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What makes you stand out from the crowd?

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stand-out-red-apple5This article was published in the 26-June-2014 issue of Finweek Magazine

Picture yourself in a client meeting selling your product or service. “What makes you special? Why should we buy from you and not from your competitors?” If you were asked these questions, how would you answer? In a nutshell, this is your Unique Selling Proposition or USP, your stand-out factor. It’s the reason that your product or service is different from and stands out from the competition. In his book “What to do when you want to give up”, South African entrepreneurship guru Allon Raiz describes it as your secret sauce. The question is: so what? In this article, we unpack why you need a secret sauce and how you can find yours.

What’s so important about a differentiator? Why do I need one? To answer these questions, try reframing them in a different way: if you don’t stand out, if what you’re offering is the same as the next person or business, why on earth would anyone buy what you’re selling? Think of KFC and Nando’s. Both make delicious chicken, and it’s hard to say which tastes better. But what makes Nando’s chicken special, is that it is BOTH healthy AND delicious, while KFC ticks the “delicious” box only. So if you’re health-conscious, Nando’s will be the one you go for.

Your stand-out factor is only really important to the customers you’re aiming at. If health isn’t a priority for you, then you probably won’t care whether you get Nando’s or KFC for supper tonight. Think of the saying “Jack of all trades, master of none”. Don’t try to win over everyone. You cannot. It’s all about finding your niche. Understand what makes you special, and focus on the customers who get excited by that, and forget about the customers who don’t. Accept that your secret sauce won’t appeal to everyone – if someone isn’t excited by it, they probably aren’t in your target market anyway.

In order to sell your offering to someone else, you first need to sell yourself on it. To do that, you must first uncover exactly what your secret sauce is

It’s useful to understand the three core elements of a USP:

  1. Benefit: If a client or customer uses your offering, then what is the benefit (real or perceived) that they will get? Scooters Pizza is known for delivering scorching hot pizza in 39 minutes or it’s free. So if you buy from Scooters, you know you’ll get delicious hot pizza delivered to your door in 39 minutes or less. And Scooters was very clear on this, when their slogan used to be ‘Hot. Tasty. Fast.’ (Incidentally, in 2012, Scooters rebranded themselves. Out went ‘Hot.Tasty.Fast’ and in came ‘Get a slice of the good life’. Luckily, their 39 minute promise is still there on their website, otherwise it would seem they’re forgetting what makes them special to customers, but that’s a discussion for another time).
  2. Unique: It must be something that your competition either cannot or does not offer. So for Nando’s, it is the healthy factor. Their deep-fried competitors don’t offer this.
  3. Compelling: the proposition you’re making must be so strong and valued that your target audience will use (and pay for) your product or service. After all, it’s worthless having a great product or service if nobody wants to buy it. If health was important to you, and you had to choose between two chicken brands, would you choose Nando’s? This comes down to delivery: do they consistently keep their promise to make healthy chicken? I’d say so.


So when crystallising your USP, the three questions to ask yourself are:

  1. What makes my company’s product or service unique?
  2. What makes it compelling enough to buy? And
  3. What benefits does it offer?


The challenge is putting yourself in your customers’ shoes when answering these questions, and not answering them from your own standpoint. Because often what you think is your X factor, is different to what your customers think it is. Most businesses do not really know what makes their product or service special. But our customers, suppliers, and other stakeholders often do, so ask them. Don’t assume you know. By collating the responses, you’ll be able to spot common trends. It’s an eye-opening exercise, and you may be in for some real surprises.

Once you know your secret sauce and can crystallise it into one or two sentences, you’ll be much more effective at selling proposals to clients and marketing to customers, in fact any negotiating situation. And who knows what great opportunities that could lead to!

Author: Colette Symanowitz

Director of FraudCracker. Passionate about entrepreneurship, personal branding and networking. I also tweet under @FraudCracker

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