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The Art of Finding Your Unique Selling Proposition
Positioning is about making your offering different from, and more valuable than, your competitors' offerings--and placing that idea in the minds of a target group of customers. Positioning attracts customers by creating a positive and unique identity for your company and its offerings. Positioning is vital for distinguishing your offering from everybody else's.
In a world where there are more and more products and services every day, your customers are on advertising overload all the time. So they pick something to believe and hold that notion until a message breaks through and persuades them to change.
People can't hold warring ideas in their heads. They can't believe that the Norton Anthology is the best study guide for English literature, then study from a set of Cliffs Notes and believe they're doing the best they can to pass their exams. They can't believe that all paper towels are pretty much alike, buy one that costs more than most, and think that they are wise shoppers. The point is, positioning is your effort to claim a high ground in that overloaded prospect's head and hold it against competition.
There may be very little difference between your product and your competitors'--but if you can't find a way to communicate uniqueness and connect it to a need of your target, you might as well quit fighting your competition and sell out to them. There are many different ways to stake out a position. Just remember, your position reflects your unique selling proposition, and it is what makes your offering more valuable to your customers than what's being offered by your competition.

Perception of your Business
How will your business be perceived as different from your competition in the minds of your targeted customers? To figure this out, you must look for your best customer and then design a position that matches his or her wants and needs to an advantage that only you can offer. Remember, you can't be all things to all people, but you can be the vendor of choice for a group of them.
Positioning Affects Every Aspect of Your Communications--And Your Business
Positioning is the basis for all your communications--your packaging and product design, sales promotions, advertising, and public relations. Everything you do must reinforce that position--otherwise you just undermine your marketing efforts and sow confusion instead of confidence. Positioning is serious business. You must choose the right position, for now and down the road.
Do the work now to develop a clear position for your business vis-à-vis your competitors. You'll ensure that you get the most from your advertising budget. The truth is that with enough money, you can buy success in advertising. Mediocre, unfocused messages from a company without a clear position will generate sales surprisingly well if that company buys enough time or space to pound the message home. But think how much farther that budget could take you if you had a focused message, a unique selling proposition, and a target audience for your offering. Positioning--and the creative approach that grows from it--make the difference.

Developing the Positioning Statement and the Tagline
To begin creating your own sense of positioning for your business, answer the following questions with short, articulate answers that relate your offering to your customers' needs.
1. What does your business do?
2. For whom?
3. What is your biggest benefit to them?
4. Prove your claim. To what do you attribute that benefit?
5. How will your customers perceive this benefit, relative to the competition?

Promotions: Do They Have a Place
When your mechanic sends you a coupon for a discount on an oil change, or your local coffee shop rewards you with a free cup of coffee every tenth time you buy, you're seeing a promotional program at work.
A promotion is a planned strategy for increasing sales over a short period. A promotion adds value to the product or service offered. It stimulates sales for reasons other than the product's inherent benefits.
We call those reasons incentives. Sometimes the incentive is designed to specifically make a sale, as in "$2.00 off medium pizza with this coupon." Other times the incentive is planned simply to expose the customer to the product--to break down preliminary barriers that are roadblocks to a future sale.
With a promotional program, you can persuade people to try your product, to experiment with new beliefs about your service; you can shift buying habits so that light users find reasons to buy more.
Who uses promotions? There are business-to-business promotional programs, and there are consumer programs. We'll talk mainly about consumer programs. The concepts we'll discuss are really about the same for both. Remember, people do business with people. It's just a matter of what market you're trying to influence--end users or intermediaries.
Different businesses are drawn to different styles of promotion. The most frequent users of promotional programs are the retail services, like car care, hair care, and restaurants. Coupons are the most common promotion for these types of businesses; dry cleaners use coupons extensively, and so do groceries. It's the ability to track results, as well as their proven effectiveness, that makes coupon offers so popular.
In the business-to-business world, suppliers frequently engage in promotions by offering sale prices. You are less likely to see coupons here, because the patterns of purchasing are a little different. The person making the decision to buy may not be the same person who is writing the check, so requiring the physical coupon to be used would be an unnecessary barrier to the desired sale.
Promotions work because people like something for nothing. They respond to two-for-one offers, and they love a good deal or free extras with their purchases. Special promotions help lots of businesses achieve their marketing objectives, such as combating seasonal cycles or stealing attention from the competition.

