Sprint Stole Verizon’s Spokesperson. So What?

Sprint Marketing

You almost have to give someone at Sprint a standing ovation for their recent advertising campaign featuring your Verizon’s “Can you hear me now” guy, Paul Marcarelli.

It’s the advertising equivalent of a judo hip toss.

Verizon is the big bully with more than 2X Sprint’s subscriber base. A lot of money was spent to make Marcarelli the face of the company (as well as the butt of their jokes). Now underdog Sprint is using Verizon’s own “brand equity” against itself.

One of the cleverest advertising coups in recent memory.

I’m convinced these campaigns won’t save Sprint’s sinking ship. I’m also convinced YOU can profit by studying what’s happening here.

Here’s What Sprint Did Right

The commercials are attention-grabbing. The first time you see THE Verizon guy playing for the other team, it’s nearly impossible to ignore.

  • Your brain has to try make sense of it
  • There’s controversy: what made Marcarelli go Benedict Arnold and switch to Sprint? (Turns out, it’s not call quality)
  • It’s funny in an “Oh no he didn’t” kind of way

It’s critical to hold your audience’s attention long enough to tell them what they need to know. That’s what gives you the opportunity to generate interest and desire.

There’s no rational reason for it, but “celebrities” almost always bring a level of trust to the products/services/brands they’re attached to. Over time, spokespeople can become (niche) celebrities and garner familiarity, likeability and trust.

At Halloween, Flo from Progressive is more popular than Dracula.

The ads are also focused on a value proposition: 50% cost savings. That seems to be the only thing Sprint has to offer…

Why It Won’t Make a Difference

— Sprint provides inferior service.  They’re even admitting that fact in these commercials.

Even if this advertising campaign effort brings in a lot of new subscribers (Q4 projections indicate otherwise), the business loses big time when people cancel their service due to poor quality service. This is a long-time problem Sprint hasn’t fixed.

— No one wants the 50% Off plan. Sprint’s CEO has stated the company will probably stop promoting this low-priced plan in the near future. Potential subscribers are looking for features they can’t get at that price.

The profit margins on this plan are so thin that they virtually guarantee a continuation of low-quality service in the future.

Quick Takeaways That Will Make a Difference for YOU

1) Provide great service. Or team up with/outsource to someone who can deliver great service where you’re weak.

2) Find out what your target market wants and offer it to them — in a way that highlights the benefits valuable to THEM.

3) Set your prices at a level that empowers you to a) offer great service and b) invest back into your business. You can discount yourself right out of business!

You don’t have to have a million dollar marketing budget to put those ideas into practice!


The Disbelief-Based USP

suspension of disbelief usp chicago

Allow me to summarize the Belief-Based USP report, for which this report is the natural counterpart:

Your selling proposition will be most powerful when it 1) aligns with a deeply-held and strongly-felt belief your ideal client holds and 2) offers something that he wants to believe is possible, and believes he can attain – with the right assistance.

The same way that the USP isn’t about being primarily about being unique, a belief-based USP isn’t focused on being believable, although it needs to be credible. Rather, it’s focused on matching existing beliefs and attaching itself to them.

Example: Many people believe Wall Street insiders know secrets the average investor doesn’t. Companies that sell financial newsletters bank on that belief – literally.

“Doomsday Preppers” believe disaster is right around the corner, and they can’t trust the government, their neighbors, etc. But they do trust their preferred source of information. (This is a booming industry, in case you didn’t know.)

Steve Jobs believed alternative treatments were superior to traditional Western medicine for fighting pancreatic tumors.

We believe police officers are hate-filled racist bullies…or everyday heroes.

Belief is human nature. Your beliefs determine your actions, including your buying decisions and “brand loyalty.”

“If you are not reminding your prospective customers of the existent foundation of an accepted fact that supports your proposition, you are missing out on something important.” ~ Chip Kessler

The Flip Side of the Belief Coin

You USP has to both inflame the desire to believe AND the willingness to suspend disbelief as necessary.

Consider this. Whenever you step into a movie theater or turn on Netflix, you engage in a subtle volitional activity: you flick off the unbelief switch in your brain — or at least put it in standby mode. You know you’re watching a movie…you know parts of the plot are totally unrealistic…but for the sake of enjoying the story, you accept what you see as truth.

Sales, marketing and copywriting experts often repeat the idea that people make decisions emotionally, then justify their emotional choices with their rational minds. And that’s true.

Let’s take it one step further.

If your USP generates a strong enough desire, if it hits the right emotional sweet spot, your ideal customer will, of necessity, explain away any disbelief.

I’m told that a surprisingly high number of medical doctors purchase “male enhancement” pills. A good story about a scientific breakthrough or the discovery of ancient herbal formulas mixed with some testimonials overpower 6+ years of higher education.

