Recently my marketing consulting firm was approached by the owners of a young organic tea company seeking guidance in piercing the retail product distribution channel. The entrepreneur’s behind the venture were hard working, passionate and fully committed; both personally and financially. They had an excellent product. They also had no sales traction.

After considerable consultation, and many questions about the history of the product and the owner’s backgrounds, the reason for their futile sales performance became crystal clear: They had not identified a Unique Selling Proposition to differentiate their teas from the numerous, established large, medium and small competitors that offer endless product choices in the category. This is usually the problem with any new product offering in an already mature consumer product universe.

What can the new startup do to counteract the existing advantages enjoyed by older, established competitors? The following are but a few options to consider when seeking a differentiation strategy to support a Unique Selling Proposition:

Create a Proprietary Process
Create a handling process that is positioned as proprietary, unique to the product. Another alternative is an enhancement that purportedly improves product performance. In cosmetics we often work with laboratories to craft a bio-engineering process or ingredient stability that we tag with an esoteric descriptive moniker.

Artisan Crafting
In a world of mass production and impersonal mass marketing, the clear profession of a hand crafted provenance can separate a product from giant competitors. Artisan workmanship adds an element of personal skill and old world pride that make each product unique. Artesian crafted products usually deserve and justify higher prices from discerning consumers.

Fair Trade
Many raw materials, flora and herbs are now being purchased through “Fair Trade” associations. Some are country specific. Others are product specific. They insure that indigenous peoples, farmers and tradesmen receive a fair price for providing a better product. In the case of teas, fruits and coffee beans, this produce if often graded according to stringent criteria to insure quality and consistency.

Identify a Rare, Exotic Component
The perfume industry is famous for highlighting rare, precious and exotic plants that produce highly prized essential oils to make fragrances powerful, long lasting, novel. Years ago I was a partner in a perfume company that utilized “tagetes’, a rare east African flower with a very short growing season, a huge flower head and a distinctive oil that provided an amazing “dry down” when blended with more subtle flowers. This type of exotic component story can be transported to foods, drinks and other consumable products.

Include a component, ingredient or mineral that can only be found in one, or very few, spots in the world. This creates the image of rarity and exclusivity in the new product. Moroccan argane oil is one such ingredient. New Zealand harvested manuka is another. Often, ingredients or components of this type are expensive and are included in production formulae in small, trace amounts.

Several years ago, we had a client that made luxury pet clothes and accessories. She achieved success by offering a customized embroidery service to her products. The customer could order accessories with their pets name embroidered on the goods, choosing font, color combinations and placement of the logo. These personalized pieces were much more profitable than the generic retail products she sold.

Limited Edition
A customized handbag designer, much like a famous artist, makes limited runs of her designs. She numbers and signs each, and at the end of each series she retires the pattern, die cuts and design. This insures the exclusivity of her hand bags; supports top end pricing and insures brand desirability. The luxury goods category is rife with this type of short run, exclusive brand protection strategy.

Enhanced Benefits
Recently we were introduced to a simple, excellent cost saving accessory. The owner was having limited success selling the item as a tool that consumers could utilize to lengthen consumable product usage. We identified a “wellness/safety” feature that had been missed. As an anti-bacterial accessory, that will provide excellent product/money savings, the product now sports dual benefits to consumers and is beginning to enjoy success on retail shelves.

These are only a few strategies that entrepreneur’s can utilize to successfully launch and market new consumer products. In each case, we strive to craft a guerilla marketing campaign that will highlight perceived advantages inherent in a client’s item. If they do not exist, we research options and reinvent the product, or simply the marketing strategy, to highlight the Unique Selling Proposition that was not encompassed in the products core. Successful entrepreneurs have been doing exactly this, often times without realizing they were doing so, for as long as there has been a consumer product marketplace.

Author's Bio: 

Geoff Ficke has been a serial entrepreneur for almost 50 years. As a small boy, earning his spending money doing odd jobs in the neighborhood, he learned the value of selling himself, offering service and value for money.

After putting himself through the University of Kentucky (B.A. Broadcast Journalism, 1969) and serving in the United States Marine Corp, Mr. Ficke commenced a career in the cosmetic industry. After rising to National Sales Manager for Vidal Sassoon Hair Care at age 28, he then launched a number of ventures, including Rubigo Cosmetics, Parfums Pierre Wulff Paris, Le Bain Couture and Fashion Fragrance.

Geoff Ficke and his consulting firm, Duquesa Marketing, Inc. ( has assisted businesses large and small, domestic and international, entrepreneurs, inventors and students in new product development, capital formation, licensing, marketing, sales and business plans and successful implementation of his customized strategies. He is a Senior Fellow at the Page Center for Entrepreneurial Studies, Business School, Miami University, Oxford, Ohio.