co The Power of Why — How to Determine What Sets Your Business Apart |

Is it a singular sensation or a winning combination? What distinguishes you from your competitors? We’re overwhelmed by choices today. We’re starved for time, too. The combination means that we’ll only search for a short time before we make a buying decision (unless it’s an expensive purchase).

The Internet has become our research vehicle of choice. Interestingly enough, many of us aren’t using it to look for objective information, or to make our comparisons. The domination of social media has given us an unexpected alternative. Now we can ask our network of friends and family for their opinion. In an ironic twist of fate, the Internet and technology has made good old-fashioned word of mouth and recommendations the most powerful marketing tool on the planet.

What this means is that it’s more important than ever to know exactly why people prefer your product or service over competitors who likely offer an identical version. You need to know so you can distill this into communication that’s easy for people to share. Because we’ve become accustomed to taking a “don’t make me think” approach to using the Internet to make buying decisions.


In marketing parlance, we call this your “Unique Selling Proposition,” or USP for short. Rosser Reeves, the CEO of Bates Advertising came up with this term in the 1950s.

What’s more, Reeves discovered that this attribute doesn’t even have to be unique to your product or service. The perception of its uniqueness is what’s important – and only to the people you want to attract as customers.

Here’s an example of how Reeves put his newly minted concept of USP to work. Bates Advertising was awarded the Gleam toothpaste account. At the time, the brand marketed itself as a cleaning and whitening toothpaste – just like all the other competitors in the market.

So Mr. Reeves did some digging. He discovered that Gleam had an interesting and unique ingredient they didn’t talk about. The manufacturer added chlorophyll to freshen breath. That, Reeves decided, was a Unique Selling Proposition.

Soon after, Gleam began to be marketed as the only toothpaste to contain “miracle ingredient GL70.” Ads for Gleam talked about how it provided effective oral hygiene that helped to fight bad breath. And, it tasted better than strong mouthwashes like Listerine.

It wasn’t long before sales of Gleam toothpaste began to skyrocket.

Here’s the thing. Many other toothpaste brands also had chlorophyll as an ingredient. (Of course, it wasn’t called “miracle ingredient GL70.”) Gleam became the only toothpaste brand to develop this as their unique selling proposition. It didn’t matter that practically every toothpaste you could buy had chlorophyll in it. People made Gleam their choice because the brand was the only one to talk about why it added chlorophyll.

The One Thing

Rosser Reeves reportedly told his ad agency employees that every one of their clients had one particular facet which could be promoted as unique. All they had to do is find it.

But finding it wasn’t enough, Reeves challenged. Then they had to explain why it’s important – especially because that unique thing might seem amazingly trivial or even a terrible idea. The chlorophyll idea was not received well when Reeves proposed it to Gleam.

We’ll jump to a more modern marketing guru to explain this concept. Seth Godin tell us, “All good ideas are terrible. Until people realize they are obvious.”

Why, Not What

Here are some questions you can ask to help you find your USP.

  • You probably aren’t 100% unique – but why are you better at what you do than your competitors?
  • Can you explain why in a single sentence – or better yet, a short phrase?
  • Why is your version of a product or service more valuable? (Go back and re-think this if your answer is “because it’s cheaper.”)
  • Why would it be tragic if you went out of business?

Notice that these questions all focus on why and not what.

If you take the thought process one step further, you begin to see that it’s about the relationships you form with customers, and not necessarily the product or service they buy from you. As Simon Sinek said in his popular TED Talk, “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” That powerful statement resonates with people. The TED Talk video has been viewed more than 30 million times.

Not to get quote-crazy, but the legendary marketing master Zig Ziglar once said, “People don’t buy drills; they buy holes.” And Simon Sinek added to this by saying, “We don’t buy the tools; we buy the results. When we think, act and communicate in a way that starts with our Why, we tell people the problem we intend to solve for them.”

Discovering Your Why

  • Quality of product
  • Quality of service
  • Quality of process

Somewhere in this trio lies your Unique Selling Proposition – your Why. Many businesses realize it’s a combination, but they also discover that it’s something basic. It’s one simple thing out of many elements which makes people say, “This is why I prefer to buy from you.”

Which means that if you haven’t yet determined your Why, the first place to start searching for it is by asking your customers. They may not be able to put it into words – at least not the short and simple resonating sentence or phrase that becomes your USP. Don’t worry about that. We’ll take it from there. We’ve got a simple process for helping our clients determine what differentiates them so they can articulate their why and help more customers as a result.

Here’s a little video that shows how we can help: