When you consider the number of restaurants and web sites out there all competing for the same set of scarce dollars, how in heck can you make folks come to or pay attention to yours?

The only way I know of is to differentiate yours from all the rest. Stand out in the crowd. This, of course, is much easier said than done. Today we live in a copy-cat world, where your competitors rush in to copy anything they see that is successful. This creates a ‘commoditized sea’ of sameness, which on the one hand, makes it extremely difficult for you to stand out in all that sameness. Yet on the other hand, it offers a distinct opportunity.

The secret, in my judgment, is to not only differentiate yourself in a meaningful and relevant way in the eyes of the potential customer, but to do so in a preemptive manner that precludes your competitor from immediately copying you.

This little secret is called the Unique Selling Proposition. It was first developed by Rosser Reeves, then president of Ted Bates Advertising in NYC. It’s been around for a long time; because it works.

This gets a bit tricky, but it can be done, if you think it through and attack one aspect at a time. First, come up with that truly relevant difference that is seen as being valuable by the prospective customer. Make sure this is not just how you see it. Do some research; ask the prospects what they really think about it. Make sure your ‘point of difference’ is positive and valuable to the prospect.

Next, figure out a way to communicate that difference in a unique manner. Remember that the word: ‘unique’ does not mean: ‘different’; it’s an absolute, like ‘pregnant’ or ‘honest’: you either is, or you ain’t. It means: “...only one of it’s kind; or there’s only one of this; or this is the only place you can get it like this”. Notice the use of the word: ‘only’.

The USP is not a ‘point of difference’ or a way one restaurant, for instance, is differentiated from another. It is a complete “strategy” of preemptively differentiating then communicating that strategy, (using specific tactics), to the intended target group. Hence it is a ‘proposition’ or strategy; not to be confused with the tactics used to implement the strategy. The strategy always comes first.

This is really difficult, but not out of the question. It takes some original thinking, some of that what they call: “out-of-the-box-thinking” to come up with something that also differentiates you. For example, let’s step out of our own ‘restaurant box’ and look at another industry: banking. ING Direct is an online Internet bank only. It does not have ATMs for its customers. It proudly doesn’t push loans, credit cards or over spending on one’s budget. In fact, it is a bank that advocates saving, not spending.

Doesn’t sound much like a bank does it? It is now one of the fastest growing, most profitable banks in the land. They have their own rules too. If, you decide to try and get them to bend their rules just a bit, or you are taking up too much of their employees’ time with your requests for services that other banks other but they don’t...they will fire you. You read it correctly. They will cancel your account and ask you to take your business elsewhere.

ING Direct is just one of dozens of companies outlined in an exciting book, titled: Mavericks at Work (Why the most original minds in Business Win). It is written by William C. Taylor and Polly LaBarre, both writers for Fast Company magazine.

This is a phenomenal book, if you are looking for ways to think about how you can be different and stand out in the crowd. This book should be on the shelf of every marketer and restaurant person today. BTW, please note that I don’t own any interest in this book, its publisher or any other aspect of its publication. I want to share it with you, since we need to start thinking this way if we’re to succeed in this hyper-competitive arena.

This book offers many different examples of the long term futility of a business model based on strategy as mimicry. For instance, the text points out how the president of ING Direct said it best with a question of his own: “if you do things the way everybody else does them, why do you think you’re going to do any better?”

What many of these successful companies do is start by taking a long, hard look at the industry in which they do business. Most industries are stuck in their ways and have been doing things in a certain way for decades. The new innovators, these “Mavericks” examine how their industry works, figure out better ways of operating within that same industry (particularly ways that the customer wants, not what the seller wants to do).

Your customers are tired of the same old, same old. They will be thrilled and positively attracted to you and what you’re up to when you walk up and break the mold of the old paradigm.

© R. W. MacNaughton, 2008

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Tags: USP, commoditized, differentiation, paradigm, preemptive, proposition, selling, unique


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Comment by Jorgen Moller on May 6, 2008 at 8:10pm
Hi Roy
You made me think...
30 years ago when I first became chef-owner I got a mentor
He was, at that time considered # 1 on the East Coast.
He owned a delli called Rascal House on Miami Beach and in today money he would have grossed over 35 million dollars in ONE store...
Here is what he said to me
"Do ordinary things in an un-ordinary way".
Let me give you an excample:" every deli in America serve a half a grapefruit, rigth? so here is what I do
I only cut off the top and serve 4/5 of a grapefruit for the same price every delli in America charge for a normal
1/2 grapefruit
What do I do with the tops?
Well, I serve a lot of grapefruit juice....he said!
PS. still having problem with spellcheck!
Comment by Roy MacNaughton on April 14, 2008 at 12:42pm
Hi Jeff:

Let me see if I can help. Send your private email address to me at: restaurantbook(at)gmail.com and I will see if I can give you some input or at least some pointers as to how to determine/develop your own USP.

I know it's not easy, but then again, if it was, everyone would be doing it, right?

Having an exceptional USP and then implementing your marketing plan according to it is one of the 'best kept secrets' of restaurant marketing.


Comment by Jeff Klemetsrud on April 14, 2008 at 9:59am
You are so right! My wife and are are going to take your advise and order the book you recommend - we have been discussing our USP and find that it is more difficult to articulate in a single sentence - what we feel is important in getting that message across. Your port has been very inpritational for us to begin thinking outside the box. I am interested in any feedback on what other restaurateurs have come up with while musing over this question.
Comment by Roy MacNaughton on April 9, 2008 at 4:02pm

Please send me more info. on what you do. Please send it to me at: restaurantbook@gmail.com


Comment by Roy MacNaughton on April 8, 2008 at 9:28pm
Interesting comments, Mike.

The same goes for what we call "news". News is really a disruption of the normal or expected state of being. We call that news.

Disruption is good. So is rule breaking. What is that other old adage? "rules were made to be broken...."

'Been breakin' 'em all my life.


Comment by Mike Erickson on April 8, 2008 at 7:20pm
Hello Roy! Just bought the book to start working on my USP.

Keep up the insightful work. When the Mavericks break the rules, the customer (our guests) benefit because it forces change. Ever heard of a term - disruptive technology - FOHBOH.com. Some VC's out there just look for new ideas, companies, and paradigms that challenge old ways of thinking and doing business. The old adage "If It Ain't Broken, Break it" comes to mind.

Best Regards,





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