“The strongest appeal you can make is emotionally. If you can get their emotions going, make them forget their logic, you’ve got them. AT MTV, WE DON’T SHOOT FOR THE 14-YEAR OLDS, WE OWN THEM.” ~ Bob Pittman, “MTV is Rock Around the Clock.” Philadelphia Inquirer, Nov. 3, 1982

Your USP has to strike at the emotional heart of the hearer/reader and create a vision in his mind. For a moment, he has to dissociate from the “real world” and see himself enjoying the benefits he’ll receive after buying from you.


If you’ve ever tried to sell anything, especially belly-to-belly, you’ve seen it happen. Your prospect obviously sees the value in what you’re selling. It’s clearly the solution to his problem. But something is holding him back from saying “yes.”

So you explain your risk-free guarantee. He STILL can’t get past the obstacle.

What’s the problem?

People get in their own way. They often prevent themselves from doing what’s in their own best interests:

  • They don’t believe they can really accomplish the long-awaited goal. Maybe their peers, but not them
  • They become addicted to their identity as a non-attainer – they like being “starving artist,” failed inventor, or mediocre performer. People sabotage themselves ALL THE TIME. They want to succeed, but not more than they want to keep doing the same things that guarantee they won’t succeed
  • They’re scared of what it would mean to succeed (i.e. CHANGE)
  • They’re worried about what their spouse or their friends will think about them
  • The topic you’re talking about isn’t a priority for them, even though it should be
  • Etc…

How do you get people to suspend these limiting (dis)beliefs?

Instead of head-on argument, give them raw material to come to draw their own conclusion in your favor.

“Without a doubt, we are more committed to what we conclude than what we are told. If we come to believe something is false, virtually nothing will convince us it is true. If we come to believe something is true, virtually nothing will convince us it is false.” ~ Blair Warren

1) Be the kind of character people WANT to believe in and trust. This is rarely done by coming up with a catchy catchphrase. It takes demonstration, consistency and clarity of message.

Strong personalities take us on journeys and activate the imagination. Polarizing figures force us to make choices. Authoritative experts engender trust. Enthusiastic people are contagious. Don’t you feel like you know the characters and celebrities personally?

  • David Blane
  • Elon Musk
  • Stephen Curry (NBA’s 2015 MVP)
  • Warren Buffett
  • Oprah Winfrey
  • Rick Grimes (from Walking Dead)

2) Stack the value – and don’t leave out the cost of inaction.

Let me use an example from my world. John Carlton touts himself as “the most ripped-off and respected copywriter on the planet.” And he probably is. You wouldn’t take that at face value, but after reading his stuff, listening to him and seeing how many other people esteem him, you’ll come to the conclusion that he’s legit.

If you’re looking for a copywriting mentor, he’s right at the top of the list. If you COULD hire him, the value is clear. If you’re thinking about hiring someone else, it is implied that such a decision will cost you unspeakable sums in lost profit.

Believe me, Carlton’s public persona is no accident.

Think about a simpler proposition: the George Foreman Grill. The value stack is making delicious food quickly and easily with less fat than other cooking methods. The cost of inaction? Rubbery burgers swimming in pools of liquid cow fat on your dinner table.

3) Exude confidence, both personally and in your messaging. Make big enough, bold enough promises to ignite desire. Draw a specific picture in the mind of your should-be customer, one he can see himself participating in.

4) Offer undeniable proof to alleviate fear and justify their desires with logically.

It should go without saying that a proposition MUST be believable if it’s going to work. Proof elements (testimonials, scientific or clinical evidence and demonstrations) help clear away doubt. People don’t buy when they don’t trust.

5) Make it easy to take the first step.

6) Dig in for the long haul. In many cases, the first exposure may not do the trick. The more a person is exposed to an idea, the more likely he is to believe it (look up the illusory truth effect and mere-exposure theory).

To Conclude

In a movie theater, people voluntarily hit the pause button on their disbelief and skepticism.

In business, that is not your customer’s job. It’s your job to make it desirable and easy to suspend their doubts.

Helping your should-be customers get out of their own way and believe your USP is a two-fold duty: inspire desire and earn trust.

Easy for me to say, right? Of course it is. But I also help my clients achieve this goal in their own marketing efforts.

“Belief is today’s most overlooked yet most powerful key to boosting… Harness it and you unleash the core atomic power for exploding response. Because the hunger for belief is so vast in every market, so deep-seated in human nature itself, you can tap into it again and again—infinitely—to make yourself and your clients rich.”     ~ Gary Bencivenga


The Belief-Based USP

What is the real power behind powerful USPs? How can you harness that power to craft a monster USP of your own?

Most entrepreneurs and marketers have a serious misunderstanding about USPs. Frankly, most teachers on the subject haven’t taught it correctly. But then again, most of them don’t understand what makes USPs really work, either.

