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The following article was written by Coleman Patterson and appeared in the Business section of the Abilene Reporter-News.

If everyone was incredible…, February 24, 2008, 2D.
(an expanded version of this article to appear in The Baptist Educator)

I have heard it said that good preachers can find sermons in almost anything they encounter.  I think that it is also possible to find lessons in management and leadership in many things as well.

The Incredibles, a movie made for kids and adults, provides one such example.  The movie tells the story of a family of superheroes who become locked into battle with a nemesis who makes himself powerful by inventing machines and weapons.   Buddy, the nemesis, reveals that his ultimate plan is to sell his inventions so that everyone can be superheroes.  “And when everyone’s super,” Buddy cautions, “no one will be.”

I recently received a recruiting brochure in the mail from a nearby, peer university.  The brochure showed pictures of attractive and happy-looking college students smiling and having fun at scenic campus locations and events.  It had images of professors and students interacting in classroom settings, pictures from athletic events, and images of students engaging in worship and Bible study.  The text described the institution as being warm, caring, and academically challenging.  Prospective students were encouraged to choose this school because of its small class sizes, interaction with caring and committed faculty members who take personal interest in their students, relevant and interesting academic programs, and its faith-based education.  The brochure touted the things that made the institution “super.”

The institution did not come across as super or extraordinary.  I felt like I had seen the brochure countless times before from a countless number of schools—prospective students who receive the brochures probably feel the same way.  The brochure described important, relevant, and interesting characteristics of the institution, but they were not super.  The school came across as very common.  In fact, there are three competitors in Abilene that could claim those same distinguishing characteristics.  

To be super, institutions and their offerings have to be different from others—they need to be unique.  The concept of choosing one or more important consumer dimensions to compete with others for consumers is known as the unique selling proposition (USP).  The USP is the thing or “angle” that firms use to differentiate themselves from their competitors in the minds of consumers.  The things that make the institution unique must be things that consumers find relevant and desirable.  A good USP is one that competitors cannot imitate or replicate and when exploited over the long run can create monopoly-like advantages for organizations and become forms of sustainable competitive advantage.

To attract the attention and interest of prospective consumers, organizations must develop and offer unique features, products, services, programs, and experiences that make themselves different from their competitors.  To be unique, organizations, their offerings, and the messages that they broadcast into the marketplace must be unlike others.  Simply stating important and worthwhile characteristics does not make an institution unique in the minds of consumers, especially when their competitors tout the same things.  Having the same super characteristics as everyone else makes no one super.  Might there be a sermon in that?

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2006, 2007, 2008  Coleman Patterson, All Rights Reserved