In The Brand Mapping Strategy, branding and marketing strategist Karen Tiber Leland shares her hard-earned insights, proven strategies, and best practices for creating a brand by design -- instead of by default -- to help you gain greater influence within your industry and become a thought leader in your field. In this edited excerpt, Leland explains how you can determine exactly what your unique branding proposition is so you can use it to attract business.

I don’t believe in ruthless competition. I honestly think that if you’re great at what you do (or make, or build, or offer), there’s enough work to go around. I do, however, believe in positioning, specifically in articulating how your brand speaks to the needs of your audience and the unique way you address those needs. Your unique branding proposition (UBP) answers the question “Why you?” Some of the key specific attributes a UBP may contain include:

  • Specialized background, education, training, or experience you possess
  • Proprietary or detailed processes you’ve created and use with clients
  • Specific talents that set you apart
  • Content, industry, or another niche you have expertise and/or expe­rience in
  • Unique solution to a common problem that you’re addressing in a new or unusual way
  • Something you do or offer that’s hard to imitate/replicate

The clearer you are about your positioning (personal or business), the easier it is for potential clients and customers (who are the right match for what you offer) to see themselves working with you. To begin identifying and articulating your UBP, do the following exercise.

Take out a sheet of paper, and divide the page into five vertical columns. Label the first column “Attributes,” and write down a list of the attributes you believe are most important to your audience. What critical criteria are that particular audience using to determine whom to hire, promote, buy from, etc.? For example, in my line of work, the key attributes potential clients often screen for in a branding and marketing consultant include:

  • Experience in PR and placement of clients in media outlets online and off
  • Writing skills, including blogs, books, and articles
  • Knowledge of specific social media best practices for branding
  • Ability to create and shape an online presence, including LinkedIn profiles
  • Proven process for branding a person or business
  • Specific deliverables the client can expect from an engagement
  • Prior experience working with a similar type of business, industry, or situation
  • Access to implementation methods of the branding and marketing activities needed, including website development, PR placements, ghostwriting, etc.
  • A good fit in terms of personality, style, and ways of working

Keep in mind that depending on your client’s objectives, the attributes they’re looking for won’t be of equal importance. For instance, the author of an upcoming book is more likely to be concerned with a consultant’s PR experience, while the CEO looking to build a personal brand may be more focused on the social media and writing skills of the consultant.

Now it’s your turn. In the first column, make a list of the main attributes your audience is looking for.

Next, label the second column on your sheet “Rating,” and considering each attribute individually, assign yourself a number on a scale of 1 (very poor) to 10 (superstar) for how well your current brand matches each desired attribute.

Next, label column three “Zone,” review each attribute, and assign it a zone according to the following scale:

Not Zone. If your score was a 6 or below on any of the attributes, you’re in the Not Zone with this aspect of your brand, and it’s likely hurting your competitive advantage. For those attributes where you’re falling short, create a strategy to bring them up to par.

Neutral Zone. If your score was a 7 or 8 for an attribute, you’re in the Neutral Zone for this aspect of your brand, and it’s currently not strong enough to be a candidate for your UBP. Ask yourself what you could do to bolster this attribute and bring it into the Hot Zone.

Hot Zone. If your score was 9 or 10 for an attribute, you’re in the Hot Zone for this aspect of your brand, and it’s likely a part of your UBP.

Label column four “Competition,” and rate your competitors (as a whole or by specific name) on a scale of 1 to 10 for how well their current brand matches each desired attribute. How did you stack up? Take a look at each individual attribute, and compare the numerical difference between you and your competitors. Make a checkmark next to those attributes where you’re falling two or more points below your competitors. These attributes are the place where your competitors may be gaining a UBP over you. At the very least, you’ll want to bring your score up to par.

Finally, label column five “QQ” and for each one of your Hot Zone attributes, list the strong qualitative or quantitative aspects of your brand that relate to that attribute and why it matters. For example, for the attribute “writing ability,” some of the quantitative/qualitative points for the person might include:

Quantity/Quality Aspect: Author of several books, former journalist for a newspaper, blogger for a popular online site, freelance writer with more than 300 articles published in magazines and newspapers, experienced ghostwriter for blogs, ebooks, book proposals, and articles for clients, which have resulted in major media placements and book acquisitions from major publishers.

Why This Matters: Many businesspeople are great talkers, but not great writers. Our fictitious marketing person has broad experience as a journalist (online and off), which gives her a distinct and unique advantage over someone else who has insufficient writing skills, lacks experience, or subcontracts the writing out to a third party.

Finally, to prepare you to write your UBP, answer these two questions:

1. What is it your audience doesn’t know that they don’t know about what they want? In other words, what it is you provide that they may never have thought about or articulated, but when they hear it, a light bulb goes off and they say, “Yes; that’s what I’m looking for.”

2. What do you do that’s difficult to imitate? What do you bring to the party that’s hard for most of your competition to match?

Remember:

  • Your UBP doesn’t have to be an out-of-the-box quality. It can be something as simple as depth or breadth of experience.
  • Your UBP doesn’t make you better (or worse) than anyone else; it’s just what gives your brand its particular flavor. There’s a right fit for everyone.
  • Your UBP can be a combination of factors, including your talents, experience, and even attitude.
  • Your UBP can include any proprietary processes, systems, methods, or techniques you have created.

Armed with the answers to the two questions above, your Hot Zone attributes, and quality and quantity specifics, take a crack at articulating your UBP.