying your purpose should never take the back burner. A real mission is the “something” that fills the veins of a company. It is the “something” that is reflected in your culture and story, and infuses every product that goes out the door. It is the DNA that makes your company what it is, defined on purpose and for a purpose. If you are having a lot of trouble refining the statements for your business, take a step back. Review your foundations and the big why of “why you do what you do.” Your statements will be clear when the reason why you unlock your door every morning is clear.

And then, you too can become decidedly different.

 

Geri Seiberling is Partner and Art Director at etc!graphics inc., a firm devoted to the evolution of the small business specie through intelligent design. You can connect with her at geri@etcgraphics.com,  follow her on Twitter at @geriwithetc, or on Google+ at  gplus.to/GeriSeiberling. Visit etc! at www.etcgraphics.com, on FaceBook at www.facebook.com/etcgraphics, or Google+ at gplus.to/etcgraphics.

 

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