I’m Andrew Levy, and I’m here on Stephen’s blog to promote my new venture: MiFynder.
We met when we both worked at an advertising agency called Lowe Howard-Spink. He ran the agency’s biggest international account, General Motors, and I was the Group Planning Director.
I started my career in Ted Bates where Rosser Reeves had, in frustration at the amount of fuzzy thinking going on, first come up with the idea of the Unique Selling Proposition (USP) that dominated advertising thinking in the 1960s and 70s.
The USP fell into disuse as a combination of product convergence and more rigorous communications regulation led to it becoming virtually impossible to find a unique proposition in the first place, or be permitted to claim it in the second. In the pursuit of ever more elusive uniqueness, USPs inclined towards the trivial, an example being from “The fastest 2 litre production car in the world” to “The only car with colour fade resistant interior leather.”
The tension between how unique a proposition was and how compelling it was as a selling point led to a downward spiral.
By the 1980s lifestyle and imagery based communications had pretty much replaced USPs in the mainstream. As consumers, we were no longer asked to believe the advertising, but to identify with it.
In the USP era advertising’s key role was to communicate a product truth (an incomplete and one-sided version, but nevertheless a truth.) The ubiquitous availability of alternative product evaluations on the internet has now largely rendered this role of advertising obsolete and, with it, the USP.
But with the loss of the USP, we also lost a valuable discipline it imposed on our thinking. The USP forced us to ask the basic question: what was actually good about the product we were promoting? Why, in this planet full of stuff, did it exist? The USP had made us look for only rather narrow answers, but at least it made us look for answers. The lifestyle and image advertising that replaced it encouraged the marketing community to give up on substantive product questions altogether.
This was a dereliction of duty. Most of the world’s best brands still have what you might call Corporate USPs, or at least
can offer a compelling answer to the question: why do you exist? The demise of the USP in marketing came from a change in what makes sense in modern communications channels, not from any change in what’s important.
Over my years in brand planning I never gave up on the basic disciplines of the USP. I developed a proprietary technique to help brands get clear about their message. Whereas most brand development models build layer upon layer of detail, my approach stripped away all these layers and focused instead, on just one question: why does your brand exist?
I called the answer to this question, an Existential Proposition (EP). By insisting on eight separate criteria that the answer must satisfy, I found that once you get clear on this question, all the other answers usually fall into place.
I left Lowe’s to build my own company with partners. After 15 years we successfully sold to a big group, and I left the industry in 2008 to take a break.Then, some months ago, I was asked to help someone develop the brand positioning for their new company. Afterwards they sent me an email:
“It was great. It’s not just that I’ve got clarity about my brand, I feel I understand what I am here for too – me, as a human being, not just me as a company owner.”
That’s when I realised I could use what I know about brands to help people gain clarity and make positive sense of their professional lives – and the idea of MiFynder was born.
Brands are formidable competitors, because that is precisely what they are designed to be, and people can improve their own career performance by positioning themselves as individual brands. The question I now focus on is, “What is your working life for?”
Using the same eight criteria, I guide people to their own clear and personally satisfying answer to this all important question. And as with brands, I still find that once you get clear on this, everything else falls into place.
(I’ve known Andrew for at least twenty years, and have a very high regard for him. If you need help with your business and your career, he’s well worth a call. Stephen)