Want to know a cocktail of secrets, myths and realities about successful businesses? Read along.

Every successful and solid business empire has a closely guarded blueprint that we may never get to know albeit with a couple of secrets and principles that, if we look close enough, we can learn over time.

Most successful businesses center their long-term strategy on their vision, which is usually a very clear statement on where they desire to go with the business and with this they formulate a Market Entry Strategy (PR, Advertising, Communications e.t.c) and Operations Plan.

Now, after putting all these in place, highly successful businesses will do a feasibility study of their business idea, accompanying concepts and strategies. With this they learn the practicality of their business idea in the present market, the relevant adjustments required by the market and legislation forces and to some extent, the viable volumes and pricing regime.

The above are very deliberate formulas that provide a business with plan b and c in the presence of challenges and clear guidelines to deal with adversaries.

I call that planning and by considering how meticulous this process is, it is imperative for any sound mind to conclude that it is impossible to entirely clone a successful business, let alone directly compete with one without employing enough thought process, planning and strategies of your own.

In light of the above facts, I have come to a conclusion that starting and building a business is not an overnight task, it is an excruciating and overwhelmingly involving task yet presently Zimbabwe is pregnant with such mediocre clones of otherwise unprofitable businesses that it can only tell a story of compromise, loss and misery in the end.

Let’s take look at what I would like to call the Zimbabwe Entrepreneurial Landscape. I have written about the other half of this landscape on this article and I would like to focus on the clone concepts for now.

I will quote Pritchard Mhako here:

In 2013, everyone wanted to start a Backyard Chicken Project, then came 2014, Sack Potatoes and Fish Farming became fashionable. 2015 was characterised by Mabhero/Vending. 2016 appears to be the year of the quall birds. Pre-schools, Kombis, Mshikashika Taxis, Land barons, Mushroom farming, all remind us of a certain dispensation. The economy isn’t growing because we all want to do what the next person is doing. Entrepreneurship is not about following the bandwagon; it is about setting new trends. Whilst we are all desperately looking for what’s fresh, entrepreneurs who have seen beyond the noise have gone to establish start-ups like Probrands, Astro, G Tel & Koala Meats, which have become household names.

Before you dismiss this as a ‘curse’ with small businesses alone, you will remember when Zachary Wazara first came out to announce his new company’s plans back in April 2011, he disclosed that the company had raised about US $25 Million to finance the roll out of its operations. Spiritage Group introduced Broadacom, the market paid attention for a while, then within 2 years, by mid 2013 the company assets’ where seized by creditors and the Broadacom venture faced such a cruel death in it’s infancy.

There are many such cases that have left both employees and customers confused at such a quick race to oblivion.

I would like to think that there are many causes that drive people so quickly out of business but chief of those is getting in the boat without at least paying attention to the weather report. This notion is justified by how people are quick to ask what is making money these days and how they leave everything they are doing to jump on a bus whose destination no one has ever arrived, at least as yet.

Two questions come to my mind this juncture;

1. Is copying a business idea necessarily wrong?

My answer will come in two phases, No because really ideas are not unique but blueprints and strategies that drive those are priceless, and Yes, because copying for cloning sake is a mere DIY recipe for disaster.

2. When Is It Okay To Copy Your Competitors?

I know for a fact that this may turn into a debate that is heated but I suppose we, as a community must address this right now, for the sake of what’s right in our collective quest for a more elaborate and diverse entrepreneurship landscape and also to enlighten fellow comrades in the trenches.

“Is it ever okay to copy your competitors?”

You are free to voice your thoughts in the comments below, but before that, allow me to stage the set clearly for all to understand….

The Two Types Of Copying

There are two types of copying. One is just smart business acumenship, and the other is just straight up stupid. Let’s talk about both of these.

When Copying Is Good For Business

There are two specific scenarios where I believe copying your competitors is one of the smartest business moves you can make.

#1 The Planning Technique

Copying becomes a very strategic tool if you take time to understand the underlying strategy that a certain product or company made it to blue-chip. This involves figuring out the planning I mentioned above, analyzing what marketing and segmentation tricks where used and using certain variables in the findings to create you own Unique selling point.

In this case you are copying so you can create a difference, it’s almost as good as learning everything about your competition or fellow businessman down the road for the sole reason of being different from them and having nothing to do with them.

#2 Make Something Better

The other type of copying is less about copying, and more about improving what already exists.

As an example, I would like you to look at the genesis of GTel, well GTide back then. The market had this crazy appetite for mobile phones then, that was before the smart phone craze took Zimbabwe by storm and at best the phones that China was dumping south these stylish and colorful loud mobile phones. The market was clearly there and GTide jumped on the bandwagon I guess doing well until:

They thought, wait a minute, the smart phone is the real deal and the opportunity through their fellow Chinese suppliers was already there hence they defined Civil Servants as a primary, captive ready market for the sole advantage of securing tenure of payments through the SSB. How unique? They rebranded and now own a specific part of the smart phone market.

The reality is, GTel did not invent anything. Instead, they simply found what existed, branded and made it much affordable to an existing market through flexible payment plans guaranteed by the SSB.

To me, this is completely okay.

Improving what exists is a proven way to make a splash within a market. It’s also a great way to build a remarkable and sustainable business that people LOVE and in that spirit create your Unique Selling Proposition with a very common service or product.

But There’s A Time When Copying Is Dumb…

The one I quoted above where people tend to make everything that’s hot then their business for a few seasons, realize it’s scam and move to the next idea without reasons.

BUT isn’t it that every business idea has been exhausted?

