Discovering What Makes You Special

Apr 23 2018

by Kate Spears

The Southern Coterie blog: "Finding What Makes You Special" by Kate Spears (photo: Mary Margaret Curtis)
What makes you special? (photo: Mary Margaret Curtis)

A unique selling proposition (USP, also seen as unique selling point) is defined as a factor that differentiates a product from its competitors, such as the lowest cost, the highest quality or the first-ever product of its kind. A USP could be thought of as “what you have that competitors don’t.”

As someone who works in marketing, I find myself thinking in terms of USP pretty often. When I’m working to help my clients figure out how to best tell their stories in a way that resonates with their audiences, this is usually my go-to.

I do my research and ask a lot of questions, trying to get to the heart of just what sets them apart. How are they different from the rest? And how do those differences add value to the experience of their clients, colleagues and collaborators?

But no matter how naturally this conversation comes when talking shop or helping others, when I even begin to entertain the idea of turning it on myself, it feels like a foreign concept.

This year brings a big birthday for me, 36. I guess each birthday has its own sort of bigness, in that it means we have survived another turn around the sun on this little blue planet. And while I totally believe that age is not much more than a social construct, this society is our home so alas we must exist in this house of cards we have built.

There are certain so-called ‘milestone’ birthdays. Because they somehow mark a change in us, or a change in how we do things or how we live our lives.  

Turning 16 means something, just like turning 18 or 21 means something different. And turning 25 might mean something to some, and turning 30 definitely means a lot of somethings. While turning 35 last year didn’t hold much pomp and circumstance for me, maybe that’s because 35 still had a certain ring to it. However, 36 sounds somewhat different.

Maybe it’s because it feels like I’m now going to be on the other side of something. Like all the years before now were spent marching along a straight path to a corner. And the corner was 35. Maybe it’s because I spent the past year looking back way more than ahead. And now that 36 is here, I must leave the safety of my corner, with a view of both past and present, and turn toward something I have never seen before. Never experienced before. Never known before.

I’m reminded of one of my all time favorite book series from childhood, Frog & Toad by Arnold Lobel. These dear friends, an odd couple of sorts, were always getting into predicaments. Or one of them was, and the other was there to bail him out. There was one story where they believed spring was waiting just around the corner. So they sought out all the corners they could find to see if spring was looming just around each.

I have no idea what is looming around the corner for me this year. And this brings me back to my USP. I have always said that in any predicament, it’s good to start with what you know for sure. This helps me to not get overwhelmed by all the things I don’t know. There’s a comfort in the familiar I suppose.

So when I find myself faced with a big fat question mark for the future around this corner, I attempt to dig into my bag of tricks, hoping that maybe it holds some long forgotten wonders in a Mary Poppins sort of way. Whether you are having a milestone birthday or not, you’re probably guilty of thinking about the future from time to time. Maybe you have a better handle on things than I do. Maybe you have no clue what to expect or how to prepare for it. You’re not alone.

And this is how I arrived at thinking about my unique selling proposition. Because I thought this might help me gain some insight on what the future might hold. What is it about me, or you that is different from the rest? And why does it feel so hard to pinpoint?

First, I try to think of things that people remark about or notice most often. I’m tall. Even though I’ve lived in this body all my life, most people I encounter feel the need to inform me that my height is above average. Just the other day I helped a lady at Aldi retrieve a pint of cookies and cream ice cream from a high shelf. She said that I was the first person in a string of folks to take pity on her and offer assistance. I get it lady. No messing around when it comes to cookies and cream. So maybe I’m tall and helpful? There’s gotta be a way to market that as my USP, right?

If you were hoping for a three step formula to determine your USP, which would leave you all neatly wrapped and tied with a bow, I hate to disappoint. It’s not that simple.

But I do know for sure there’s something about each of us that makes us unique. Something we have that our competitors (or even our best friends) don’t. Maybe it’s less about finding this thing and trying to push it into the spotlight and more about simply getting out of our own way?

I think about a conversation I had with a dear friend nearly twenty years ago. It’s one of many chats this particular person and I have had but it stands out for several reasons. First, we were in Paris. Not your everyday setting. Second, it was just the two of us, even though we were on a trip with several people. Third, he paid me a compliment I knew I’d always remember. The details are kind of private, but the gist of it was that he felt I had insight in areas where others were lacking. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve called this moment back to the front of my mind on a really bad day. I would think, if my friend believes this about me, surely it’s true, right? And focusing on the fact that he believed something good about me has helped me get through many situations where I doubted myself.

Same with my grandma telling me I’m smart. I can’t remember very many times when my grandma told me I was pretty, although I’m sure she has. What I remember is her making a point to tell me that I’m smart. Sometimes I call on her words as well, when I face a challenge that seems insurmountable.

So tall, helpful, insightful and smart (at least according to a few people I have encountered). I guess that’s a good place to start. And I’m sure your people would have good things to say about you too. Maybe you helped someone just earlier today. Perhaps they complimented you or thanked you with a few meaningful words. Take stock of that. Write it down or at the very least, make a mental note. It might serve you well later on.

Ultimately you get to decide how to present yourself to the world. How to market yourself. Which features to push into the spotlight and which attributes to minimize or try to hide. I hope whatever flavor that takes on, you can do it while still staying true to who you are.

Authenticity….what a concept. I haven’t always done so well with this. I’ve spent many years doing and saying and thinking and being what I thought was expected of me. Maybe I can leave that behind as I turn this new corner. Maybe I’ll make my way around the corner, and instead of finding spring like Frog & Toad did, I’ll find my most authentic self waiting. That would be nice.

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