Media Plans
The largest category in your advertising budget is likely to be your media costs--the dollars you spend for air time on radio or for ad space in newspapers, magazines, and more. Because of this, it makes sense to have a sound plan to manage that investment. You'll want to set goals. You'll want to describe strategies for achieving them. You'll have to organize the day-to-day tasks of carrying out the strategies. The tool you'll need to do this is a media plan that begins with an overview and works its way down to the details. It will help you with every phase of your advertising.
Here's how many businesses manage their media buying. The person in charge of the budget starts saying yes to the salespeople who call. Advertising appears here and there as a result. When the budget's gone, the person in charge starts saying no, and the ad campaign is over. It's a method, but you wouldn't call it a media plan. And if that approach sounds familiar, you can bet you're passing up opportunities to maximize your return on investment.
Media planning is the process of choosing a course of action. Media planners develop yearly plans that list each media outlet--print or broadcast. Planning then gives way to buying, as each separate contract is negotiated, then finalized.
The media plan is a document in sections. A ring binder notebook is a good way to keep a media plan, because it's easy to update and easy to refer to. Or if you prefer to work on computer, simply think in terms of folders and files. The sections in your notebook will be:
• Media outlets (newspapers, etc.). This section lists all of the media in which advertising will be placed.
• Goals. This section describes the goals of the advertising, and explains why and how this plan meets these goals.
• Audience. In this section, collect all the information you can about your target audience. You will want statistics by demographics or lifestyle; your professional association can help you find this information, as can trade journals or your banker. Look for any relevant articles or information about your potential buyers. Pay attention to everything that helps you imagine an individual buyer who is typical of the whole.
• Strategy. You will write a statement of strategy backed up by a rationale. The action steps you describe here will guide a year's activity.
• Budget and calendar. Your media plan will outline what money is to be spent where, and when.
The document you've compiled in this notebook guides you in the execution of the plan throughout the year.
Over time, these plans provide a history of your advertising. If you make alterations to the schedule in the course of the year, be sure to record those decisions in your notebook. Ring binders make it easy to update your plan as it evolves.
When you've finished this section, you will have an overview and the tools you need to create a media plan for your business. Let's start with basic vocabulary. The term you'll hear most often is CPM, or cost per thousand. CPM analysis is the method media buyers use to convert various rate and circulation options to relative terms. CPM represents the cost of reaching one thousand people via different types of media. To calculate CPM, you find the cost for an ad, then divide it by the total circulation the ad reaches (in thousands). By finding this information and calculating this cost for each of your options, you can give them a numerical ranking for comparison. CPM is a basic media concept.
Print advertising prices are based on the circulation of the publication in question. Publications will quote you a circulation figure based on paid subscribers. The audited circulation figures are verified by monitoring organizations. The publications will try to convince you that actual circulation is higher by including the free copies they distribute and the pass-along readership they claim. Sometimes these claims of "bonus" circulation are valid--for example, magazines distributed on airlines get at least eight readers per copy. Still, you should be wary of inflated circulation figures.
Audience is the equivalent of circulation when you're talking about broadcast media. Audience size varies throughout the day as people tune in and tune out. Therefore, the price for advertising at different times of day will vary, based on the audience size that the day-part delivers.
Penetration is related to circulation. Penetration describes how much of the total market available you are reaching. If you are in a town with a demographic count of 200,000 households, and you buy an ad in a coupon book that states a circulation of 140,000, you're reaching 70 percent of the possible market--high penetration. If, instead, you bought an ad in the city magazine, which goes to only 17,000 subscribers (households), your penetration would be much less--8.5 percent. What degree of penetration is necessary for you depends on whether your strategy is to dominate the market or to reach a certain niche within that market.
Reach and frequency are key media terms used more in broadcast than in print. Reach is the total number of people exposed to a message at least once in a set time period, usually four weeks. (Reach is the broadcast equivalent of circulation, for print advertising.) Frequency is the average number of times those people are exposed during that time period. To make reach go up, you buy a wider market area. To make frequency go up, you buy more ads during the time period. Usually, when reach goes up, you have to compromise and let frequency go down. You could spend a lot of money trying to achieve a high reach and a high frequency. The creative part of media planning comes in balancing reach, frequency, and budget constraints to find the best combination in view of your marketing goals.
In developing your media plan, you will:
• Review your marketing objectives through the "lens" of media planning.
• Review the options available.
• Evaluate them against your objectives.
• Set your minimum and maximum budget constraints.
• Create alternative scenarios until you uncover the strategy that accomplishes your objectives within those constraints.
• Develop a schedule describing ad appearances in each medium.
• Summarize your plan in the form of a calendar and a budget.
• Negotiate with media representatives to execute your plan.

Tips on Negotiating Rates:
Prices for print advertising are fixed, as the print media can be flexible in matching supply with demand. They have expandable space; if they sell more advertising than usual, they can print more pages.
Your negotiations with print media will revolve around what other services they can offer you, such as reader response cards, additional ads in a special issue, special position, free color, and so on. You will probably not be able to negotiate an actual discount off the rate card.
Prices for radio are negotiable, because the amount of inventory is fixed. There are only so many minutes between the programs themselves that can be sold. If there is competition for those minutes, the price goes up. The effect is really noticeable when there's a sudden surge in demand for commercials.
Spring is the beginning of the broadcast media buying season, since networks issue their fall schedules in May. Networks like to get money early, so to encourage you, they will usually offer attractive package deals at this time. This is the best time to negotiate for overall lowest cost.
Opportunities come up throughout the year as other advertisers change their plans. You can make good buys at any time, but the deal might be structured differently. If you got a call from a radio station tomorrow saying that it has a highly prized time slot available during the morning newscast, and it will cost only $22 per spot, but you've got to decide fast, would you have an answer ready? A good media plan can help keep you focused on how that deal fits into your overall strategy. If it delivers an audience you want, and if it's available at a price that fits your budget, you're in business. It helps to have a well-documented plan to assist in these fast-breaking decisions.
If you plan to use broadcast media heavily, I recommend that you work with an agency or media service. Those who know the territory thoroughly and are working on your behalf will be better able to find the best buys.
If you are buying your media time and space yourself, here are some tips:
• Be sure your chosen medium delivers your target market. The media sales reps are expert at putting their offerings in the best light. Everybody can find something to claim "We're Number One" about. You don't care. Does the medium deliver the audience you want to reach? That's the key question.
• Beware of bringing your personal biases to your media decisions. Don't buy a certain radio station just because you listen to it--ask instead if your potential customers do. And it works the other way, too. Don't not advertise in a certain newspaper just because you hate one of its reporters.
• Look for verifiable information from your sales reps. Audience size, share, gross rating points--these calculations should be based on information from third-party ratings sources. Beware of any statistic described as "estimated"--ask about the source for that information.
• Representatives from the various media will call on you; no matter what the title on their business cards, they are salespeople. Do not allow them to make your decisions for you. High-pressure sales techniques are fairly common. Rely on these people for information, but do your own calculations, and make the decisions that are right for you.