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I’ve sat in many a brand strategy meeting where those around the table have been trying to get to the bottom of what their USP is. My advice is, don’t spend time looking for something that 99% of the time doesn’t exist.

Your product or service is unlikely to be unique. Even so, in a crowded marketplace we all need to find a way to stand out from our competitors. So, how can we do this?

Here’s an example: You and I are both flying to New York. We both choose different airlines. I am flying British Airways, you are flying Virgin Atlantic. The cost is roughly the same. Flying from, and to, the same airports. Both planes get to their destination safely and on time. So, what’s the difference?

The difference is in the different personalities of the two brands. Your brand creates your difference. But what is a brand? Well think of a brand as a person. When you meet that person for the first time, you judge them by how they speak, their behaviour, what they believe or the principles they stand for and what they look like.

Their tone of voice – how they speak.
Their vision – what they believe.
Their values – how they behave.
Their identity – how they look, how they are dressed.

How to find the difference? Let’s call it the ‘gin and tonic’ effect. Back to our airline flights. We have returned from our trips and swap notes. You ask: “How was your flight?” I don’t answer: “It was fine. The plane didn’t break down and we didn’t crash – we landed on time.”

What I might say is: “The service was great. On the way, I asked for a gin and tonic, and on the return flight they recognised me and remembered my drink. They even added a slice of lemon from first class!”

So, it’s the little, ‘added value’ extra elements that get remembered, talked about, and will differentiate your brand from your competitors’. Here are 5 steps to work through that will help you to find your difference.

1) Make time to sit down with your directors and re-visit your company’s brand values or define them if they don’t exist.
2) Aim for no more than five or six values to describe your brand’s personality. What you believe in and stand for.
3) Be honest – don’t pretend the brand is ‘passionate’ if it’s not.
4) Think about your brand’s vision. What is its purpose?
5) Now define your point of difference.

If you have a truly unique proposition, then you are pretty much home and dry. But if your products or services are similar to your competitors’, you’ll need to dig deep and find a difference. Remember, it may well be an emotional, rather than rational, point of difference – like the Gin and Tonic.

Nick Ovenden

Nick is a Brand Designer at Liberty Communications.

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