Build Unique Core Differentiators (UCDs) for Your Business


You’re hungry. You’re walking down Oxford Street in London and all around you are fast food outlets effectively screaming, “Come and eat here.” Then you notice a sandwich shop that you’ve never seen before. It’s packed with people. On the window you see a big sign that says: Passionate About Food. Elsewhere on the window, you see a huge burgundy diamond shape. Inside the diamond you read:

At Pret A Manger we are passionate about food, the pleasure it brings and the importance it plays in all our lives.


After years of practice and research, we have developed a range of sandwiches, salads, cakes and puddings which are tasty, healthy, homemade, value for money and served quickly.

The vast majority of our recipes are unique to Pret A Manger and freshly prepared each morning in our shops. We use only free range eggs, fresh herbs and we bake our own pastries and bread. We insist on quality you can trust.

When you go inside and buy (you’d almost have to after that build up!), you take your sandwich away in a bag that has exactly the same message on the outside but this time preceded with this:


Sinclair Beecham and I opened our first Pret A Manger in 1986. We have never swerved from our aim of providing the best for our customers. Our food may be “fast” but the selection of ingredients and quality of preparation is anything but.


And then the closing line on the bag is this:


If you would like to speak to me or one of my colleagues regarding anything to do with Pret A Manger, please feel free to call on 0171-827 6300. Thank you. Julian Metcalfe.


Question: would you like to have lunch at Pret A Manger, or would you prefer Joe and Mary’s sandwich shop selling hot dogs at $2.50 a time like everyone else? What the Pret A Manger owners have done is taken something essentially ordinary and made it unique. What they’ve done is to develop, articulate and focus on what we call their Unique Core Differentiators (or UCD for short).


Think of it this way:


  • People buy differences that they perceive.
  • Therefore, we must differentiate (or at least give the perception that we’re different).
  • That difference must be at our very core of the company and flow into everything we do.
  • That result is that we now have a constant uniqueness.

To us, the most important word in the process is “core.” When you’ve defined what the differentiators are, they have to be at the center of your company—at the “core” of your being, so to speak. Pret A Manger illustrates the point brilliantly. We can’t emphasize this aspect of UCDs enough. They provide a total focus for you. You must not fall into the trap of being everything to everybody. When you do, you’ll lose your UCD. And you’ll lose business as a result.

It could be that dealing with you is more fun than dealing with any one else. If that’s the case, it should be articulated everywhere. But here’s a critically important point—the UCD does not in fact have to be unique. Before you say “Now you’ve totally lost me,” consider this, it’s critical to understanding. You may not have anything that is totally unique. But if you are the first one to articulate a difference, (even though others do the same) you’ll stand out in the marketplace as if you are unique, simply because you’ve been the first to articulate it. Is Pret A Manger the only company in the world that is passionate about food, that uses free range eggs, fresh ingredients and so on? Of course not. But they were the first to articulate all of those factors together and make them part of their very core.


Now that we know what it is, the key question is how do we find it? We implied before that the problem is that business owners have never sat down and asked, “What distinguishes my company from my competitors? Am I more expensive or less expensive? Do I provide more service, a better value, a better guarantee, give two when you buy three or three when you buy two?” Your role in this is clear. What you must do is determine why, exactly, customers should buy from you rather than from your competitors.


You must implement a UCD even though this is often a difficult process. A UCD is NOT a logo, although it’s incredibly powerful if you can also make it part of your logo. Federal Express’s Absolutely Positively Overnight is a great example of a UCD brilliantly and succinctly expressed. But don’t concern yourself with brevity. Pret a Manger shows it well. “Passionate about food” is the shorthand version. The words on the bag take it further. A visit to their stores completes the picture.


A UCD has the power to focus you, your team and your customers. It has the power to get you to focus on your business in ways you’ve never dreamed of. Whatever it is for you—get it. It will make your business different—and quite possibly more profitable.


Paul Svendsen is a part-time instructor at COCC and President of Axia Valuation LLC. He can be reached at 389-4740.



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