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Many years ago when I was preparing Writing Copy for Dummies for publication, I got into a bit of a disagreement with an editor over the issue of the “unique selling proposition.” I had written about what to do when you don’t have one. The editor, a 3rd party expert hired by the publisher to review my content, insisted there HAD to be one — you just had to work hard enough to find it. I held my ground: you can do all the handstands and back flips you like, but there are times when you have nothing distinct to offer.

Cue spooky Twilight Zone music: “Imagine a world in which your products are indistinguishable from your competitors’ products. A world, if you will, of parity.”

Brrr. Scary. But I still hold my ground. Sure, you can make stuff up — many marketers do — but buyers will always see the truth and then the only people we’re fooling are ourselves.

Painful as it is, it’s better to face the truth. But when you do, what can you do? What do you do when your product or service is pretty much the same as the competition?

You give up, collapse into a fetal ball, and weep yourself insensate.

Just kidding.

Here’s what you do. Focus on an aspect of your product or service that may not be distinctive, but has a great deal of meaning or value to your buyer. (Hint: a little research may be warranted here.) Once you’ve found it, “own” it. By owning it, I mean committing yourself to articulating or demonstrating that value more clearly and consistently than the competition. In that way, your proposition may not be unique, but it can be uniquely associated with your brand.

Case in point: I’ve been really impressed with Farmers Insurance’s “Know the Gaps” campaign. They’re focusing on a common anxiety many insurance buyers have: do I have enough coverage? Do I have the right coverage? Is there something missing, a gap, that could open up and bite me in the unwitting ass some time in the future?

Now, we all know that pretty much any insurer or insurance broker can help you figure out the right amount of coverage — they all do it. But it doesn’t matter. By going public with the issue, by giving it a name, Farmers now owns this whole “know the gaps” value proposition, giving Farmers distinction in a commodity marketplace. Today, Farmers is the insurance provider who helps you plug the gaps.

When you’re faced with parity, fight back with clarity. Find the issue that matters most to your buyers and shout it from the mountain tops so that it becomes indelibly associated with you.

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