When I was growing up in the 1950’s, Shell, the petroleum company, was advertising that their gasoline contained “TCP” an additive that increased horsepower and made an engine run better. There was no reference to fuel economy that I can recall—who cared? Fas was about 25 cents a gallon!

Anyway, Shell sold a helluva lot of gas with this tactic.

Thing was, all gas contained TCP, but only Shell took advantage of the fact.

Back then, there were a lot more gas station brands to choose from, so competition was fierce. And at 25 cents per gallon, there wasn’t a lot of room for price-cutting. Gas company credit cards were in their infancy so there wasn’t any brand loyalty coming from card usage either.

The mavens at Shell knew they needed to create a perceived difference and they nailed it with TCP—didn’t matter that no one really new what TCP stood for—if it was in the product and made it better, customers were in the market for it—in droves.

Since then there have been zillions of product claims of “active ingredients” that make the product “new and improved” or in other words, “better than the stuff you’ve been wasting your money buying from us for years.”

Advertisers are continually at war with one another to prove their product is better than the competitors’. In the ad industry this is known as the “unique selling proposition” (USP) and it is still one of the mainstays of advertising today.

So how is your product or service different, and therefore better, than the competitions? Take a look at what you’re selling and ask yourself,” What do we provide or do that makes us stand out? What could we do or add to our product/service that would make more people want to do business with us? What could we say we do that would make people ask for more information?”

One way to find out is to ask your customers why they do business with you. Tabulate the answers and see what comes up most often—perhaps it’s the answer to what makes your business stand out from others.

Or, ask people about the problems or “pain” that your services might solve. This is a bit more difficult. Say you were a lawyer, and you found out that a great many people could not get to a legal office due to infirmity or daytime commitments—you could advertise that your firm has flexible hours or makes house calls. If you were a mechanic and you found out that most women hated to bring their car in because they thought they’d be taken advantage of, you could advertise that you were the garage that treats women like men! Get the idea?

If you find a niche that needs filling, why not fill that niche with your unique product or service and stand out from the rest? It’s like having “active ingredient 90” only this one makes your business run better and be more profitable.

Elizabeth Walker and Ken BurginElizabeth Walker and Ken Burgin

Ken Burgin and Elizabeth Walker are the Marketing Masters, a full-service marketing and advertising partnership that helps build busy businesses.