That’s very true, there is nothing new under the sun, everything has been done before. The quest however is for you to be what’s new in the common. It is about you creating a new view for clients on the same wall they have been looking at for the past 20 years. Show them what they have never seen on a view they have been looking at.

Facebook, Instagram, Whatsapp, Twitter and YouTube are all social networks, all very valuable and with a market cap in excess of billions yet all with very different selling points.

I am sure by now you have experienced or at least read about UBER, the revolutionary service that’s changing the way people commute. Nothing new there, just organized hiking and one has a Unique Selling Proposition.

The answer to every business in a congested market is to create a Unique Selling Proposition. Have you ever though that the difference between the business in a premium niche market and the one crowded downtown is in their offering. The other has a unique offer.

So how do you create a Unique Selling Point?

Before that, here is an interesting study about web hosting in Zimbabwe.

Since time in memorial, web hosting in Zimbabwe was somehow an unofficial reserved business for ISPs. That ended when Pearson Pfavayi noted a expoited market gap. He realized that the service that was sold in Zimbabwe was restrictive and the pricing was too high. Pearson introduced Zimhosts, and voila, webhosting has never been easier to access. There is always someone now selling hosting at ridiculously cheap prices and most of them are outsourcing from Zimhosts.
Zimhosts sold a lot of people dreams that they too will make a lot of money with hosting, all they ever have to do was to signup and become a re-seller, and they did it so well that they now have so many clients that their business is stable.

When the market got saturated by me-too hosting services’, here is what they did, They created $50 websites that in my view are worth just that much. And do not be deceived, in this world you get what you pay for. This was a brilliant approach as design is not their core business and all they are giving you is a $50 dollar template and I think that was genius.

Now, what isn’t so genius about this approach is every me-too designer responding by lowering their web design prices to match Zimhosts. What these designers don’t get is that design is not Zimhosts’ core business but rather a carrot to give a client before the hosting stick. It is clear that everyone who has been forced out of web design business or to reduce their prices does not have a Unique Selling Proposition. My favourite quote here: The fastest way to get out of business is to compete on price alone.

Now that you know how it stings to do business without a unique selling proposition, here is how you can pin a USP to your business offering.

Creating a Unique Selling Proposition that Works

When it comes to developing a unique point of difference for your business, it’s impossible to give one-size-fits-all advice.

That said, there are certainly some best practices that work across marketplaces and that any business owner can apply to make their unique selling proposition worthwhile.

It’s More Than a Slogan

The ubiquitous business slogan, or tagline, is familiar to everyone. From Nike’s “Just Do It.” to the classic “inspired to change your world” by Econet. We all carry these phrases around in our heads along with commercial jingles and corporate logos. But the USP, when the concept was originally developed back in the 1940s, was specifically intended to communicate a distinct and unique proposition to the consumer, a proposition so compelling that it can draw customers to your brand.

In my own thinking, the USP accomplishes this by communicating what it is about your business service or product that brings emotional gratification to the customers in your target market.

I wont mention names on this one but we all know a famous hardware whose Unique Selling Proposition is: “The Builders Hardware.”  Aside from stating the obvious, the phrase says nothing that stirs the emotions or speaks to any need for gratification. And it certainly isn’t communicating anything unique in its proposition

Tapping the Unconscious Mind of Your Customer

The foundation for your USP must come from a real understanding of your customer. Here are a couple of ways we suggest you develop that understanding..

  • Think like your customer. Step outside of your day-to-day role as the owner and think about what your customers really want from your product or service. What is it that makes them come back again and again, instead of going to your competition? It might be the quality or convenience. Perhaps it is your friendliness, exceptional customer service, or reliability. Remember that people do not patronize your business solely for price alone. Hopefully there are qualities that attract and appeal to your customer base.
  • Learn what motivates your customer’s buying decisions. You need to know what drives and motivates your customers. Having some knowledge of the demographics of your target market is essential, but just as importantly, you must learn how they tend to derive gratification in life and what their purchase preferences are. People buy products and services primarily based on their desires, not on their needs. Knowing these desires and motivations will help inform your true unique selling proposition.
  • Know the real reasons customers come to you instead of your competition. How do you do that? Ask your best source of information: your customers. This can be done in a wide variety of ways from face-to-face conversations to surveys to focus groups. Every business lends itself to certain methods of deriving this information, but the fundamental truth is that you can never know too much about your customers!

The last step here is to be as objective as possible in determining what features of your business stand out as something that sets you apart from the pack. What can you highlight that will move prospective customers to patronize your business? And how can you position everything you do in your business to embody that USP?

Bringing Your Unique Selling Proposition to Life

The real power of your USP comes from its connection to the unconscious mind. Once you have dedicated some careful thought to understanding the collective minds of your target market, you can then concentrate that understanding into how you need to position your business. The way to craft a powerful USP is to make sure it ties into the most emotionally stimulating elements of your customers’ experience with your business.

So how do you capture this in a short phrase that touches on emotional gratification promised by your product or service? By following these seven guidelines:

  1. Make it short – a phrase, not a sentence.
  2. Keep it vague enough to leave room for the imagination of your reader.
  3. Try to convey a positive feeling.
  4. Give it impact and emotion.
  5. Avoid defining your business as a commodity.
  6. Focus on the promise of emotional gratification – the result or benefit – not the work or features you offer.
  7. Make it consistent with the general perception of your business and what you have learned of your customer’s gratification mode and purchase preferences.

Don’t feel that you have to be “married” to your initial efforts. Businesses often develop new USPs as they grow and evolve. And the more you learn about your customers and what constitutes your promise of emotional gratification, the clearer your understanding of what an effective Unique Selling Proposition will be. Ultimately, the real acid test is to ask yourself, “What emotion am I selling?”

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