Unique. Selling. Proposition.

As with so many other things in society, we’ve tried to make USPs tangible and mechanical. Scientific, even.


Target Audience + Problem + Solution = USP

“Hot pizza delivered to your door in 30 minutes or less – or it’s free.” (Am I the only one who’s tired of this example?)

In the process of making USP formulas, we’ve missed the point.

Despite the name, a USP isn’t good simply because it is unique. Customers don’t buy a product just because it’s different. They buy because it’s uniquely suited to fulfill a desire.

“Consumers have access to a multiplied and multiplying range of choices, so classic brand loyalty has been replaced by search for and expectation of the thing that is precisely, perfectly appropriate. The market for all manner of goods and services is greater than ever before. The attraction of wealth in this environment has little to do with somehow “locking up” a limited portion of a limited market and everything do with directly connecting with individuals and meeting their needs and interests.

~ Dan Kennedy

A USP’s magnetic attraction comes from within the would-be buyer himself and from the product, service or company.

“We see people and things not as they are, but as we are.” ~ Anthony de Mello

Customers see your products as THEY are. Their desires and beliefs dictate how they perceive your business and your USP.

Now, I don’t want this to become some scholarly dissertation. I know you don’t want, that either. So let’s make this clear and practical. News you can use.

This article is entitled The Belief-Based USP because belief is an essential element in getting people to take action, but the power of belief rarely makes it into discussions about what makes a strong selling proposition.

(Again, most people don’t understand this. That doesn’t mean no one ever stumbles into a compelling USP. Understanding what makes people do what they do gives you an immense advantage over you competitors, no matter how big and well-established they are.)

What You Need to Know

1) USP is a reality, not a goal or dream, not a clever-sounding statement. It is the underlying core of your offering.

For example, Tim Ferriss is the 4-Hour guy. He’s obsessed with finding shortcuts and productivity “hacks” to help his audience get better results quickly in various area of their lives. Regardless of the flack he gets, he’s world famous and known specifically for this personal USP.

When you think about Tim Ferriss, one thought automatically precedes all others: 4-Hours. He’s helped countless people (or so I’m told) improve their business and personal lives

The big question is, how did he get such a large group of people to believe his USP?

2) USP is a decision – or at least it should be. Decide what you’re going to do and who you’ll do it for/with. Then resolve to be world-class in that area.

“You must work extremely hard on what comes easy to you.” ~Jeffrey J. Fox

Harry Houdini dedicated his life to becoming the greatest escape artist and showman on the planet.

Domino’s decided to deliver pizza in 30 minutes – and they put their profits at risk if they couldn’t keep that promise.

3M really put their money where their proverbial mouth was when it came to their security glass. (Supposedly) $3 million dollars’ worth…

UVP USPImage from 3m

The point? Your USP isn’t about what you say. It’s about what you do for your customers.

3) In conjunction with Point 2, you must decide who your ideal customer is in order to make a meaningful claims. No single feature or benefit appeals to everyone. When you have clarity about who you’re serving, you can

  • get very clear about the most profitable use of your time and resources
  • determine what products and services will be most valuable to them (and lucrative for you) and
  • how and where to promote your offerings to be most effective.

If you don’t pick your audience, you run the risk of spreading yourself too thin and working on things that don’t matter much to anyone.

Why Negativity is Essential

What your business does is important. What it doesn’t do is probably just as important.

Peter Drucker once said that “Whenever anything is being accomplished, it is being done, I have learned, by a monomaniac with a mission.” Monomania is a crazed focus on ONE THING and the ruthless exclusion of anything else that would compete with or dilute that focus.

What are you maniacal about?

I think this is truly the most difficult lesson when it comes to finding your USP. Why? Because it takes clarity to know what you should focus on, courage to dedicate yourself to mastering that thing and conviction that you’ve chosen the right path. Any distraction is dangerous.


Strategic Coach – you cannot become a member if you don’t have a personal income of $100K per year. Their organization works exclusively with high-achievers (defined by dollars earned).

FarmersOnly.com – the name says it all.

I’m a happily married man, but when I heard the jingle for FarmersOnly.com, I couldn’t help myself. I had to check out the website. The uniqueness of their angle took me by surprise. Competing in a very crowded space dominated by a few major players, FarmersOnly has a singular focus. The name itself tells you who their customers are – and who they absolutely will not help. The tagline (“City Folks Just Don’t Get It”) excludes a huge segment of the potential market. Just the way they like it.

The in-crowd psychology is powerful. When someone in the target audience sees their marketing materials, he instantly knows “this is the place for me.”

If there’s nothing you won’t do, and no one you won’t work with, what does that say about your business?

Belief and Your Ideal Customer

“We choose what we choose because we believe in it…

“Who we think we are is why we do what we do.

