red-leaf-1In a recent blog post titled Be the Red Leaf, John Jantsch of Duct Tape Marketing discusses the importance of defining, understanding, and communicating your unique value in order to stand out from the crowd. Being different is not being louder or having more ads. It’s about truly knowing what your product or service means to your potential customers. Jantsch listed three types of research every entrepreneur must do to uncover this customer-eye view of value:

Their are three kinds of research you should do right now if you aim to discover the best way for you to be the red leaf.

1) Study your competition – likely this will verify that everyone is saying the same thing and the opportunity exists for you to say something different.
2) Study difference makers in other industries – what do small business brands that you may already admire do that you don’t? Hire a coach who works with a different industry.
3) Talk to your customers – ask you ideal customers what you do that they value. Chances are it’s not what you think and greater chances are it’s what you need to tap as your essential difference.

Let me see if I can say this in dramatic enough fashion – you absolutely must tap or create a valuable point of differentiation and then build your marketing strategy around communicating that difference or your business will struggle to rise above the competitive noise.

What Jantsch is describing is referred to by internet marketers as your Unique Selling Proposition — or USP — and it’s the key to developing your business.

Too many entrepreneurs never take the time to carefully, conscientiously, consider just what it is that their customers value in their product or service. They are too busy thinking about the cool technical features they offer, or the variety of services they provide. But these are features, not benefits. And it the benefit, as seen through the eyes of your customer, that is your USP.

Well-known direct sales copy writer John Carlton has a simple starter formula for developing your USP:

We help [this group of people]… do [this benefit(s)]… [better].

For positioning John suggests that “better” be related to the competition or common wisdom about your topic. John calls this “getting inside your customer’s head” and emphasizes that it’s not about you at all. In fact, that’s the hardest thing for most entrepreneurs to do, get outside their own head and into the head of a customer. There are many ways to do this, ranging from face-to-face conversations to web-based surveys. But the important thing is to do it.

Your USP is the key to standing out from the crowd. It may change over time, as you learn more about your customers or as your competitive environment changes. But you must always have a USP in mind if your goal is to differentiate yourself and sell on value rather than price.