Corporate Eye

Why Most Companies Look and Sound the Same

A guest post today by Roderic Michelson discussing how to distinguish your company from others. What is your USP?

Everyone is saying the same thing – and no one is listening.

That’s the reality in most industries. Everyone is copying from everyone else until everyone looks, from the customers’ perspective, exactly the same.

When this happens the only way to choose is on price or by whatever you have seen last on TV.

In this situation it’s tempting to throw money at marketing in the hopes of differentiating yourself. But if you’re not saying anything different – then no one will notice.

And this applies whether you’re spending £40 a month on promoting yourself at a networking meeting, or £4million a month on cross media marketing campaigns. The same is true for corporate communications. I have written corporate copy and by the time it is reviewed by 10 other people “just to make sure,” plus the legal team, the message becomes bland, unremarkable and faceless. Unless you have a distinctive voice you won’t be remembered and your customers will have no reason to choose you over the competition.

It sounds simple – and obvious. So why do most companies fail to stand out? Why do you forget an advert moments after you’ve seen it, or forget a person minutes after you’ve met them? It’s because they aren’t distinctive.

What can we learn from the companies that have managed to stand out from the crowd – those companies that would immediately spring to mind for a certain product or service?

The one thing they all have in common is a unique voice.

Essentially they present themselves in a distinctive way and in a manner that ticks all the boxes for a particular audience or niche in the market. This is important whether you are talking face-to-face with a prospect or buying ad space in the mass media.

To have a unique voice you must position yourself as the best choice for a particular segment of the market through a Unique Selling Proposition, or USP. This is a succinct phrase that relates the most desired outcome your prospective client wants.

For example if everyone else is pushing how lightweight their product is, then make yours stand out on styling, or if they are all selling style then highlight how yours can be personalised. Choose something that’s different. But beware – if that difference doesn’t speak to your customers then you still won’t stand out!

It will significantly improve the marketability of your product or service by addressing a recognised need or pain point for the prospect. This achieves two goals with the same effort: it builds both sales and your long-term reputation. It infuses with meaning every single marketing vehicle – internet collateral, telephone scripts, business cards, ads, the annual report, etc. A USP helps you pre-open customers’ and investors’ wallets.

Let’s look at some examples:

  1. The inexorable rise of Kiton, the Naples-based Italian menswear brand is simply amazing. What is the secret of its success? A persistent, well-thought out campaign emphasising the company’s values which are embodied in its USP: attention to detail, specially designed raw materials, the best cut, artisanal craft. And the USP is present in some form and shape in every piece of communication/material from the company.
  2. With a loyal following at home, built over 300 years, Twinings is one of the quintessentially British brands. It keeps growing abroad and it’s now sold in over 100 countries. What makes people in non-tea drinking countries choose Twinnings when they want tea? Their USP: Proper tea steeped in tradition, a little taste of Britain.
  3. What are the first three names that comes to mind when you think of consulting? One of them will surely be Accenture. Starting from a white sheet after its split from parent Andersen, the company experienced impressive growth in a very tough market riding on a simple formula: delivering high performance to its clients. The USP: Innovation, current business improvement, delivery focus, leapfrog the competition.
  4. The need for fast, timely and secure delivery of important documents grew together with globalisation and international trade. Enter Federal Express, a courier company with appetite for growth and an outstanding USP: When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight. The rest is history.
  5. Finding a consistently good blend of coffee especially for espresso-based drinks is not an easy task. But there is a solution. Illy Coffee is well on its way to become the first global brand coffee in the world. Their marketing is based around: outstanding taste, authentic Italian experience in every cup, the choice of connoisseurs and coffee lovers.

Your USP is the distilled essence of what you are offering and what your company is about. Your USP should be so compelling that it can be written on a board in front of your shop, if you had one, and can be quoted when meeting potential customers.

How to create a USP? Follow me step by step as we create a USP for a slimming herbal tea.

Step 1: Write down the list of benefits that your product/service offers

They could be centred around your price, technical excellence, taste, specialism, exclusivity.

Think about the end result your customer wants from such a product. The best way is to pair each feature of your product with the benefit it brings. So let’s illustrate…

The new Slim Pam is a great tasting product. Is that enough? No. Let’s dig deeper.

It is 100% natural, organic, acts fast, one has to eat reasonably but no dieting is required while taking the product, has a nice taste, uses roses from the famous Valley of the Roses, it is easy to use as it is offered as a tea and it has a long-lasting effect. Which three of these will you choose? Stay with me for the answer below.

Step 2: Quick market research

Sit down at your computer and find out who your most prominent competitors are. What are they saying on their web sites, in their marketing materials, in their ads? Which benefits do they emphasise? What are their messages?

Again, try to match product features to their stated benefits. Once you compare your own notes to competitor messages it will be easy to fine tune your own positioning so you have a unique voice against the rest of the market.

Step 3: Look at areas of underperformance or customer needs/pain points in your industry

Which of these are addressed by your product? Make sure your USP ties in with a market need. In our example, most people who want to lose weight, go through different diets and exercising routines. Very often, after the diet is over, they regain weight. And most people don’t have the self-discipline to stick to the diet or go to the gym regularly. So Slim Pam offers a more effortless way to lose weight and has longer effect.

Step 4: Strengthen your claims, if you can

Do you have some proof, testimonials, research results to overcome the apathy and scepticism of today’s over-marketed consumer? In our example, Slim Pam was developed by a medical doctor doing research and has been used since the early 1970s in Europe.

Step 5: Synthesise your USP into one to two sentences

Write down and rework versions until it sounds right. Don’t assume you will do it in one sitting. The USP should answer the customer’s question “why should I choose your product?”

One possible version of Slim Pam’s USP could then be: Fast-acting and easy to prepare slimming tea with long-lasting effect.

These are the mechanics illustrated with a simple example and they will help you define the USP but let’s continue looking for more ideas.

If your company is more than 20 years old there must be interesting angles in its history. How was it started? Who started it? What was their thinking and philosophy? Any memorable dates? Any past or current celebrity or famous person using/used the your products in the past? If you are a multibrand company, and you are managing/supporting one of them, where did the brand originate? What was the original vision? Why did the brand succeed?

As an illustration, look through the Jim Beam European campaigns of the last five years. They are a brilliant example of weaving a USP into a heritage theme.

Or for a comprehensive example of a USP used throughout all types of corporate materials, go to and look at the materials aimed at different internal and external audiences.

Your USP is not a simple slogan or tagline. It is the mainstay, the common thread of all your communications and no message should go out from your business without your USP in it, or emphasising one of the elements of your USP.

Your USP will spark interest and single you out as the best choice in the eyes of your investors, customers and employees.

About the Author

Roderic Michelson is a growth expert for Aralex Consulting Ltd. Roderic’s expertise is in being able to assess quickly a company’s growth potential, as well as areas for improvement. Working closely with his clients, he helps them prepare and implement a project plan to position them for sustained growth.

Roderic holds an MBA from London Business School. He is author of “The Recession-Fighting Guide” and publishes the Business Growth Blog. Roderic is also frequent speaker to professional groups across London.

Roderic can be contacted at: /

The following two tabs change content below.