“We live in our stories, and we live according to them. We wear clothing and drive vehicles, which are consistent with who we believe we are and who we are trying to become. We chose relationships and information as ways of subconsciously validating our beliefs, to make us feel good about our points of view. Our treasured books and music embody us. Our closest friends are our kind of people.

“Ultimately, we expect to find meaning in our lives by editing our stories, by freely mixing and matching our decisions to create an authentic narrative that represents who we believe we are, to ourselves and to others.
~Tom Asacker, The Business of Belief

People buy products, join memberships, read emails, etc., because of their beliefs. What does your potential client believe about

  • himself – What kind of person does he see himself as? How does he want the world to see him? What does he aspire to be?
  • you and/or your business – What kind of experiences has he had with you up until now. How have you positioned yourself in the marketplace? What kind of reputation do you have?
  • your industry in general – Does he trust doctors implicitly or fear Big Pharma has tainted everything? Does he think all coaches are quacks?
  • similar products/services – Is this his first experience with a product in this category? Has he been burned by previous purchases? Has he been frustrated about NOT being able to find a solution? Have you created a brand new category? What is he already familiar with that he will associate you with?
  • what’s possible and impossible – What ideas have been drilled into their brains by education, society and the media? If you’re making unique claims, you’ll need some proof to substantiate them.

How does working with you fit into his “story”? Do the values you represent resonate with his values and beliefs? Do your claims inspire the desire to believe?

You can see why it’s easier and more convincing to choose a well-defined target market! According to The Business of Belief (quoted above):

“We hunger for direction and inspiration. We want what’s important to us to get better – our bodies, work, home and relationships. We want to imagine ourselves transforming our lives and the lives of others. We want to feel good about our evolving narratives. It’s why we read books, scan the Internet, and flip through magazines. We’re looking for the before and after stories. We want to feel the pull of possibility, of moving beyond our existing reality…People are drawn across the bridge of belief by their anticipation of a better experience and a better life. Effective leaders ignite people’s imaginations by painting vivid, compelling, and personally relevant pictures – ones that move them.” ~ Tom Asacker

Does your USP do that? Does your favorite USP formula show you how to do that?

Practical Path to a Belief-Inspiring USP

A great USP makes an ideal prospect want to believe. It connects with a specific desire and offers a glimmer of hope that he’ll get it.

To put it simply and succinctly, a powerful belief-based USP promises to produce a specific result your ideal customer really wants, then offers evidence to make it easy and safe to believe.

Here’s how you get started:

Stay focused on your ideal customer’s desires, not so much on your own “uniqueness.” Of course, you have to offer something valuable. But you might be surprised how often products with no real uniqueness perform remarkably well in the marketplace.

Example: Beats Audio devices. Marketed as the handiwork of legendary hip hop producer Dr. Dre (the proof element), these headphones and speakers promise to let you hear music the way the artists intended for it to be heard.

Are they the best headphones available? That’s arguable. But many music lovers have paid between 2 and 10x more than they would for other headphones with the hope of experiencing the difference.

Beats devices have since become a status symbol and fashion accessory, broadcasting to the world how much the wearer loves music.

Have the courage to stand for something meaningful to your target audience. Be an advocate and champion for that cause.

“Music deserves to be heard this way! If you care about music and the artists that create it, how can you settle for hearing a distorted version through those ‘other’ headphones?”

Or in the case of Evernote:

“You’re busy, always on the move. Capture everything, organize your thoughts, ideas and notes beautifully and securely (much better than scribbling on crumpled napkins) and keep on moving. You’re smarter and more productive that way.”

Be specific. Generalized statements don’t move anyone.

Be bold. Under-promising is marketplace suicide.

Tom Morkes’s website homepage says this: “In the past 12 months, I’ve launched 6 books to bestseller, generated over 48,000 in first week book sales, and tens of thousands in book launch revenue. Want to see how I did it?”

For any author who’d like a successful book launch, this promise seems irresistible – especially when he finds out Morkes also offers a free e-course on the same topic.

Share your “reason why.”

“Given our goal of achieving a strong relationship with the prospect, it’s vital to know what the inner layer is…shared values are the foundation of strong relationships. ~ Jim Signorelli, StoryBranding

Why do you care about the work you do? Why do you want to work with your target audience? What makes you think you’re “their kind of people?”

Offer “proof.”

Back up your claims with evidence. With Beats Audio, Dr. Dre is the proof element. He’s a well-known and respected music producers and cultural icon.

Testimonials, endorsements, reviews, media appearances, certifications, awards, etc., make it easy for the brain to rationalize the desire and strengthen the hope that the promised results are forthcoming.

Remember, these are supporting elements. You’re not bragging, but reassuring your buyers.

