I Blinded Them With Science

Our sales were hurting. Every one of our distributors was selling three to five times more of our competitor’s cheaper, inferior air ionizers than ours.

It seemed that consumers decided at the shelf that all ionizers are pretty much the same. So why should they spend 67 percent more on ours?

We had the premier ionizer on the market. Our factory employed more than 100 local people. And we sourced parts nationally. We’d enjoyed the top spot and great sales for years. But this upstart had quickly captured the market. They were running their company from a small office with a skeleton staff, doing all of their sourcing and manufacturing in China.

Our distributors were begging us to lower our prices. But the only way we could do that would be to cut corners and move our manufacturing operation to, yes, China.

We owed it to our customers, our brand, and our community to fight. But how? How could we compete without lowering our prices and, ultimately, closing our factory?

Science. We blinded them with science.

I started by discussing the problem with GG, who’d designed our ionizers. He knew everything there was to know about air filtration. And he’d recently conducted a study on all the ionizers on the market. He had measured every aspect of ion output — the concentration of ions at different distances, the range in which a person could experience the benefits, as well as how much ozone each ionizer produced. (It turns out that ozone, in high enough concentrations, is poisonous.)

We prepared a research report, backed by GG’s safety and performance data, and sent it to the head honchos at our distributors. The report explained why many of the ionizers coming onto the market did not meet their manufacturers’ claims and could even be dangerous.

We then scheduled a personal visit or conference call with each distributor. Meanwhile, I sent a series of press releases to newspapers and consumer and health-related publications. And I sent clips of the articles the press releases generated to the people we would be talking to.

This combined approach worked well. Very well. Over the next few months, our main distributor dropped our “made-in-China” competitor and promoted our ionizers in-store. Our sales returned to levels we’d not seen in years. Our other distributors ordered more of our products and discontinued our competitor’s products by selling them off and not reordering.

At face value, one company’s product claims appear the same as another company’s. It’s difficult to distinguish product A’s benefits from product B’s. And given nothing else to compare, consumers will often choose the lowest price.

Though our ionizer really was the best one on the market, simply saying that would have been a weak strategy. Our new competitor could have asseverated that theirs was better — and cheaper to boot. (“My brother is bigger than your brother. Nyah, nyah, nyah!”)

By bringing in the element of scientific proof, we changed the rules of the fight. And we won the battle.

In a squeezed economy, you might assume that lowering your price is the only way to beat the competition. It frequently isn’t. And doing so puts you in a difficult position. It compromises your ability to make or service your product and fulfill your orders.

In our case, we realized that what had to change wasn’t our price, it was our “unique selling proposition” (USP). It had to change from “the best air ionizer” to “the ionizer that cleans the air better than any other air ionizer”… with full scientific proof to back up that claim.

In his book Ready, Fire, Aim, Michael Masterson tells us that every successful USP has three characteristics:

1. The appearance of uniqueness. The feature you decide to promote in your USP does not have to be unique to your product, but it has to seem like it is.

2. Usefulness. The appearance of uniqueness is not enough. If the distinguishing feature of the product is not desirable, no one will want it. In deciding on your product’s USP, it is better to select some feature that isn’t entirely original and make it seem unique than it is to select a feature that is unique but useless.

3. Conceptual simplicity. It’s good to remember that you have to sell the USP — and nothing sells that is difficult to explain.

What about your USP?

Is it unique, useful, and simple?

Does it clearly define what sets you apart from your competition?

Can you prove it to your customers and prospects?

We did.