Unique Selling Proposition: What Business Are You In?

by Bhavesh

We address the pivotal component of crafting a Unique Selling Proposition (USP): What Business Are You In?

It's strange. The longer a business has been around, the harder it becomes for its owners and leaders to answer a simple question: What Business Are You In? The consequences are serious: scattered energies, confused strategies and frazzled efforts that produce haphazard results.

As you read this article, ask the question - What Business Am I In? - to yourself without prematurely wanting to jump in and answer it. Let the question percolate in your mind for a while. The answer that does ultimately come to you may surprise you.

Bad News for Business Owners

We are excellent employees!

A sad fact for those of us who are business owners and entrepreneurs is that we are all raised to be excellent employees.

Accountants. Fire Fighters. Nurses. Lawyers. Doctors. Software Engineers. Rocket Scientists. Brain Surgeons. Even Artists, Painters and Politicians.

Before we even attend kindergarten, at the age of three, Barney on Public Television is teaching us that we are going to be one of these things. And that we are going to do it very “carefully” and “responsibly.” 

What I Want to Be

(When I Grow Up)

What Business Are You In?

What you are thinking is not the right answer!

What does being employee have to do with creating a Unique Selling Proposition? Plenty. Why? Because, this kind of “conditioning” makes it extremely difficult for us business owners to truly figure out an answer to a very simple question: What Business Am I In?

If you haven’t gotten this figured out, everything else in your business is going to be extremely difficult. Not just your marketing and selling, but also all the other functions of your business.

The idea of “job classification” is a pretty efficient one, of course. Most of us love the idea of not having to think much about what we will do when we grow up. Somebody has already done all the hard thinking for us and made nice little boxes that we can fit into.

The problem is that many business owners, small and large, never grow out of this mentality. And it shows in how they sell, how they market and how they tell others about what they do. It also shows in how they manage their employees, how they buy their products and services, how they run their operations and how they hire and fire employees.

This would be okay if it “worked” in the marketplace. The fact, though, is that it does not.

Studies show that about 90% percent of small businesses fail in first five years. Those who are successful do some original, authentic thinking that make them different, even unique in the marketplace. One indicator of the fact they have done this is that they bring hope, news and excitement to the “same old, same old”, “me-too” marketplace.

Often we think that we already know the answer. If you do, my hats off to you. Chances are pretty high though that you don’t know the answer, even when you think you do. What you may have done is just picked a category from the yellow pages.

In the workshops I conduct, when I ask people, “What Business Are You In?” there are those say that it’s too easy and then go on to describe one of the pre-fitted categories from the yellow pages. And then there are those who have a difficult time coming up with an answer.

It’s funny, typically it’s those who struggle a bit while answering this question that I believe are on the right track to a business success. Why? Simply because they are doing some original, uncomfortable thinking that’s so crucial for business success. It’s easy to go in a pre-set category; it’s hard to carve out your own.

Don’t get me wrong, you do need to put yourself in one or more of these categories for marketing and positioning reasons. But for the sake of our own clarity, we need to go through some thinking of our own and discover what business we are really in.

USP Example: Panera Bread

What business are they in?

Let me give you an example. What business do you think is Panera Bread is in? Bakery? Café? Restaurant? If you visit their web-site, you will find their mission statement to be “A loaf of bread in every arm.” If you asked them what business they are in, it’s very likely they will say: “We are in the bread business.”

Pick up a phone directory and see if you can find a category called “bread”. It’s not there. They are listed in the “Restaurant” section. Why bread? Why not restaurant, café or bakery? Again, look at their web-site and you will find that they are very passionate about bread.

"Passionate about bread?" you may ask. What’s there to be passionate about in bread? Frankly, I can’t relate to that passion either. It’s something that’s very unique to the people who are at the very core of this business. It’s their “thing.” And it shows.

By the way, you can’t fake passion. It’s just there. No rationale for it. Can’t explain it. Passion about what business you’re in needs to be discovered and nurtured, not created or manufactured.

Around 1993, people at Panera Bread decided that they were in the bread business and started getting out of all the other businesses. The result? They grew from 20 stores in 1993 to 558 stores in 2003!