“The desire to believe is a little-understood, extremely powerful force that, when consciously and deliberately harnessed, can lift an ordinary man or woman to great heights of influence, fame and fortune, and fuel the growth of a business like nothing else.

“…providing reasons to believe is a rather ordinary, commonly understood exercise in persuasion, but it is ‘low power’ unless and until it is paired with an inspired desire to believe.” ~ Dan Kennedy


“People will do anything for those who encourage their dreams, justify their failures, allay their fears, confirm their suspicions and help them throw rocks at their enemies.

“…Here’s what’s missing: YOU.

“There isn’t a word about your wants, your needs, your hopes or your concerns. There isn’t a word about your offer or proposal. There isn’t a word about what you think. It is all about the other person.

“…People write books about how to frame your ideas, how to present yourself, how to ‘put your best foot forward.’ And yet, all that people really care about is themselves. Can you imagine how much energy you will free up if you stop focusing on yourself and put your attention on other people? Can you even imagine how much more charismatic you will become when you come to be seen as the one who can fulfill some of their most basic emotional needs?

“… there is one thing you can count on: your family, friends, customers, clients and even everyone you have yet to meet will have these needs met by someone. The only question is, will it be by you?” ~ Blair Warren


Don’t forget to check out the flipside of this coin, the Disbelief-Based USP.


Escape from Retail Jail: A Copywriter’s Tale

expert Copywriter

People sometimes ask me how I became an expert at copywriting. My answer is always the same; I smirk a little and say “I decided to become one.” Naturally, the story is more involved than that, but that decision — followed by commitment — is the crux of the it.

I had the opportunity to explore this decision and how it impacted my life on Episode 7 of Jason Leister’s Incomparable Expert Podcast. This was a special treat for me because of the massive respect and admiration I have for Jason. (If there’s was an incomparable individual on the call, Jason was him.)

The conversation was very raw. Jason didn’t tell me what he was going to ask, and I’m not sure he stuck to any kind of prearranged series of questions or topics, either.

So we were all over the map, talking about

  • the fact that your ideal customers probably have characteristics similar to the average serial killer – and what it’s going to take to attract and keep them
  • what “providing value” really means
  • Jason’s patent-pending “village model of evolution” and why doing business in the vast expanse of the internet is reverting, in some ways, to the old neighborhood structure
  • when content creation is just plain stupid
  • just how elastic price is — and how to start banishing the notion that you have to work harder to be worthy of making more money from your mind

One of the big takeaways is the magical power of “showing up.” I realize that one of the main reasons I reached any level of success is because I decided to keep going. Even if you’re not very talented, there’s a good chance you’ll find your status elevated simply because you consistently came to work.

Jason said it well: “Anybody with a heartbeat COULD be consistent. But it’s rare, it’s as rare as gold.”

I’ll testify to that.

Steve Lahey said it was my best interview yet…

Steve Lahey tweets Copywriter

…and I’d love you to have check it out on the Incomparable Expert site.



A Weird Thing About Dreams

Vision USP
Have you ever nodded off to sleep for just a few seconds – and somehow had an entire dream play out in that short span of time?

I think it’s happened to most of us at one time or another.

I don’t know the science behind it, but I don’t think it’s simply the result of an inaccurate perception of time that occurs when you’re sleeping (like the “dream in a dream” scenes from the movie Inception). Could it be that the mind is packed with energy, excitement and curiosity that is released the moment unconsciousness opens the door? The story doesn’t need to until in a logical, linear way; you brain looks at and plays with that curious energy from multiple angles. And it all happens in an instant.

Words are very much the same. When you read or hear a word, you immediately feel the feelings and remember the memories you associate with that word. You don’t think about the multiple ways Webster defines it. For me, “love” paints a picture of the Dina, the joy of my life.

We’re all like that.

There’s something similar at play in your business – or there can be. A well-articulated Unique Selling Proposition is packed with intrinsic meaning for the kinds of customers you serve. It resonates deeply with them.

You USP isn’t something you come up with so you can sound special, nor is it just something you think your target market wants to hear. It’s your story, stripped to its essence, at the point where it intersects with your customer’s story.

It’s not an issue of being unique for the sake of being unique. It’s about being uniquely-suited to produce the happy results your customers are searching for.

As John Carlton puts it, “This is the key to everything good that will happen in your business for the rest of your life.” It’s THAT important.





Are We Missing the Point (of Marketing)?

Missing the Point of Marketing

An incalculable number of forces conspire to prevent your should-be customers from buying from you.

The purpose of marketing is to neutralize all those obstacles preventing a potential customer from acting in his own best interest (that is, doing business with you).

But before it can do that, there has to be some compelling reason why anyone should buy from you. That is not a marketing function, per se. It’s a matter of creating an outstanding product or service.

