Words to Grow By

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2. Unique

This is a unique opportunity for me to “slam dunk” one of the most abused and misunderstood words not just in advertising, but in the entire English language.

See what I just did there?  I abused “unique” myself to make the point that this and every other opportunity in life – let alone marketing – is unique…by definition.

“Unique” is a word marketers use as a synonym for “good,” better,” “best,” and the like.  It doesn’t mean that at all.

“Unique” means “one of a kind,” and since when that did that necessarily become a desirable quality?  Even if there are 350 plumbers in your marketing territory, each of you is unique if for no other reason than you don’t share the same business or location, etc., with anyone else.  Bottom line, different is just plain “different” more often than it’s “better.”

But “Aha!” you say.  “Our plumbing company is uniquely qualified to” do this, that, or the other thing.  Once again, that means nothing, or at least not what you intend it to mean.  “Uniquely qualified” could simply mean “no one else is less qualified than we are.”

“Uniquely experienced?”  Great, since that could mean that today is your first day on the job.  “Our unique, state-of-the-art dispatch system?” That SOUNDS like you can handle calls more efficiently and better ensure on-time arrival, but in marketing, “sounds like” doesn’t count.  Proof does.

Sadly, “unique” is a term marketers use in place of words or phrases that have real teeth.  Such as, “Each of our technicians is NATE certified.”  Unique or not, that’s impressive.  “We guarantee same-day service or you don’t pay.”  Unique or not, if you’re the only one marketing that offer, then you are perceived to be the ONLY company guaranteeing same-day service.  Perception is a beautiful thing, especially if it’s in your favor.

Are you the market leader or otherwise superior than the norm in any aspect of your business?  Then say that, offer proof, and leave words like “unique” to the followers.

Bob Russo
President, IMS Advertising, LLC
Professor of Marketing, University of Hartford

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