Earlier this year, we completed our annual planning process here at Birmingham Consulting and it had us reflecting on our recipe for chocolate cake.  I learned about this concept a few years ago; and after revisiting it internally in annual planning meeting, I thought I would share it.

If you’re asking yourself “What the heck is this guy rambling on about?  Chocolate cake and business?  Chocolate cake and IT?”, let’s step back for a minute and consider just how many different types of chocolate cake exist:

  • Mass-produced in a factory, frozen, and shipped to grocery stores.
  • Basic commercial bakeries like the ones found in grocery stores and box stores.
  • Premium commercial bakeries that sell to restaurants.
  • Privately-owned bakeries open to the public.
  • Special request bakeries such as gluten-free, dairy-free, etc.
  • The list goes on…

Are all of these chocolate cakes the same?  Do they all sell for the same price?  If not, why not?  They all contain the same basic ingredients: Coco powder, some kind of flour, sugar, and/or eggs, oil, milk, etc.  Just what makes them different?  Why does a mass-produced frozen cake cost a fraction of the price of a premium custom-made personalized chocolate cake when all of the ingredients are essentially the same?

Now apply that thought process to your business.  If your product or service was chocolate cake, why is your chocolate cake better than your competitors?  In other words, what sets you apart from the competition? Is it price, quality, service level, speed, patents, experience?  Combinations thereof?  Something else?

Now for the tough question:  If your competitors were asked the same thing, what reasons would they give?  Would their answer sound a lot like yours?

The marketing term for this concept is Unique Selling Proposition (USP).  Depending on who you ask, there are different ways to create your company’s USP.  Two common ones are: 

  1. Identify 6-8 things that set you apart from the competition.  Your competitors may be able to claim some of the same things (e.g. quality and service); but they can’t match all of the things that set you apart.
  1. The “3 Uniques”.  Similar to above but you only identify 3 things that make you unique compared to competitors – they might be able to match any 2 of them; but not all 3.

Now for the really tough question:  Is there ONE thing that sets you apart from your competition?  Something that nobody else can say they do ?  You may remember the days of everyone touting their “value proposition”.  The term was so over-used that it became somewhat cliché to me; but there is some validity to the concept.

You may not have “the one thing” – and that’s OK; but now that you have an idea what I mean by “chocolate cake”, if you haven’t already performed this exercise, I encourage you to do so and revisit it annually.  We found it both extremely challenging to initially create our chocolate cake recipe and enlightening as we receive feedback from both clients and partners as to their thoughts about what sets us apart.

What is our chocolate cake recipe? Click here to learn about our proven recipe and
why we're the IT company people actually like to talk to.