“Advertising doesn’t create a product advantage. It can only convey it…No matter how skillful you are, you can’t invent a product advantage that doesn’t exist.” ~ Bill Bernbach

Compelling copy is extremely important. But most copywriters will admit…if they’re knowledgeable and honest… that presenting a great product to the right audience is MOST of the work.

– Great messaging for a worthless product won’t accomplish much in the long run.
– Strong marketing aimed at the wrong crowd will miss the mark.

On the other hand, if you offer a product that scratches a specific itch in that hard-to-reach spot on the back of a specific audience, any marketing message you create has inherent persuasive power. The Unique Selling Proposition itself grabs the attention and interest of the potential customer.

“This is EXACTLY what I need!” he might think to himself. That’s when he starts selling himself on the idea of buying from you.

That’s why it’s so critical for entrepreneurs, salespeople and marketers to discover their own USP and articulate it with clarity.

The point of marketing is not simply to sell whatever you’ve got. Marketing starts with making sure you’re selling something people want and need. Then you find ways to help your target audience experience the advantages of buying your product or service.

As you think about your own USP, you may be interested in reading “Juxta-Positioning: Outmaneuvering Your Competitors Brilliantly” Sometimes thinking about your product in relation to everything else out there can clarify what’s special about you.


P.S. “A gifted product is mightier than a gifted pen.” ~ Gary Bencivenga

As people become increasingly savvy when it comes to weeding out ads, we have to get increasingly adept at communicating valuable messages about things that matter to people. That starts with having a gifted product, not being a wordsmith who uses flowery words to describe his crap.




Enabling Your Business “Insane Mode”

By now you may have seen the Tesla “insane mode” video. It shows the reactions of unsuspecting passengers when the driver of the electric car takes the car from 0 to 60 miles per hour (96.6 kph) in just over 3 seconds — with no engine noise.

Your business has an insane mode, too. If and when you press the button, your sales can leap forward without warning. Profits can skyrocket. Marketing materials and sales pitches that used to fall flat start to perform like crazy.

I’m not the kind of guy who would present a “one size fits all” solution for success in business…but the one thing that can most consistently, most radically transform a business’ results is the discovery, articulation and integration of its unique selling proposition (USP).

“Yeah, I’ve heard this all before”

Fair enough. If you’ve been in business any length of time, you undoubtedly have heard about how important a USP is. You’ve probably even spent some time thinking about what your USP might be.

When you found out that the kind of thinking you have to do is hard work, did you press forward or quit?
When it seemed like there was nothing truly unique about your business, did you decide the only competitive advantage you have is quality and customer service?   Did you really think that was a good enough answer?

You’ve heard it before, but how far did you go to enable your insane mode USP?

The right USP can change an entire industry. (Just ask FedEx or Domino’s Pizza.)
It can reverberate around the world for decades. (Everyone knows which candy melts in your mouth, not in your hand.)

Jack Welch famously said, “If you don’t have a competitive advantage, don’t compete.” What gives you the right to step onto the field to play with the big boys?

If you haven’t figured that out yet, you have some work to do.



3 Alternatives to Competing on Price

price war

How often do we see businesses small and large making the claim that they offer “the best value in town”?

And why is it that people assume that such a statement means that “best value” is the lowest price?

In the strictest sense, value has nothing to do with price.

A $100 bill is valued at $100 no matter how many hours you worked to get it.

On the other hand, an icy cool glass of lemonade is more valuable to a man mowing the lawn in the summer than one sitting on a bus stop in the middle of winter, even if it costs $2 in both cases.

Being the “low price leader” doesn’t (necessarily) mean your customers are getting the best value; it just means they’re paying less than they are anywhere else.

That usually makes you the lowest paid provider in your field.

I don’t know about you, but that’s not a position I’m in a hurry to occupy.

Avoid Price Wars at Any Cost

Price is not the true battlefield – or if nothing else, it’s not the one you want to fight on.

As a fun illustration, I’d like to point you to the legendary Elwood City snow shoveling war between Arthur Read and Buster Bunny.

The entire video is enjoyable, but the business-related part really starts about five minutes in, with key takeaways at about 7:20 and 8:20.

~ “He’d be crazy to compete with me at this price.”

~ “You won’t make any money that way.”

You might put a hurting on the other guy, but you’ll probably cause irreparable damage to your own business in the process, just like Arthur and Buster did.

Your customers will get used to your bottom-basement pricing and your willingness to undercut the competition.

And even if you put the other guy out of business, what happens when a new competitor comes on the scene? It’s a perpetual race for the bottom.

What’s the Alternative?

The temptation to set your prices low is strong.

You constantly hear about people shopping at Walmart because they’re cheaper than pretty much every other store. Everyone seems to be running discount sales.

Besides, you might be thinking, what’s so special about product? There are half a dozen other vendors in my zip code alone doing the same thing as me. What’s unique about shoveling snow? Plumbing? Accounting?

