George Lois passed away earlier this month. He was a legendary ad man, art director and idea person. I never met him but knew about him before he took his ad agency public in 1962. I also posted a blog about him on August 1, 2013, and want to discuss this further.

Business has always been competitive. Today it seems it is more competitive than it has ever been, but likely it is no more competitive than in earlier times, just that the scale and speed of transactions are much greater and quicker. One constant is that those with the imagination to dream what can be — and who have ideas to better engage customers — seem to succeed more than their competitors. This is hard to prove because we hear about the successes and never about their unlucky rivals.

Business success needs customer engagement, satisfaction and profitable revenues with constant work on these three elements. In 1961 another advertising man, Rosser Reeves in Advertising wrote about his Unique Selling Proposition (USP) which is the one thing that makes you better or provides the perception that you are better. I prefer actually being better than just the perception. However, it is not enough to be better; it needs to be communicated to the right people, i.e., customers, to make being better a success.

I am not an advertising person, but I am an accountant with many clients that advertise and always discuss that budget-line item, partly because much advertising cannot be measured for its success. For that matter, neither can branding nor image-building ads. What is the cost and benefit of the Nike swoosh on sports uniforms? Can’t be measured, but I am sure it contributes to the overall success of the company.

Let’s get back to the USP. Why should you be patronized? What is in it for your customers? If nothing distinguishes you, then you are in a business that offers a commodity, and in that situation, your distinguishing feature would be your lower price. If you have a USP, then people that need or want to benefit from that USP would buy from you; and your skill would be in how well you market it and how carefully you price it. So, your ideas and imagination operating the business would make you successful, along with identifying or creating the USP.

Your USP does not need to be a brand or a product feature; it could be your post-sales support services. For instance, a dentist’s patients might value a caring call the morning after they had major oral surgery; someone that bought a car might welcome a call from the salesperson two weeks after the purchase to see if everything seems to be working well (I NEVER got such a call!) or a gift of a hat or T-Shirt (I’ve never got these either, but did get them from the store that sold me an expensive watch); and someone just having a divorce finalized might cherish their attorney’s concern a couple of weeks later about how they are feeling and adjusting.

I have manufacturing clients that build extensive inventory, quick delivery and the ability to maintain specific inventory for its customers, the engineering of its products, the Made in USA, Union Made, or ESG qualities, its customer assistance, or their 24/7/365 help desk into their pricing. It is rare for a single item to be the dominant feature in something being manufactured, and while cost is always an issue, so is the ease of use, reliability and consistency of the part. Imperfect O-rings, lynchpins and screws have caused many disasters. Would paying a little extra have made a difference in the project’s cost versus the sustained losses?

Imagination and ideas add value and need to be imbued into the culture of an organization. Someone like George Lois breathed life into many products and campaigns. You can read about some of his accomplishments in his New York Times obituary, which provides a very small glimpse of his tremendous creativity.

Ideas beget ideas, and my contention is that ideas are currency. The more ideas, the richer a company could become. Spend some time and make some effort in getting ideas. Use your imagination!

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