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USPs that stand the test of time

From time to time it's likely you'll find yourself in a beauty parade. The homeowner, believing there's not a lot to choose between products or companies, picks four or five from Yellow Pages and sits back to listen and get the best deal. It's not much fun. For if you haven't got a convincing USP - a Unique Sales Proposition - with significant benefits for the homeowner you'll struggle to convince and you'll have to slug it out on price.

A unique feature is something that cannot be replicated by competitors, or at least not without great difficulty. Truly unique selling points are rare, as most product features can be replicated in some way. Companies that develop successful unique products, such as Coca-Cola and Sony, spend much of their time trying to fight off competitors who attempt to develop products which, if not exactly the same, are similar.

Unique selling points based on technology and physical product features will always be vulnerable to competitors prepared to invest in developing similar features.

The strongest and most durable USPs are often service based or intangible. Mercedes maintains its reputation for prestige cars on the back of quality engineering and design combined with an upmarket image and constant references to a tradition of excellence. In fact most USPs are not individual features at all, but what marketers call 'bundles of benefits'.

For example, Network Veka is unique in being jointly run by a management committee drawn from the network and Veka. The committee has the power to accept or reject members. This benefits both members and homeowners, who get a proven quality of service and product. Training is compulsory for surveyors, fabricators, installers and salespeople. An insurance-backed guarantee and mandatory customer feedback gives reassurance, and the installation and fabrication is policed.

A comprehensive marketing and support package means that all members promote Network Veka as a high quality brand that delivers the same standard everywhere, from Aberdeen to Ashford, making it easy for consumers to choose.

If you're not sure what your USP is, just ask the best judges there are - your customers. But, bear in mind that your product may not have a genuine USP. Customers may buy because you're cheaper or it's more convenient for them. In which case, any advantage you have over your competitors can easily be overturned. If that's the case you'd better start looking.

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