I’ve written a lot, taught a lot, coached a lot on the subject of USP or Unique Selling Proposition. While most of our Worldwide Salon Marketing Members ‘get’ the reasoning behind all the Emotional Direct Response salon marketing ads, flyers, letters and other material in the Essential Salon Owner’s Marketing Toolkit, very few owners of salons & spas even attempt to understand the importance of having a truly unique message for their prospects and customers, and it’s effect on your salon’s income.
In 1961, famous American advertising executive Rosser Reeves introduced the idea of USP in his book Reality in Advertising.
According to Reeves, there are three requirements for a USP:
1. Each advertisement must make a proposition to the consumer. Each must say, “Buy this product, and you will get this specific benefit.” (Your headline must contain a benefit – a promise to the reader.)
2. The proposition must be one that the competition either cannot, or does not, offer. Here’s where the “unique” in Unique Selling Proposition comes in. It is not enough merely to offer a benefit. You must also differentiate your product.
3. The proposition must be so strong that it can move the masses, i.e., pull over new customers to your product or service. The differentiation cannot be trivial. It must be a difference that is very important to the reader. (What Reeves was talking about here was making a BIG promise. But not necessarily an expensive one.)
By contrast, so much beauty industry marketing, particularly among average ‘corner store’ hair and beauty salons, is so timid that it disappears, becomes invisible. “Come to us and we’ll make you look much better…” Vague, wishy-washy nonsense.) Now, big companies spend millions, billions of dollars building a strong brand.
There are lots of soft drink manufacturers, many of whom sell a ‘cola’ product. But you can only buy Coke from Coca Cola. Unfortunately, YOU don’t have the kind of money Coca Cola has to build a ‘brand’. So we use ‘guerilla marketing’ methods to achieve differentiation in a USP. One of the best methods I know to create a strong USP is when your product or service has a unique feature, one that competitors can’t boast about. Of course, if you have that advantage, it all becomes pretty easy. Okay, I hear you thinking,
“But what if I’m just an average salon doing pretty much the same kind of stuff as the competition?”
According to Reeves – and I agree – uniqueness can either come from a strong brand (an option 95% of salons can’t use) or from a claim not otherwise made in that particular form of advertising.
And that’s what you should be doing in your salon.
In other words, saying something about your business or service that others could be saying, but aren’t!
It’s called Making the Invisible Visible.
Here’s an example of that process in action:
Decades ago (there’s nothing much NEW in this concept) Milwaukee’s famous Schlitz brewing company went from nowhere to market leader when they started ‘telling the story’ of how they made their beer, in painstaking detail. Ironically, they made their beer exactly the same way every other brewer made beer, but crucially, nobody else was telling the story.
There’s another VERY large advantage to taking this approach. I call it ‘claiming the high ground’. Once you’ve done it, your competition is left to look like followers instead of leaders if they copy you. Famously, Reeves crafted a USP for M&Ms – ‘It melts in your mouth, not in your hand’ – that had the opposition chasing them for decades, and is still in use today. What could the competition do, run an ad that said “we also melt in your mouth, not in your hand”? I don’t think so.
If you’re a reasonably intelligent salon owner (in other words, one of the few who understand that the money’s in the marketing, not in the product or service) then you might have picked up on a couple of crucial lessons in this post.
Creating a USP is not necessarily about how good your product or customer service is. Everybody claims they provide ‘great customer service’. Big deal. As you can see from the examples I’ve quoted here (Schlitz and M&Ms) they didn’t talk about how good their product was. Instead, they talked about stuff that was actually peripheral to what was in the bottle (or the box). So, think: what can you say about your business that is unique (or perceived to be unique), that either cannot be said or isn’t being said about a rival salon? And remember, it’s not about you, the business, or the product – a truly ‘sticky’ USP is always about the customer, and the benefit to that customer.
Here’s ONE way for a salon to create a truly Unique Selling Proposition:
First, write a LIST of things that aggravate and annoy (your potential) customers. For example,
- Being kept waiting
- Getting shoved from one therapist/stylist to another
- Dirty, unhygienic floors, rooms etc
- Inexperienced staff
- No parking nearby
(You can and should be able to make a LONG list of things that pee people off about salons.)
Second, pick at least ONE of these, and provide a GREAT answer to it.
Example: one of our Member salons decided that what annoyed her mostly middle-aged clients was going to a salon and being served by therapists or stylists barely out of their teens. So she came up with a cracker of a USP: “You know what it’s like when you visit a salon and you’re thrown in with an inexperienced junior? Well, at (salon name) the average age of our staff is thirty eight, with an average experience of 15 years! So you can rest assured your skin is being looked after by people who know what they’re doing!”
No meaningless blather about ‘Our customer service is exceptional’ or ‘We’ve won the industry’s top awards’. Just stuff that matters to the customer.
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