In its early years, the Internet was the great leveler of businesses. Anybody could jump online, start a business and hope to make a little money. Today, it's not so easy as it was, but unfortunately people still have that same mindset. It doesn't take a lot of money to start a successful business online, but it still does take a plan. And that's where many online businesses go wrong.
I talk to many website owners who are unable to put to words what it is that distinguishes them from their competitors. They don't know what makes them unique or have a reason why someone should buy from them rather than somebody else. This is a shame.
Running a business online is really no different than anywhere else. Just because it's easier to "build your store" doesn't mean that you'll be successful. You still need to create a solid business plan and develop a Unique Value Proposition (UVP) if you really want to succeed online. In fact, this is where building a business online may actually be more difficult than offline.
When building a business off-line, location is everything. In fact, you see business after business after business that are really no different from each other, just in different parts of town. Due to each businesses location, each can survive and even be successful. But generally, that's only until another similar business sets itself up in close proximity that has established it's UVP.
You soon find that because this new business has given themselves a unique advantage over the other, they begin to draw business away from the one that's been around a while. The same thing happens online, but it's only magnified.
See, where offline businesses can succeed simply by filling a need in a unique location, even in a town with dozens or hundreds of other similar businesses, online there really is no similar geographical limitations. Your business is not just competing with businesses in your area, but quite possibly you're competing with businesses all over the world. And if you're not unique or remarkable in any way, if nothing that sets you apart, then you're just another one of a million other businesses doing the same thing.
No business being in business
On- or offline, if you don't have a UVP then you really don't have any business being in business. Your business may be valid, it may be genuine, it may be profitable, it may meet a need, but if there are others out there doing the same as you, you need to find something that sets you apart. Something that gives people a reason to buy from you rather than from "them."
A UVP answerers the question, "why you?" Every shopper asks this question, whether consciously or unconsciously, before they make a purchase. If they have shopped with you before then it's easier to answer that question and purchase again. But it's not an automatic lock. If they find another store that can answer that question more precisely then it's still possible to lose your customers to that other store. If attracting new customers, this "why you?" question has to be satisfied before they'll continue through the purchase process.
That question can be answered in many ways, and usually includes many different answers of varying degree of importance. But one of the easiest ways to answer that question is to give your visitors something unique to focus on. Make sure they know what it is about you that makes you different from the next shop.
Before we go any further, let's take note of what unique doesn't mean. Two things come to mind off the top of my head: low prices and customer service. Sorry, there just isn't anything unique about these things unless you can definitively show that you do have the absolute lowest prices and/or the best customer service. And most likely you can't. Which explains why these points don't constitute a UVP: almost anybody can claim them for themselves... and most do.
I talked to one business owner that believed that he truly had the best customer service in his industry. He hadn't really sold anything yet as he was just getting off the ground, but that's what he wanted to build his business on. That's certainly a great goal, the problem with this approach as a UVP is that when dealing with transactions online, customer service is almost synonymous with problems that need to be fixed, not necessarily problem avoidance.
In a brick and mortar store, an associate can walk up to a person and help them find what they are looking for. Online, you have to wait to be contacted before you can help someone. And getting contacted usually only occurs when something has gone wrong. Of course there is nothing wrong with fixing people's problems and helping them find solutions, but you don't necessarily want to build a business model on that unless you expect there to be a lot of problems.
Online, good customer service is necessary, but it's not unique. It certainly can help you stand out if and when problems arise, but you want something that will help you stand out long before things get to that point.
What makes you remarkable?
So ask yourself, what is it that makes you truly remarkable? What are you doing that you can claim all for yourself? The possibilities here are virtually limitless. And to find something that you can claim as your own can be as simple as looking at your competitors to find an area where they are either week or absent.
Below are a few examples of some generic UVPs. You can use these to help get your creative juices flowing. As far as Unique Value Propositions go, these are not all that unique, but they can help you start moving in the right direction.
Unlimited customer support: This is one that's good for industries where customer support is going to be expected or needed, such as computer software or hardware. Buying from you means that I know I can call anytime, for the life of the product, to get assistance. This provides great comfort knowing that I'll be able to resolve problems without incurring any additional fees.
Similar UVPs: free upgrades, 24/7 customers support, free technical support, free installation assistance, free tutorial DVDs with purchase, etc.
Hassle-free returns: There are some products that are more prone to be returned than others. Making a point to let people know that they can return a product simply and easily for a full refund or store credit can be a great unique selling point.
Similar UVPs: Free-exchanges up to a year, trade the old for discount on the new, etc.
Offer proprietary products: Offering products that are proprietary is a great way to be unique among your competition. Especially if you can keep those products from being duplicated or knocked off, or if your products are demonstratively superior to the competition.
Similar UVPs: Products personally tested for durability, hand selected from the manufacturer, unique designs not offered to other re-sellers, etc.
Free shipping: Many companies offer free shipping so make sure you are truly unique in this... and that another competitor can't jump in and offer this too. To make this work, not only do you have to ship for free, but your prices must still be as low as the next guys.
Similar UVPs: free re-download of digital products, receive a free hardcopy with your digital version, free overnight shipping, free shipping with x amount purchase, etc.
Every industry has its own possibilities so it will be up to you to find something in your industry that's not already being done, or a need that's going unmet. The best UVPs are those that your competitors are unwilling to duplicate or finding a niche that you can be the first to dominate. There will be others that come in to steal your thunder, but you have the advantage having been first.
If you already have an established business but you haven't given much thought to your UVP, now is the time. You simply need to find a unique way of doing what you are already doing. It's can be easy for established businesses to find a UVP because you already have a customer base. Now you just need to do something that will surprise them and get them talking. Establishing a UVP can be a great way to get some fresh word of mouth going about your business.
But whether you're just starting or have been in business for years, building and growing your business online takes a little something special. Find out what it is that you can do to be special. Find a way to stand out from your competitors. Look for gaps that can be filled or ways to do what you do differently. Unless you're doing something wrong, standing head and shoulders above the competition is never a bad thing.
Read more about Destination Search Engine Marketing:
Part I: Do you Deserve Top Search Rankings?
Part II: What Would Sudden Exposure Get You?
Part III: Standing Out in a Sea of Thousands
Part IV: It's Not Just Marketing as Usual
Seven Building Blocks of a Destination Website
#1: Expert Information
#1b: Seven Types of Expert Information
#3: Website Design
#4: Unique Value Proposition
#5: Time and Presence
#7: Trust and Credibility
Stoney deGeyter is the President of Pole Position Marketing, a leading search engine optimization and marketing firm helping businesses grow since 1998. Stoney is a frequent speaker at website marketing conferences and has published hundreds of helpful SEO, SEM and small business articles.
If you'd like Stoney deGeyter to speak at your conference, seminar, workshop or provide in-house training to your team, contact him via his site or by phone at 866-685-3374.
Stoney pioneered the concept of Destination Search Engine Marketing which is the driving philosophy of how Pole Position Marketing helps clients expand their online presence and grow their businesses. Stoney is Associate Editor at Search Engine Guide and has written several SEO and SEM e-books including E-Marketing Performance; The Best Damn Web Marketing Checklist, Period!; Keyword Research and Selection, Destination Search Engine Marketing, and more.
Stoney has five wonderful children and spends his free time reviewing restaurants and other things to do in Canton, Ohio.
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