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Uniqueness Is Overrated

What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; there is nothing new under the sun.

~ Ecclesiastes 1:9

The Unique Selling Proposition (USP) is the centerpiece of just about every sales and marketing training - and the major stumbling block for many business owners. After all, how many products or services can claim to be truly unique? 

When trying to devise a marketing strategy that highlights our advantages, we often come to the discouraging conclusion that our competitors can say the same thing. And we would probably be right. 

But just because they can doesn’t mean they will.  Actually, the chances are that they won’t.  

Domino’s is often cited as an example of a brilliant USP. But really, how unique is “fresh, hot pizza delivered to your door in 30 minutes…or it’s free”?  Any pizza company could make the same promise.  But the important point is, no one else did.

Domino’s was hugely successful because they took bold action.  They identified something of value to their customers and went all in with it.  They put a guarantee behind their USP, made sure everyone knew about it, and marketed it with single-minded focus.  What they didn’t do was sit around worrying whether anyone else could say the same thing, trying to come up with a message so unique that nobody could come close to it. 

It’s easy to overthink things.  We sometimes imagine that we’re surrounded by business super-stars who are able to anticipate and respond to our every move.  It’s a recipe for “analysis paralysis” as we search in vain for the perfect marketing message.

You can’t afford to back away from talking about something of real value to your clients just because someone else may be able to say the same.  As Domino’s proves, you’re always better off taking action on a good marketing strategy than if you let a competitor talk about it while you don’t.    

Adapt And Prosper

A wise man adapts himself to circumstances, as water shapes itself to the vessel that contains it.  ~ Chinese proverb

At a library fundraiser I attended this weekend, one of the re-enactors told me an interesting fact about antique sewing machines.  She said that Singer machines dated 1940-1945 are rare and highly collectible, because the company became largely an armaments manufacturer during World War II.  The conversation reminded of an article I recently came across, about another American company that survived, thrived and changed society by adapting to similar conditions.  It’s an interesting illustration of the power of entrepreneurial thinking – I hope you enjoy reading this excerpt.

How American industry changed post-Civil War American society

excerpt from America Inc: The 400-year history of American capitalism by Bhu Srinivasan. 

The best-known brands of the early Gilded Age were machine makers themselves. And for companies and their machines, adaptability seemed to be as vital to survival as it was for natural beings. For one company in the midst of an especially large revenue drop-off, salvation was found in a machine designed for the English language.

A Change in industry

In the years after the Civil War, even as the economy boomed, E. Remington & Sons saw its fortunes decline. The company made guns. Soldiers needed them and then, at war’s end, they didn’t. Based in the small town of Ilion, New York, Remington was one of many well-known gunmakers in the North. Following in the footsteps of Eli Whitney — who after his endless frustration in monetizing his cotton gin turned his mechanical genius to gun making — manufacturers in New England, including Samuel Colt, Smith & Wesson, and Remington gave the Union Army a decided advantage in arms. To meet the demands of war, the gunmakers became especially skilled machinists, using the latest in tooling techniques to make precision weapons. Seeing some synergy, an inventor approached E. Remington & Sons with a functional prototype of a new kind of machine for the written word.

Rather than propelling bullets through the air, the typewriter fired letters at paper. Developing the machine had been a long process. As with many inventions, a fortunate series of events needed to converge to create momentum for the final breakthrough. In this case, three men became inspired by an article about a theoretical writing machine in 1867. After repeated trial and error, they found an investor by demonstrating a functional prototype. After some frustration, two of the initial founders left, leaving the third, C. Latham Sholes, to develop the successful permutation: Each key, when pressed, caused a corresponding inked hammer to imprint the character on a piece of paper.

Up to that point, unlike printed works like newspapers, for which a typesetter set the individual letters by hand for the printing press, business correspondence had remained handwritten, prone to error, misinterpretation, and inefficiency. Seeing an opportunity to completely alter business communication, Remington took the prototype and, with its machinists and toolmakers, perfected the typewriter for market. Introduced in 1875, followed by a much bigger launch at the Centennial Celebrations in 1876, the Remington typewriter soon set the standard in offices across America, and Remington became a brand rather than a family manufacturer’s name.

It was to “the pen what the sewing machine is to the needle,” held a contemporary magazine. In the mid-1870s American sewing machine manufacturers, led by the Singer Manufacturing Company, were selling over 500,000 machines per year — a remarkable number considering that the overwhelming majority were for commercial use. While the sewing machine’s ease of use and contributions to efficiency were immediately obvious, the typewriter presented an obstacle: Few knew how to use it — making it inefficient compared with the pen due to its learning curve — and it wasn’t clear if typing was a skill that just anyone could develop.

By 1880 specialized typing schools had begun to offer training. Remarkably, even though the typewriter was destined for the office environment, a place where very few women had roles, the position of typist was open to both men and women from the very beginning. The profession drew in hundreds of women in major cities. With good typists in New York City making as much as $15 to $20 per week — nearly $1,000 per year — the pay was higher than that of many blue-collar men and that of women schoolteachers with years of education. “The excellent feature of this new profession for women,” read an account in a literary journal in the 1880s, was that “any bright girl in from three to six months may obtain sufficient facility with the typewriter to make herself valuable in an office.” As the telegraph office once had done in more limited form, the Remington became the machine that brought thousands of women into the modern office setting.    

Always Room At The Top

It is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive, but those who can best manage change.

~ Charles Darwin

You might be surprised to learn that many familiar businesses started out doing something totally different from what makes them household names today.

For example, have you heard of Fusajiro Yamauchi?  Back in 1889 this Japanese entrepreneur was in the business of manufacturing quality playing cards. At the time, his marketing options were relatively limited – he couldn’t rely on a large email list or social media following to grow his small operation. It was passion for his product that carried him through the usual ups and downs of business ownership.  Eventually his playing card company, Nintendo, began to offer slightly more advanced gaming options – and the rest, as they say, is history.

And did you know that Samsung Sanghoe shipped dried Korean fish, vegetable and their own brand of noodles to customers in Beijing, before changing course and expanding into consumer electronics?

Flexibility and perseverance are critical elements of business success.  After all most of us don’t spend our lives doing the first job or running the first business we ever had…unless you’ve made a career out of that corner lemonade stand ;-)

Opportunity is everywhere, but it’s easy to miss if we’re bogged down in the status quo and going about business as usual.  This is one reason why the most successful people in any field choose to work with a coach.  Effective coaching can help you recognize your blind spots, keep you accountable to your commitments, encourage you when you’re dealing with challenges, and celebrate your victories and achievements with you.  

The hardest battle you’ll ever have to fight is between who you are now and who you want to be.  Fortunately it’s one you don’t need to fight alone.  If you’re facing a career change, starting a new business or looking to uplevel the one you have, consider enrolling in a coaching program as soon as you’re ready to get going.  Options exist for all interests, learning styles and budgets, including workshops, online courses, group programs and masterminds, as well as personalized individual attention.

Every truly successful entrepreneur understands the importance of investing precious time and money wisely. Choosing to invest in yourself and your success first is one of the wisest business decisions you’ll ever make. 

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