Could you successfully market yourself on a plane? (The secret of the unique selling proposition)

I met an interesting gentleman a short time ago, who was also a master of the unique selling proposition.

He walked up to my desk at the client office, and politely asked what I was doing. I explained we were expressing his company’s brand on a landing page, in videos, and in an email campaign sent out to prospects. The goal was to interest them in the client’s product to the point of picking up the phone.

He smiled, and told me he had discovered a far more effective way of marketing the company. He flew Southwest frequently, and in the space of virtually every 60-90 minute flight he made, he said he landed a client.

This really got my attention. And it brought to mind something we all too often forget. How to make a powerful human connection with your pitch.

The almighty unique selling proposition

When I asked him how he managed his incredible win rate, he didn’t hesitate – it was getting his unique selling proposition right.

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A unique selling proposition (or USP) isn’t a simple statement of what you do. It isn’t a cute tagline for yourself. Instead, it’s a thoughtful statement of what you do better than any other company in the world. But that’s only half the story. A USP also needs to state who your unique target is, and why they should care about the unique thing you’re offering.

I know, it’s difficult to imagine that you – a realtor or plumber or T-shirt manufacturer – has a truly unique offering. There are thousands of people who do exactly what you do.

But you do have something unique to sell. If you think like the first tire maker.

Tires and the niche market

The world’s first auto tire manufacturer didn’t have to worry about competition. He was the only game in town.

Inevitably, though, as with any lucrative market, others began to invade his space, until he was one of many.

He decided not to compete on price (a short term strategy if ever there was one). Instead, he got out of the car tire business… and into truck tires.

Again, he was the only game in town. The world’s only truck tire manufacturer. Sure, it was a smaller market than cars and trucks. But as a niche supplier, he had plenty of business.

Like the first time around, unfortunately, his monopoly was short-lived. Before long, there were a host of other truck tire manufacturers. His offering was rapidly approaching commodity status.

Now, let’s assume there were no motorcycles at the time. So there was no more jumping to blue water.

So instead, our savvy manufacturer decided to stake his claim – he would be the ‘longest-wearing’ truck tire.

Again, a unique claim that long haul truckers certainly valued. Back to monopoly-land.

This example illustrates a great strategy for shaking your commodity status. Think like our tire manufacturer, and either find new markets or new specializations.

Listen, listen, listen

My flying friend didn’t stop at talking about nailing the USP. Just as important, he said, was to listen.

It may sound easy, but in reality, too many of us launch into our pitch and don’t stop until we’re done (or our conversation partner is asleep).

My friend said that when someone asked him what he did, he countered with ‘What do you do?’ From there, he’d continue asking questions that would enable his conversation partner to unpack everything about their job – including problems that my friend might be able to solve.

Only at that point would he volunteer information about his own profession – in the form of an offer to help with problems.

The trick wasn’t to pitch. It was to let his audience tell him how he could help them.

Offer selfless help

Sometimes, there simply isn’t alignment between what you do and what the person in the next seat wants.

At this point, it’s time to think in terms of long term strategy. The real job at hand is to solve your conversation partner’s problem.

Doubtless you have a robust network. Do any of the people in your network have skills that could solve your conversation partner’s problem? Volunteer to make the connection.

The power of this selfless giving is karma. In my experience, karma almost always comes back.


My flying friend offered one last insight: he mentioned that it took him quite a few flights to get his USP, listening skills and pitch up to snuff.

Don’t expect this to be a slam dunk the first time out. In fact, you should count on trying out different facets of your USP on your conversation partner, based on their needs. Some will produce results, some won’t.

Like your flight, your goal is to keep your success moving forward.

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