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How unique is your unique selling proposition (USP)?

By OkechukwuOnwuka
Learning and innovation go hand in hand. The arrogance of success is to think that what you did yesterday will be sufficient for tomorrow —William Pollard

Innovation is the specific tool of entrepreneurs, the means by which they exploit change as an opportunity for a different business or a different service. Entrepreneurs need to search purposefully for the sources of innovation, the changes and their symptoms that indicate opportunities for successful innovation. And they need to know and to apply the principles of successful innovation —Peter F. Drucker

IT is common knowledge that ideas and innovation are pivotal
driving forces for entrepreneurship.You’ll also find that many entrepreneurs are motivated into starting their own companies by the conviction that their product or service offering is unique.

This conviction fuels a passion and enthusiasm that helps the visionary to confront the implementation challenges and obstacles with a positive attitude. Business schools, product development consultants, entrepreneurship coaches, advertising and marketing executives emphasize the importance of creatively developing a unique selling proposition (USP) for a product or service. The primary purpose is to differentiate your products from that of your competitors.

The differentiation may be in terms of pricing, delivery, packaging, customer service, technology, customer wellbeing, safety, quality or some other attribute the target customer can clearly identify and associate with. Up to this point, almost everyone is in agreement.

However, the issue for review today is the question of “How unique is your USP?”  A number of business owners have spent millions, sometimes billions to start up businesses based on new ideas or concepts not known in the market at the time of launching out. After committing so much funds based on the uniqueness of an idea, many get shocked to find than less than six months after introducing the product or service, the industry copies the same ideas leading inevitably to price wars or stagnation.

When this happens, the innovators who may have initially invested heavily suffer the highest losses. The fact is, the easier your USP can be copied, the greater the chances that others will copy it, thereby reducing or sometimes eliminating the competitive advantage it should create. How does one create a USP that is truly unique and difficulty to copy? There are a few suggestions.

Research: Don’t make the mistake of creating a product innovation based on your perception or personality alone. Research the market to find out what existing practices and perceptions are as well as historical trends. History will always be a good way to forecast the future, not in terms of absolute numbers but more towards relative stability and change dynamics. In telecoms and electronics, it is well known that new products are always cheaper with higher capacity and more beautiful design.

As time progresses, we find that the time it takes for better products to hit the market gets progressively shorter. Any player who builds a business plan on the basis of specific technology remaining unchallenged for years is in for a shock. Market research will also help in identifying the prevailing cultural drivers for product acceptance.

Avoid the easy route: As a rule of thumb, if your USP is easy to design and implement, then be rest assured that it will not last. Sustainable enterprise is never built on an easy platform. If it were not so, everybody will become successful as entrepreneurs. The more difficult and challenging it is to design and implement your unique offering, the more challenging it will be to copy. Anyone who discovers the vaccine for HIV is surely going to smile to the bank. A common mistake is to use price reduction as a USP. This is probably the easiest and possibly the costliest of approaches.

Is it unique in the customer’s mind? A clothes retailer may tell a prospective customer that a particular design comes in various colours and sizes. This may actually be a turn-off for a customer who is looking for a rare or scarce wear.

Discerning buyers or luxury class custom
ers are more concerned with rare quality or label rather than low price. In Nigeria, many people are wary of very cheap or free products or services as they are viewed with suspicion or to be of low stock. Brand value-perception is key to USP recognition. Be sure to understand your target market and their buying influences.

Test for sustainability: Ask a few simple questions which should receive a yes answer to optimize chances of success: Is my USP: Protected by copyright or patent to establish relative monopoly?, Difficult to copy by competitors, even if they have more money?; Shielded from sudden changes in government or regulations?;  Not dependent on one major supplier or client?; Costly to imitate?; Easy to recognize and be appreciated by customers?; Supported by continuous research and development?; Understood by all our marketers to support sales?; Hidden below the radar of competitors to enable prolonged undetected profits?

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