Your Intangible USP

Your business – whether you are an information marketer, retailer, catalog merchant, manufacturer, service provider, freelancer, or consultant – has not one but two unique selling propositions (USPs): the tangible and the intangible.

The tangible USP is the visible, quantifiable (or at least describable) differentiator between you and your competitors. Because it can be seen, felt, described, and grasped, the tangible USP is the one you feature in your marketing copy.

Example: Years ago, before digital cameras were invented, Polaroid’s USP was that its cameras produced instant pictures. With all other cameras, you had to take the film someplace to get it developed. But with Polaroid, the picture would develop when exposed to air in about a minute.

The intangible USP, for most entrepreneurs as well as many larger companies, is your personality and reputation. In the corporate marketing world, it might be called your “image.”

The intangible benefit can be just as important in closing sales and attracting repeat business as the tangible benefit. Yet it takes a secondary place in marketing copy, if it is there at all. The reason is that an intangible USP is difficult to describe in a way that is clear and compelling – even though it may be enormously valuable.

For instance, TP owns a camera store near my office that sells the same cameras as just about every other camera store. Many of the big chains sell those cameras at lower prices and carry a wider selection. That gives them a tangible advantage over TP.

But TP has several advantages over them – which translates into several intangible benefits for his customers.

TP is a successful semi-professional photographer whose work has been widely published. (He specializes in photographing fires and firefighters.) The most obvious benefit to the customer is his superior advice and guidance on camera selection and usage. But there’s another, even less tangible, benefit: When you go to TP’s store, you can talk photography with him, and his enthusiasm is contagious.

Being around TP, a professional who takes pride in his work – both as a photographer and a store owner – gives you a sense of camaraderie with a fellow shutterbug. It makes you eager to improve as an amateur photographer and eventually master the craft. These are goals that TP can help you achieve, both with the products he sells and the advice he dispenses for free.

I see a parallel between TP’s photo shop and the business of marketing information products, an area of interest to many ETR readers.

The tangible USP of an information product is usually inherent in either the content of the product itself or the credentials of the product’s author. You can also build a tangible USP into the offer.

For example, Prentice Hall was selling a book on how to create a marketing plan. The offer included a 30-day free trial of the book: If you did not like the book, you returned it within 30 days for a refund.

The copywriter who wrote the direct-mail package to sell the book realized that a customer could get the book, follow the instructions, and then return the book within 30 days for refund – in essence, getting a free marketing plan. So he used this as the USP in the headline of his sales letter: “Create a Breakthrough Marketing Plan in 30 Days – Guaranteed or Your Money Back.”

But when you are an information marketer, especially on the Internet, you also have an intangible USP that becomes important to your customers. That USP is who you are – your personality. Some marketing experts call it your “personal brand.”

It is an old axiom in selling that customers prefer to do business with people they know and like. So the more you come across as someone your customers respect and trust, the more they will seek your advice – and, in turn, the more products they will buy from you.

Unlike consumer brands (e.g., Pillsbury and their Doughboy), successful personal brands are not manufactured by advertising agencies. They are natural reflections of the marketer – his personality, experiences, beliefs, strengths, prejudices, opinions, and attitudes.

To use your personal brand to your advantage, it is best to be true to yourself – to be the person you really are, rather than to fabricate some artificial persona you think more people will like and buy from.

In matters of personal branding, heed motivational speaker Rob Gilbert’s formula: SWL + SWL = SW. This stands for: “Some will like you and your products. Some won’t like you and your products. So what?”

Be yourself. It’s the only personal brand you can pull off with credibility. If you try to be someone you’re not, your customers will sense it in everything you write or say and distance themselves from you.

Yes, your persona will attract some customers and repulse others. But SWL + SWL = SW.

The number of loyal readers and fans you attract by being yourself will be more than sufficient to earn a handsome living by selling information products to your core mailing list.

One more thing: Your persona or personal brand is established primarily in your communications with your prospects and customers. On the Internet, these communications include your e-newsletter… e-mail marketing messages… transactional e-mails… website… landing pages… blog… teleseminars… customer service e-mails and phone calls… FaceBook account… YouTube videos… and, of course, your information products.

So while it makes sense to develop your own style in written and spoken communications, you should always present your best, most positive, self – the “you” that is most helpful, friendly, and caring about your readers’ success.

That’s something your customers will like. A lot.

[Ed. Note: Bob Bly is the author of more than 70 books and an undisputed master of the art of selling.


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Bob Bly

Bob Bly is an independent copywriter and consultant specializing in business-to-business and direct marketing. He has been hired as a consultant by such companies as Sony, Chemical Bank, J. Walter Thompson, Westinghouse, and Prentice-Hall. Bob is also the author of more than 50 books including The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Direct Marketing (Alpha Books), Targeted Public Relations, Selling Your Services, How to Promote Your Own Business, and Keeping Clients Satisfied. A phenomenal public speaker, Bob will share with you how easy it is to start your own business. Whether you’re ready to quit your job or are just looking to make a little money on the side, you’ll want to hear Bob’s advice.