What is a unique differentiator

Four simple ways to find your unique differentiator

entrepreneurship marketing unique selling proposition Apr 23, 2021

Finding a sustainable advantage is one of The Core Four – the foundations of a valuable business that sells for a premium. 

And it’s almost impossible to find that advantage with a “me too” business that doesn’t have a unique differentiator.  

In this short guide, I’ll walk you through exactly why a strong USP is so crucial to your business’s success – and four simple frameworks for finding a differentiator that will help you dominate your competition. 

What is a unique differentiator?

A unique differentiator is something that would be impossible, difficult, or extremely expensive for your competitors to replicate. 

Think of Amazon’s distribution network, Coca Cola’s brand, and Google’s proprietary search algorithm. 

A differentiator is baked into some business models, while other organizations need to consciously carve out a unique selling point in order to set themselves apart from the competition. 

The benefits of carving out a unique differentiator 

Any business without a unique differentiator is in a precarious position. 

If anyone else could do what you do… then what’s stopping a copycat company from cropping up? 

And if they figure out a way of doing things cheaper or faster then you’re in serious trouble. 

The fact is, you’ll always struggle to build a brand that customers are fiercely loyal to around a “me too” product or service.

And sales and marketing are always going to be an uphill struggle – and a huge expense – if there isn’t something truly unique about your offer. 

And when I say unique, I don’t mean “great customer service” or “quality products”.

Because potential customers aren’t going to take a risk on a new product or service that’s a bit better than what they’re already using. 

Your offer needs to be at least twice as good as what they’re already using, or the vast majority of your target market just isn’t going to take the risk on it.  

And that’s just never going to be the case if you don’t have a unique differentiator that seriously sets you apart. 

Find that differentiator and you’ll find marketing a genuinely unique business is a piece of cake compared to trying to drive interest in a “me too” provider with nothing that sets it apart from the competition. 

What’s more, businesses that have carved out a sustainable competitive advantage sell for a serious premium because they’re a guaranteed home run for an acquirer. 

So, let’s dive into the four frameworks for finding your USP. 

Four simple ways to find your unique differentiator

Landing on something that sets your business apart can be hard. 

Luckily, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel to find your USP. 

Instead, use these four frameworks to unearth a unique differentiator that can transform your business from a copycat into an organisation that serves a well-defined niche with a very specific purpose. 

Use your competition as a point of differentiation

A simple and effective way of finding a point of differentiation is to take a close look at your competitors and ask: What are they not doing? 

Counterintuitively, the best place to look is their strengths, as these often lead to their own weaknesses. 

This is the route Dollar Shave Club took when it went toe-to-toe with Gillette and Wilkinson Sword, who between them had a complete stranglehold on the shaving market.

Because they monopolised the market, these two giants could keep adding more blades and gimmicks to their razors – hiking up the price each time they did. 

Dollar Shave Club turned that strength into a weakness. 

In the viral advert that put it on the map, Dollar Shave Club told viewers to “stop paying for shave tech you don’t need”. 

The plucky start-up offered another option to a captive audience that was being taken for granted: a cheaper, more convenient alternative to the needlessly complex and expensive incumbents that dominated the market. 

And by turning the competition’s strength into a weakness, Dollar Shave Club carved out a unique differentiator so strong that it was acquired by Unilever just five years after it was founded for a whopping $1 billion.

That just goes to show how big of a dent you can make in a market by looking for the gaps in your competitors’ strategies. 

Find a unique way of doing things

I once read about a dentist in Arizona who transformed their business from a run-of-the-mill practice into a day spa that specializes in dental treatments. 

Patients would come in, enjoy a massage and the relaxing atmosphere, then eventually hop into the chair for their check up. 

By reimagining the experience of visiting the dentist, this creative entrepreneur quickly found a core customer base that was willing to come from far and wide to experience this unique approach to dentistry.

NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts and First We Feast’s Hot Ones interviews are two other great examples of this principle at play. Both these video series have been able to amass millions of views and attract some huge guests through a unique twist on a played-out format. 

Another great example of this framework in action is when Radiohead caused a big stir in the music press by allowing their fans to pay whatever they wanted to download their 2007 album In Rainbows.

Finding a one-off way of doing business is one of the most effective ways of carving out a dedicated audience who wouldn’t dream of leaving you for a competitor. 

Of course, by definition, a unique approach isn’t going to be for everyone. But picking a niche and serving it’s exact needs extremely well is the most surefire way to build a business with a sustainable advantage.

And in the digital age, the world is a much smaller place – so you might be surprised just how many customers you can find for even the most niche of offers.

Just ask the guy who made $10,000 a month sending people potatoes etched with personalized messages.

Adopt a memorable personality

So much of The Virgin Group’s success can be attributed to Richard Branson’s magnetic personality. The same applies to Tesla and Elon Musk, as well as the success of Kanye West’s Yeezy sneakers. 

Love or loathe these people, you can’t ignore them. And that gives their business ventures an in-built USP. 

You don’t have to be a billionaire to benefit from a larger-than-life persona, either. 

For example, there used to be a thriving Chinese restaurant in London called Wong Kei. 

People used to go there in their hoards because the service was comically bad. The owner and waiting staff would actually go out of their way to be rude to you – barking orders at arriving patrons, insulting customers who asked for a knife and fork, and chasing those who didn’t leave a big enough tip.

Of course, this is the polar opposite of what you’ll get in any other British restaurant. And it gave Wong Kei a cult status among London foodies.

Like all methods of finding a USP, this isn’t going to lead to a business that’s going to be everyone’s cup of tea. But the fact I still vividly remember the meal I had at this Chinese restaurant decades ago just goes to show how powerful a unique differentiator can be. 

Create a talking point

The Cheesecake Factory’s menu is as long as The Lord of the Rings. 

Wendy’s drops the corporate-speak and ruthlessly roasts its competition on social media:



Death Wish makes the world’s strongest coffee.

Each of these companies has created a talking point they’ve become renowned for. 

If another company follows in their footsteps, they’ll be seen as copying them, which makes it a differentiator their competition is powerless to overcome. 

And when your business has a talking point, marketing it is easy. Your customers – and your detractors – do your marketing for you through word of mouth.  

A word of warning when you’re brainstorming talking points to form a differentiator around: make sure it really is a talking point.  

Picture a newspaper headline about it. Is that an article you couldn’t resist reading? If not, it’s not a real talking point and you need to think bigger and more out-of-the-ordinary. 

Now it’s your turn...

Finding a sustainable competitive advantage is far more than good marketing. 

It’s a way of digging a moat around your market position that your competitors simply can’t overcome. It’s carving out your own spot in the market where there’s only room for one – and then stepping into it. 

In short, it’s one of the best things you can do to improve the value of your business and get what your business is worth when you come to sell it.

And now it’s your turn. Use these four frameworks to come up with a USP that will set your business apart from your competition – and find out how you can work with me for help settling on the right option. 

For more guidance on increasing the value of your business, be sure to check out my articles on:

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