Why such success? Many factors play into it, of course. But one reason is that they have really figured out what business they are in.

About Panera Bread: "A Loaf of Bread in Every Arm"
Panera Bread is a great example of how to answer the question "What Business Am I In?" without giving "me to" answers like "restaurant" or "cafe." If a business category as old as restaurant can be redefined into a new one, it can certainly be done for any business on the planet.

Unique Selling Proposition: What Business Are You In?
Unique Selling Proposition: What Busi...

Reference and Further Reading

On Figuring Out What Business You're In
Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind
$19.31  $1.99
Blue Ocean Strategy: How to Create Uncontested Market Spa...
$17.7  $6.26
Now, Discover Your Strengths
$17.89  $11.2

How Do I Find Out

What business I am really in?

You might say that there is nothing special about your business. That you are just a “plain vanilla” “this” or “that”.

This is a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you think you are not unique, you won’t be. Guaranteed. But I also guarantee that if you look close and hard enough, you will find that uniqueness in your business.

Mind you, this uniqueness won’t be found by doing in-depth market studies, focus group tests, competitive analysis and market research.

There are 6 billion people on earth, no two of them even look alike. When you consider their emotional and intellectual patterns, you will see that each one of these six billion people is a truly unique individual.

It’s your people that make you unique - nothing else. Everything else that you think makes you unique is just on the surface: technology, geographic location, number of years in business, number of patents you own, cash reserves or connections. All of these things can be duplicated or replicated by others.

To find out what makes you unique, look within you and your people. This applies whether you have one person working in your company, one hundred, one thousand or hundreds of thousands.

Because people can’t be replicated. (No, not even with cloning!)

This Seems So Difficult

Why should I bother?

You might ask: Why should I bother to find out what business I am in?

Because there is tremendous amount of energy that gets locked up in your not knowing the answer. When you find the answer to this simple question, you unlock that energy that could be used to build your business.

When you know yourself, you will unleash enormous amount of confidence from your company. You will be clear and focused about your goals. You won’t be swayed by the forces of the market. This will show up in every part of your business. In your sales. In your marketing. In your operations. And most importantly, in your profit and loss statements and balance sheets.

Because when you have found out, as accurately as possible, what business you are in, you have followed a very important law of business success.

Which is: “Know Yourself.” Easier said than done.

And finally, just remember, knowing yourself is not an end in itself. It’s a process, it’s a habit of successful organizations.

If this made some sense to you, take time to do the following in your business:

  • Invest two hours every month, individually or collectively with your team, to find out what business you are in. Take your time finding your answers – don’t rush the process. It could take you days, weeks, months or even years to find the answers. But you don’t have to wait that long for the results to show up. You will start seeing the positive results right away, especially in you marketing and sales.
  • Encourage and support your people in asking this question to themselves: “What am I all about?” or “What Business am I in?”
  • Always look to connect your people’s individual answers to the organization’s collective answer. There is power in having the individual visions of your people connected to the overall vision of your business.

Help and Resources

For creating a Unique Selling Proposition

Awayre Business Coaching (ABC)
As you work with the question "What Business Am I In?" you may find that it is helpful to be able to talk to someone who can ask you probing questions to help you develop deeper and deeper insights into the true nature of your business. Awayre Business Club is platform designed specifically for such a structured process of asking and answering questions. Follow this link for more information.

More Articles and Resources

On Unique Selling Proposition
What makes you different? This article addresses the core component of a Unique Selling Proposition: Why should a client choose your business over your competition?
In this article, we address the single and unequivocal component that ties all the pieces of your business together into a Unique Selling Proposition: You!
Clarify whether your business needs to create a Unique Selling Proposition that unifies its sales, marketing and management efforts and discover a simple process for creating one.
In this article we address the most important piece of creating a Unique Selling Proposition: What your clients get when they do business with you. ((What's in it for me? (WIIFM))
Updated: 01/08/2015, Bhavesh
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Tolovaj on 05/18/2012

Sometimes the hardest questions are the simplest. I believe: "What business am I in?" belongs in this category. But finding the answers on hardest questions are among most satisfying activities of all.
Thanks for thorough insight! Enjoy your journey:)

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