I’m not a big fan of the term “Unique Selling Proposition.” Generally, it involves finding something unique for uniques’ sake, and feeling comfortable that you’ve found the special thing that guarantees people will send you money.

The idea is “Because I’ve got this great USP, I have competitive superiority over everyone else!”

It doesn’t work that way.

You should probably have some level of uniqueness, yes, but thanks to the internet there are lots and lots of people just like you selling their books and they’re only a Google search away.

In a small pond, it’s easy to be unique. In a big pond, it’s a lot harder.

Since there are so many competitors in the field, it’s unlikely you have something so unique that no one else has it, or no one else can see what you’re doing and say “I’ll copy that.”

Years ago, some fast food chain’s USP was “We have these things called Value Meals.” Now everyone’s doing it.

So you kind of need to forget about unique, because just like in books or movies, it’s all kind of been done before. There’s nothing new under the sun.

However! Having some sort of USP is still important.

The reason a USP is important now is not because it makes you mightier than your competition. It’s because it helps people with differentiation and polarization.

Let’s talk briefly about both of those.

Differentiation, in this context, is the shortest path to figuring out how you are different from everyone else.

On a level, it’s like the five guys in any popular boy band. They’re not all the same boy. They are archetypes. By design. So you can differentiate.

  • There’s the funny one.
  • There’s the sexy one.
  • There’s the strong, silent type.
  • There’s the bad boy.
  • There’s the good boy.

This is differentiation. You have one common thread – they’re all singing boys – but they are all very different types of people. Each one is categorically different than 80% of their compatriots. That’s how you remember their names. “Oh, Joey. He’s the sexy one.”

As an author, you need that same kind of differentiation. You’re not just a Very Good Writer. You’re a specific type of writer that isn’t remotely like 80% other kinds of people in your sphere. By design.

Differentiation is the thing YOU do that 80% of other people LIKE you aren’t doing.

And this applies to you as an author, yes, but it also applies to the tone, style and approach of the things you like. A comedy is not the same thing as a romantic comedy is not the same thing as a slapstick guy movie. Whatever genre you write in, there are different approaches and they make all the difference to readers.

Basically what you’re after is figuring out what makes you – and your writing – unique ENOUGH to be picked out of a lineup of other people in your industry who are ostensibly similar to you and produce similar-genre writing.

Now on to polarization.

Polarization is taking your differentiation factor and making people love it or hate it.

(And again, this applies to you as an author and to your writing itself. Generally, the writing itself is more important because most people don’t even really think about what the author is like, because most authors don’t pay attention to how polarization works.)

It doesn’t mean making people love or hate YOU as a person, but to love or hate the idea of buying the kind of stuff you sell.

It’s like saying “don’t be vanilla”, except not as pat.

In the proverbial boy band, the bad boy isn’t just a “little” bad. He’s getting into TROUBLE. The good boy is not just kind of good, he’s goody-good.

But note they aren’t caricatures, because then no one would like them. You don’t see the bad boy in a boy band sporting tribal tattoos and smoking weed.

But you do see him being bad enough so that people who are more into the good boy type look at him and say “Oh, I could live without HIM.”

They also look at the funny one and, while he’s not exactly making jokes about bodily functions, they think “Man, he’s just too much of a joker for me.”

And because the bad boy is JUST bad enough, the people who like him don’t like him – they LOVE him.

And the people who are into the funny one love the funny guy the same way.

We’re not talking about shtick here – we’re talking about just enough of one thing to get loyalty from people who like that thing, and aversion from people who don’t.

The problem comes when you try and get all vanilla and please too many people. Then you please no one. Then you’re the boy band made up of five nondescript people who aren’t memorable.

You know that band, right? Oh, wait, you don’t. They’re not memorable.

In your case, you want to pick the traits or the approaches or the offerings that match up with who you are the most, and play those up just a little.

Not fake playing it up, just make it your centerpiece. Draw more attention to it than usual.

At IttyBiz, our slogan is “We help businesses. Even little ones.”

That means the REALLY little ones like us a lot, and the businesses that want to build their empires and make a million dollars by Wednesday don’t.

When you polarize, you’ll get more loyal customers. And they will tell their friends.

That’s all there is to say about that.

What this means for you.

Here’s what you need to do now.

First, think about what makes you different from other people who are very similar to you.

If you’re a romance novelist, what makes you (and your writing) different from other romance novelists you might otherwise be lumped in with?

If you’re a non-fiction business writer, what approach do you take that’s different from a lot of other non-fiction business writers, that people wouldn’t just intuitively know on their own?

If you’re an author of literary fiction, what do you bring to the table that lets you say “Yes, I’m kind of like these other literary fiction authors, but here’s how I’m different”?

Figure that out first.

Then start thinking about how you can play it up just enough for it to be noticed, so the people who love someone like you know they can find that in YOU.

Do that, and then go to the third lesson.