Consider starting here:

1) Make bolder promises – and back them up. Most of your competitors advertise like cowards. They’re too scared to make big promises. They would rather “under-promise and over-deliver,” which is marketing suicide these days.

What’s the biggest promise you can honestly make? Wrap that up with a dominant emotion your audience is feeling and/or a powerful (true) story and shout it from the rooftops.

The gutsy promise “30 minutes or it’s free” put Domino’s on the map, even though there’s nothing special or particularly valuable about their pizza.

Never promise more than you can deliver, but don’t shoot yourself in the foot by under-promising either.

2) Develop a secret sauce. Even in a commoditized field, like plumbing or snow shoveling, there’s no reason you have to play by the rules everyone else abides by.

What’s stopping you from going the extra mile to provide an outstanding, memorable customer experience?

Ask your customers, or listen to other people talk about your field. What do they hate most?

What do they wish would happen that never does?

As a plumber, wouldn’t a butt-crack free guarantee be a welcome distinction?

Add on-time service and the promise to clean up all the mess before you leave, and you’ve got a major competitive advantage. People will pay more for that.

Babiators, a company that sells sunglasses for children offers the following, remarkable guarantee:

USP guarantee

As a father of four rambunctious kids, this is the sort of promise that captures my attention and makes me feel stupid for wasting my money anyplace else.

3) Work on your Unique Value Relationship. It’s really difficult to reduce relationships down to dollar amounts. Haven’t we all paid more to buy from someone we like or admire?

Haven’t we all decided to support businesses we know, even if the cost was a little higher?

When you treat you customers like people, not walking wallets, you have the potential to build relationships that remove price from the equation completely.

When they know, like and trust you, you win. When they identify themselves with your product, service or brand, when they see themselves as part of your tribe, paying less to work with outsiders isn’t even an option.

Just ask the next person you see with an iPhone 5.


Be sure to check out the follow-up to this article, The Wife-Approved Pricing Strategy.



Positioning is establishing your identity in the mind of your audience. Your positioning can be bad or good, strong or weak.

The best kind of positioning is when you can “own” a word or concept. Google IS online search. Kleenex equals facial tissue. Volvo is synonymous with automotive safety.

Sometimes, it can be appropriate to position your company, product or service relative to an established brand. Juxtapositioning, as it were.

There are countless ways to juxtapose your business, product or service with competitors. Here are 5 of the most common:

  1. Us vs. Them – offering uniqueness of a company or product over against a competitor
  2. Before & After – demonstrating a unique end result
  3. True or False – exposing the uniqueness of reality over common perception
  4. Exotic vs. Commonplace – uniqueness of origin, philosophy or perspective
  5. Ancient vs. Modern – discovering the uniqueness of ideas from a forgotten era

When your unique value proposition (UVP) is strong, but demonstrably different than the leaders in your field, Us vs. Them juxtapositioning is appropriate.

Slow Lube Lansing Positioning

As an example, take this photo from an auto shop in Lansing, IL (one of Chicago’s south suburbs). While Jiffy Lube and others offer 10 minute oil changes, emphasizing speed, this shop takes the opposite approach — a “slow lube.” It makes you wonder: what are the other guys really doing to you car? What are they missing or messing up? The contrast is stark.

Why try to compete with the other shops on speed? Quality and “proper service” aren’t even on their radar.

Before and After is simple, right? Think exercise machines and acne medication. Demonstrate how the future can be better and brighter with your product or service.

Where misconceptions are hurting people in the market, or just keeping them from buying from you, become a mythbuster. Remember those commercials sharing the “truth” about how corn syrup is as safe as sugar? That’s full-fledged True or False juxtapositioning at work:

Exotic vs. Commonplace can be best seen in the way we Westerners love products from the East, from green tea to yoga. The opposite is also true. People from around the world clamor to get their hands on American products and brands.

People get bored. We associate the familiar with the results and experiences we already have. To have a new experience or better results, exotic products hold special appeal.

Ancient vs. Modern plays on the notion that we’ve traded something significant from the past to make way for the electronically-enhanced artificial present. Technology, as much as we love it, seems to have trumped wisdom. Instead of reaching out to touch someone, we have touchscreen phones and tablets.

There’s a longing for “the good ol’ days.” (I reckon there has been ever since Adam and Eve.)

Titles including “The ancient art of…” or “long-lost secrets of …” have a mysterious attractive quality. They help sell millions of books, courses, classes and products every year.

The-Ancient-Art-of-Tea Positioning

How can you use these juxtapositioning techniques to strengthen your place in the market?



Raise the Bar on Your Value Proposition

What is Rolex’s unique value proposition (UVP), really?

What do they do that no other watchmaker does? Do they make the world’s most accurate timepieces? The most durable? Nope. The most aesthetically pleasing? I’d give that a “no,” but I guess that one is debatable. Do they offer special features that can’t be found in other watches? Not really.

