Before you can begin to sell your product or service to anyone else, you have to sell yourself on it. This is especially important when your product or service is similar to those around you. Very few businesses are one-of-a-kind. Just look around you: How many clothing retailers, hardware stores, air conditioning installers and electricians are truly unique?
The key to effective selling in this situation is what advertising and marketing professionals call a "unique selling proposition" (USP). Unless you can pinpoint what makes your business unique in a world of homogeneous competitors, you cannot target your sales efforts successfully.
Pinpointing your USP requires some hard soul-searching and creativity. One way to start is to analyze how other companies use their USPs to their advantage. This requires careful analysis of other companies' ads and marketing messages. If you analyze what they say they sell, not just their product or service characteristics, you can learn a great deal about how companies distinguish themselves from competitors.
Travel professionals putting together a marketing plan for their travel agency are sometimes stymied by the concept of differentiation. In essence, differentiation is that collection of key attributes that set your travel agency apart from all others – the reason a client would rather work with you than with your competitor. By and large, any agency can offer the same cruises, tours and travel programs. So what USP (another way of speaking about differentiation) can an agency offer?
For a travel practice, properly developing your differentiation is often a matter of shifting from a product driven strategy to a relationship driven strategy. It is absolutely true that any agency can offer a tour to Ireland. But only your agency can offer you. Only your agency can offer the other people who surround you as associates. Only your agency can offer the unique services, personalities and talents you have assembled. The collective personality of your agency and the core values you instill can be the unique selling point that differentiates your agency from all others. Better yet, when you define your differentiation in terms of the relationship you have with your clients, the concept of differentiation becomes ever more tangible in the form of truly extraordinary service.
There is no shortage of articles being written on the death of the service culture. We run into examples of poor or inadequate service everywhere we go. The giant box hardware store where there are no store employees to be found without a desperate search and who will give you the wrong aisle number for any product for which you ask. The online store that ignores your order until you contact them and complain. The surly counter attendant at the airport who hasn’t smiled since 1994.
But there are good examples of great service as well. Your town no doubt is filled with small entrepreneurs that deliver what they promise and then exceed your expectations. Companies like Zappos that have a corporate culture so strong and positive that it is actually a quality you can sense when ordering from them online.
Large or small, your agency has a collection of unique individuals. Inculcate in each of them importance of their personality, of a smile, of a drive to excel. Great service does not just happen. It is the product of pride in one’s work, an effort that require a focused attention on execution. The hard work of delivering on excellent service requires you to determine what your travel clients desire in the relationship and then measuring how well you deliver on those desires. Great service programs are a system of processes and typically involve rewarding and recognizing those employees that demonstrate their mastery of delivering on the promises your agency makes to clients.
What about the way you use travel to change your client’s lives? What about your policy of working with clients for a lifetime to achieve all of their travel ambitions? What about that niche you know so well that all of your clients are dazzled by the absolutely fantastic quality of their travel experiences? Notice that at the heart of each of these USP’s is the client. Your USP is not a feature – it’s a benefit to your client.
Developing and marketing a niche area of expertise is one of the best possible ways to differentiate your travel practice from the competition. As an expert in a particular theme or destination, you can quickly establish your travel agency as the only reasonable resource to which consumers should turn when considering travel in your niche venue.
The concept of adopting a niche is often misconstrued. Niche marketing is a way of helping you focus on locating new clients, not a set of restrictions on your business offerings. Niche marketing is not necessarily about gearing your entire business to a particular type of travel. It is about segmenting your marketing efforts to focus on particular groups of people, however. Properly executed, niche marketing is a terrific way of locating and marketing to a group of potential clients in a highly effective and cost efficient manner.
One great advantage of a niche market is the way in which it helps you locate potential clients. When you are marketing "travel" to the world at large, everyone is your potential market and you lack focus. When your market is “adventure travelers”, however, you know where to find them. When your market is “golfers”, you know where to find them. Once you have located your market, it is much less costly to reach out to them as opposed to using much less efficient “shotgun” approaches.
When you focus on a niche, you very quickly become an expert. You will be able to speak with authority on your topic and marketing will be a matter of speaking directly to those who share an affinity for your niche. As an expert in a niche, your ability to generate referrals and word of mouth advertising will be amplified as those who have used you in the past tell others interested in similar travel experiences. You will also develop deeper and richer relationships with the suppliers that you use as they come to understand your devotion to their area of business. The lesson of effective niche marketing is this: It is important to be clear about the market you are addressing and to address that market clearly. This might require you to have one marketing brochure or presentation for adventure travel and another for senior escorted tours and yet another for golf travel. You do not have to devote your practice exclusively to any of these niches, but you can devote some of your marketing tactics and collateral to the niche. Then, choose the appropriate marketing tools and pitch for the market you are addressing.
Choose a niche market for which you have some affinity. Open a file to aggregate information. Spend some time on the internet studying the marketing of others in similar niches. What are their unique selling points? What elements seem essential? What is missing from their marketing? Finally, spend some time figuring out the demographic of your selected niche. Where do the people who are in that niche market congregate? How can you best reach them? What will be your best approach to the market? Chances are, you will quickly realize that not far out of your reach is a group of potential clients just waiting for you to grace them with your presence. Once you have determined your USP, distill it down into a few coherent sentences that relate directly to a client benefit. Continue to work on your USP until you can reduce it to a tag line. Now integrate your USP into all of your marketing collateral – make it a central focal point of your brand. Once you find your USP, hold it out for the world to see and you
Example: Travel Research Online
When I launched Travel Research Online in 2007, there were already several travel media companies in the marketplace and many had been in place for literally decades. Any sensible person would have thought the market way too crowded and competitive to enter into it successfully. Did I mention I was essentially broke without the capital to launch such an ambitious company?
I looked at the market and the way Travel Weekly, Travel Agent Magazine, Travel Pulse, Travel Age West, Jax Fax, et. al. were conducting business. What was interesting was they were essentially all doing the same thing, reporting news in the travel industry. Thus, we decided we would be different by NOT doing that very thing. Instead, we decided to provide travel agents with free marketing tools and to write about sales, marketing and customer service instead of news. Today, our database consists of 90,000+ travel professionals in the United States and Canada.
Exercise: Find Your USP
Sit down and list the things that make you as a travel consultant unique. Is it your passion for people? Is it the number of years you have been in the business? Is it the destinations you have visited? Is it your niche or the market you have chosen? What about your destination specialist training? Can you phrase any or all of these in terms of your client? How will your USP define your relationship with clients?
Now, write down an explanation of your uniqueness and develop a tag line identifying your USP. You don't have to use the tag line in your marketing, but integrate the concept into your values, into your mission statement and live up to the promise it makes.