Forget the USP – find your SSP instead
“When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight.”
“We’re number two. We try harder.”
The usual suspects
We’ve found that many professional services firms tend to fall back on the usual suspects as a source of differentiation: history and heritage (although this is reassuring, it’s rarely unique), a rigorous and professional approach (we sure hope so), and then we get into the area of service excellence, attention to detail and expertise (again, these are qualities offered by many firms).
Taking a step back
We’ve found that a successful way to work with clients who are looking for market differentiation is to take a step back and view the brand from their clients’ point of view. An objective viewpoint, preferably from the people who actually buy your services, is absolutely essential for effectively determining your differentiation strategy; you can’t do this on your own. But using the right tools and tailoring them to your business can help you to get to the heart of your brand in an informed and objective way. This gives you the creative ammunition and collective confidence to build a brand story that delivers differentiation and that really fits your business and your clients’ needs, rather than just a superficial exercise in self-reflection.
So let’s abandon the pursuit of the endangered species that is the USP and look instead to define and articulate the SSP – the strategic selling point. Essentially, this is a brand strategy that works with the business to support and deliver the ambitions of the firm.What are the advantages of an SSP? The obvious one is that a measurable short to medium-term objective can be used, for example: a 20% growth in corporate client revenues over three years for a largely private client firm, or securing a place in the Sunday Times Best 100 Companies rankings within five years. These are concrete business objectives, so the question then is how can the brand help deliver these ambitions? In the examples provided above, the firm would have a clear view of its target audience together with specific stories and proof points to communicate.
A crucial population that’s often overlooked during the strategic planning process is your firm’s internal audiences. From partners to support staff, having a clear vision is something that everyone can aim for and measure themselves against. Staff need to be truly involved, with targets and an easy to digest image of what success will look like. Even setting relatively modest ambitions can create an atmosphere of quiet revolution. In the often risk-averse world of professional service, a practical ambition which represents a realistic and tangible change is something that all partners and staff can believe in and feel part of.
Locating the almost extinct USP is becoming a huge challenge in professional services, but that doesn’t mean that the only alternative is to do nothing or to just ‘follow the herd.’ Taking the time to include the right people in examining the firm’s purpose and ambition thoroughly helps to develop a brand story which can be interpreted for both internal and external audiences. Finding and capturing the elusive SSP is still no easy feat, but unlike attempting to trap the USP, with the right approach, a skilled team and the best hunting tools, it’s much more attainable and arguably will have a more profound impact on your firm in the long run.