Strategy & Positioning

Timeless Marketing Wisdom from Shakespeare and Lao Tzu (What's Your Unique Selling Proposition?)
Timeless Marketing Wisdom from Shakespeare and Lao Tzu (What's Your Unique Selling Proposition?)

no  yesKnow thyself.

It’s one of the oldest and wisest directives you’ll ever find.

It was carved into the forecourt of the temple of Apollo at Delphi, and the same sentiment is expressed in sources of wisdom as diverse as the Tao te Ching of Lao Tzu, Shakespeare’s Hamlet, and the Songs of Solomon.

If you care about marketing, you should take heed; these sources have been talked about for thousands of years, so clearly they knew a thing or two about marketing!

Knowing thyself isn’t an easy directive to follow, but the rewards are great for those who do.

So let’s talk about how you can do it, and what benefits it will bring you…

What Makes a Good Unique Selling Proposition (USP)?

In the context of business and marketing, knowing thyself is knowing your unique selling proposition (USP). It’s what you need to talk about, think about, write about, and blog about.

And most importantly, it’s what you need to deliver to your customers.

It’s very simple, at least in concept: just a few simple words expressing what you offer. Here are a few examples from the online world that you’re probably familiar with:

Social Triggers: psychology and conversion

Think Traffic: traffic for thinking people

MarketingProfs: marketing for professional marketers

Duct Tape Marketing: marketing on a budget

(And no, these aren’t “authorized USPs” or whatever – they’re just the obvious summaries of what each of these brands is about.)

So… how do you go about creating one?

Some people will tell you that you should focus on the “what” that people are looking for (like traffic), and others will tell you to focus on the “how” through which they’ll get it (like psychology and conversion).

The truth is that both sides are right, but only partially right.

The best answer is that your unique selling proposition needs to be something that, when your target audience hears you say it, will get them to respond with “I want that!”

Not “that sounds interesting”, not “tell me more”, and not “what does that mean” – the USP is only good if their response will be “I want that!”

Well, ironically, the first step to figuring out what will get your audience to say that “I want that!” (i.e. your USP, which is all about knowing thyself) is to figure out who your audience is in the first place!

Start by Knowing Who You Serve

Some things are universal; we all need to eat, sleep, live, and love.

If you’re fulfilling one of those basic needs, then your target audience is easily defined as the group of people who have that problem (food banks for people who are hungry, sleep therapy for insomniacs, the cure for cancer for people who have that illness, etc.).

Most likely, though, you’re offering something that doesn’t appeal to quite as wide an audience, so you need to figure out exactly who that audience really is.

This all boils down to creating your customer profiles, and getting really clear about exactly who you’re targeting – who they are, what matters to them, what they care about, what functional problem or need of theirs you’re addressing, the emotional vs. rational benefits that they are after, and the psychosocial motivations driving it all.

Doing this properly takes some time and effort, but it isn’t the really hard part.

Now that you know who your audience is, you need to come up with the unique selling proposition, and that’s when you run up against the Curse of Knowledge…

The Curse of Knowledge and the Lessons from the Barefoot Shoemaker

We all suffer from the Curse of Knowledge.

Simply put, the curse of knowledge means that we know our work so well that we have trouble putting ourselves in the shoes and minds of our target audience.

We know what they need, and we know what their problems are, so that’s what we focus on – and that’s the problem.

Why is that a problem?

Because often, they *don’t* know what the problem is, and so we end up talking about things that they might really need, but aren’t really *looking for*.

In other words, we don’t create the “I want it!” response.

This happens to all of us… even the boys here at Firepole Marketing.

The target audience of Firepole Marketing is small business owners and entrepreneurs with 0-10 employee. They’re hard working and passionate, but they’ve never really learned how to *do* marketing. They’re smart and engaged, which means that they aren’t looking for shallow “5 steps to marketing with Twitter”-type articles; they’re open to and interested in understanding why and how things work, as long as it will get them real results in their own businesses.

Knowing all that, what did we come up with as our USP (and tag-line) when we first launched over a year ago?

The definitive marketing program for small businesses, entrepreneurs, and non-marketers.


Yup, that’s really what two marketing experts came up with. Doesn’t make you scream out “I want it!”, does it?

But if you think about it, it’s *exactly* what we offer, to *exactly* the people we are targeting.

The problem is that nobody but the two of us knows exactly what we mean by “definitive”, most people want tactics, strategies, and results as opposed to a “program” (even though the program is what will get them all those things), and nobody self-identifies as a “non-marketer”.

So when we redesigned the blog back in July, we changed the USP and tag-line to:

Expert marketing for non-marketers.

This was a bit better – at least it wasn’t such a mouthful! But it doesn’t lead to a strong “I want it!” response, either. It still had the problem that nobody self-identifies as a “non-marketer”, and begs the question of what exactly is “expert marketing”, anyway? (It was obvious in our minds, and *only* in our minds!)

So it’s time for another change…

“Marketing That Works”: Third time’s the charm?

So we went back to the drawing board, and came up with a new formulation of our unique selling proposition:

“Marketing that works.”

Of course, you’ll have to ask me again in six months, but right now my feeling is that this one is a keeper.


For starters, “marketing” is something that our target audience knows they need help with, once they think about it a little bit – and we want the ones who do a little bit of thinking, and who are past the point of looking for a “five step strategy to instant success”.

“That works” is vague and clear all at the same time; if we try to define it, we’ll get all tangled up in words, but on an intuitive level, we all know what it means – it gets the results that it was supposed to get, and that’s what we’re all about here.

And does it create an “I want it!” response? I think so, and I hope so – but ask me again in a few months! 😉

And then, of course, you have to deliver!

Nailing down a USP that works for you and your audience isn’t the end, it’s the beginning.

The rest is all about delivering on your promise – just like we have to now on the promise of giving you “marketing that works”.

Here’s how we’re going to deliver, and what you can look forward to from us in 2012:

  • Thorough, robust, and effective marketing tactics and strategies that you can use
  • Insight into how marketing works and what makes people buy
  • Case studies and examples to show you what to do, and what not to

And we’re not going to waste any time either – we’ve got something extra special planned for this month, which we’ll be announcing in just a couple of days.

In the meantime, I’d love for you to let us know what exactly you’d like us to write and teach about in the next twelve months. What would be most valuable for you?