What the USP is not

In real-world marketing, a "unique selling proposition" is seldom unique for very long. Technology advances are quickly matched or exceeded.

In real-world marketing, a “unique selling proposition” is seldom unique for very long. Technology advances are quickly matched or exceeded. Successful promotions are mimicked, price programs matched, and distribution channel advantages compromised.

Companies are finding the key to lasting success lies not in a specific point-in-time USP, but rather the unique relationships they build with key stakeholders.

At a recent conference held at the University of Illinois, Glen Broom, a professor emeritus at San Diego State University, described updates he's making to the 11th edition of the premier PR textbook Effective Public Relations. Using an apt photography metaphor, Broom described how marketing leaders have traditionally used a “telephoto lens to tightly focus on the customer.” Broom said what is important today is “a wide-angle lens that views all stakeholders” and how they relate to the organization.

Of course, relationships, too, can be fleeting. Paying lip service doesn't last long. Actions are what really matter to build valuable, trusting bonds. A deep understanding of the constituent needs is the starting point. Overlaying a dynamic market and industry context is critical. And, the overriding communications strategies must be tightly integrated with business strategies to make sure the effort is meaningful.

This holistic view of the business and value chain can be a challenge for communicators. Corporations are morphing their internal structures and processes to better address business communications as a whole. Agencies are revamping their business models to lead clients into these uncharted waters.

The lesson is this: professionals who use too narrow of a lens will find it increasingly difficult to stay relevant. But those who build on the tenets of public relations with a wide-angle view of the organization and a bottom-line focus on business results will be more valuable than ever before. How's that for a unique proposition?

Jeff Altheide is EVP at Gibbs & Soell.

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