Can your customers differentiate you from your competitors or are you simply part of the crowd?
What is your unique selling proposition (USP)?
After attending dozens of health care conferences, reviewing marketing materials including web sites, and talking with health care providers, few examples of distinctive USPs come to mind. Rather the experience is that of “me too” messages repeated over and over by a group of competitors. The problem of most messaging is the lack of differentiation, lack of specificity, and lack of emotional engagement. It is like walking onto a tennis court and refusing to hit the ball. It is no way to compete.
A compelling unique selling proposition can deliver your marketing message in a way that engages customers and brings them to your front door. It answers the question “How can we command attention for our services and products?” whether attending a conference, creating marketing materials, communicating via web sites or social media, or talking with business colleagues and customers.
A unique selling proposition is a “description of the qualities that are unique to a particular product or service and that differentiates it in a way which will make customers purchase it rather than its rivals”[a]. In other words, it is a statement of the real or perceived benefit that separates it from competing brands and gives the buyer a logical reason or an emotional association to prefer it over other competitors.
Let’s look at shampoos as an example. There is nothing innately unique about shampoos – they are used in the same way and achieve the same result – cleaner hair.
Yet personal product companies create USPs around dry or greasy hair, dark or blond hair, dandruff or no dandruff, gentle for children, and so on. Whatever problem consumers have with their hair, there is a shampoo “solution” just for them.
Think of Johnson’s baby shampoo and the tag line, “No more tangles”. This ordinary product, shampoo, is unique because it is specially formulated for a specific market, babies, and creates an emotional connection for every parent who has had a child crying when having hair combed after a bath. It is a simple, effective, and emotional appeal set out in three words. The product’s USP is clear and compelling.
Before learning the steps you can take to create your own USP, let me be clear. Your USP is not a simple catch-phrase or gimmick to grab the consumer’s attention. While you must position your organization to stand out in a crowd, there must be substance behind your message. In other words, a USP will not help your organization if it needs strong management or lacks a solid business plan based on a sound business model. If you think your organization may need to work on these fundamentals, please read, “Don’t Just Do It” before working on your USP.
Creating an Effective USP
What does your organization stand for? The answer to that question is at the heart of an effective USP. You cannot stand for everything so you must stand for something. It is at the core of your offering to the customer. These eight steps can help you understand your organization from the perspective of your customers and guide you through the process of developing a unique selling proposition.[b]
1. Identify the biggest benefits you offer customers.
Customers, particularly your patients, may seek your services for a variety of reasons but they all share one thing in common – they want to improve their health. Their goal is to feel better.
What does your organization offer that sets you apart from competitors when it comes to achieving that goal for your customers?
Many providers make the mistake of highlighting the “newest technology” or “brand new building”. Unfortunately, that position is not truly unique or certainly will not be unique when the next new device or building comes along. Think about the ultimate health benefits that your customers receive and how you make them healthier. Perhaps you have outstanding outcomes or exceptional employees. How do they deliver benefits to your customers?
2. Be Unique.
In other words, what separates you from your competitors? What do you offer that potential customers must have that your competitors do not offer at all or in the same special way? Think of the Johnson’s baby shampoo USP. Do you offer products and services for a distinct market? Is it a rather generic product that performs in a special way?
Look at this USP for a dental practice to give yourself some ideas:
“We guarantee that you will have a comfortable experience and never have to wait more than 15 minutes or you will receive a free dental examination”.[iii]
This dental practice understands what makes it different from other dental offices plus it offers what customers want – a pleasant experience and short wait times.
3. Solve a “Point of Pain” or “Performance Gap”
Is there a need that is going unfilled that your organization can meet? If you can solve that “performance gap”, then you have an element of your USP.
Filling a performance gap is part of the USP for Medical Tourism Training. Based on our work in the sector, we discovered a need for customer service and other skills training designed specifically for the distinct demands of international health travel. Our training courses, seminars and workshops fill the performance gap and can alleviate the “point of pain” that providers feel by increasing the number of patients they receive.
Look for solutions to the emotional, psychological, financial and physical pains experienced by your potential customers and find ways to ease the pain and fill the gaps as potential elements of your USP.
4. Be Specific and Offer Proof
Make sure your USP is accurate and believable. Statements like “our hospital is the best in the world” will test credulity and potentially damage your reputation. Refer to the USP for the dental practice. It is specific – a wait of less than 15 minutes or a free (money saving) examination. Perhaps this dental office keeps statistics and could verify its claim with “99% of our clients never wait more than 10 minutes”.
Testimonials can help substantiate your USP. For example, one of the testimonials on our web site confirms that the content of our courses are practical and deliver skills that help people carry out their job duties:
“The training helped improve my case management skills by discussing customer service tips on email and call handling, refreshing my basic medical and biological knowledge, and providing a deeper understanding of the international medical tourism industry.”
5. Create One Clear, Concise and Compelling Sentence
Combine the information and ideas you have generated in steps 1-4 and write as many sentences as it takes until you have one short sentence that tells customers why your products or services are unique, designed for them, and will relieve a problem or issue that they are facing. This step is a difficult task and requires time and patience. Stick to it!
6. Test the USP Before Investing
Begin by testing your prospective USPs on colleagues, family and friends as well as current and potential customers. Their feedback will help you select the concepts and words that work for your customers.
Depending on your budget, you may want to further test its effectiveness through focus groups, survey or other market research methods to ensure you have the right formula for success
[a] http://www.economist.com/node/14301696, accessed 13 June 2013
[b] http://www.interactivemarketinginc.com/unique-selling-proposition.html, accessed 14 June 2013
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