So what is it that makes Rolex so special? If we think about that for a moment, we may gain insights that will immediately impact the way we run and market our businesses.

Two Unique Conversations

apple vs. samsung marketing war

I’ve long been an advocate of finding your uniqueness. If you’ve been reading my stuff for any length of time, you’ve heard this conversation on numerous occasions. But my thinking about how uniqueness works out in the real world is evolving. Two conversations have really sparked my changing perspective.

My first inspiration came during a conversation with a brilliant marketer, my good pal Chuck McKay. He was explaining to me how there’s really no way for products to be truly unique anymore — at least not for more than a few months. Companies that create technological advancements that customers get excited enough to pay for usually see copycats coming up right behind them almost immediately.

Exhibit A: The multi-billion dollar global battle, Apple vs. Samsung.

Jack Welch said that “If you don’t have a competitive advantage, don’t compete.” So what do you do in an environment where your advantages can be ripped off so quickly?

Well, the force that creates loyal, enthusiastic customers (ones who don’t make price the the primary factor in their buying decisions) for companies like Apple, Rolex and Harley-Davidson can work just as well for you.

Boiling It All Down

You may point to the way that strong brand positioning is propelling companies like Rolex forward, and you’d be correct. But what really lies behind this branding thing? More importantly, how can you use it to build of loyalty and top of mind awareness like a Nike.

The second conversation I mentioned earlier was more of a conversation I had in my own mind after reading an article written by Kimanzi Constable. When you boil it all down, business is about relationships and experiences. Branding is about relationships and experiences, both real and imagined.

unique relationship as value proposition

Have you ever seen images of fans at a Michael Jackson concert? People went bananas! Security personnel and paramedics were always on hand to handle people who whipped themselves into a frenzy and often passed out.

Good music was only part of the cause. You can bet these folks didn’t pass out every time a Michael Jackson song came on the radio. But at the concert, perfectly rational, even-keeled people became emotional, delirious fanatics . Their relationship with Michael may not have been personal, but it was very real.

Your favorite musicians may have a similar effect on you. Music creates powerful emotional experiences and, in a way, we have vicarious relationships with musicians (and other fans) through the art they perform.

Those experiences and relationships are where true uniqueness can be found. Even in a commodity business where unique value propositions are hard to come by, you can create unique experiences with customers. Just like famous musicians, you may never see them face to face, but the unique relationships you forge can be very real.

Years ago, I had a manager who told me that “every man should own a Rolex.” Rolex represents success, refinement and even masculinity for those who own them and those who desire them. This is the unique relationship Rolex has with its customers. The brand is capable of providing them with a highly-esteemed status symbol, one that draws both admiration and jealousy, in a way no other timepiece can quite replicate. The brand is an extension of the owner’s self-image, the self he wants to portray to others. He will gladly pay thousands of dollars to accomplish that.

Building Your Unique Value Relationship

Even if you have an established USP/UVP, you should start to think about your marketing and branding in terms of relationships instead of propositions. There are countless ways to build your unique value relationship (UVR). Since it is unique to each individual, I can’t tell you the best way for you to put everything together. But here are some principles to get you started.

1) Make and keep bold promises. Inspire, excite and challenge potential or existing customers. Most of your competitors will never do anything to shake people up and make them take special notice. They’re too busy playing it safe.

2) Provide remarkable customer service. Treat the customer like royalty (note how royalty and loyalty rhyme, at least in English). Give ridiculous guarantees and take away as much of the risk as possible from your customers. Make it easy to buy, easy to ask questions and get answers. Go further than your competitors are willing to go to take care of your customers’ needs. Live the Golden Rule. Don’t just say you care–prove it.

3) Stand for something. Or against something. Be a hero, an advocate. Champion the cause of your audience. Few things build and strengthen relationships like a shared goal or a common enemy.

4) Create an exclusive clique. Starbucks initiates customers into a whole new world of coffee enjoyment. I worked there for years, so I’ve seen the effect firsthand. These people are forever ruined to Folgers. But it’s more about being a member of an elite class of coffee connoisseurs than the quality of the drink. I had plenty of people tell me that Dunkin Donut’s brew tastes just as good.

If there’s anything in the world that’s a commodity, it’s coffee. Starbucks still found a way to become unique. It’s all in the experience.

5) Make the most of your location. Be THE neighborhood auto body shop. Or accountant. Claim your territory and dominate it. To steal a popular slogan, like a good neighbor, you should be there.

I believe the only way to free your business permanently from the commoditization rat race (a.k.a. the economy of today and tomorrow) is to develop and maintain a uniquely valuable relationship with people you can truly help. That is something no competitor can rip-off or destroy.

Go get started. Today.