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In marketing, we talk a lot about differentiation, about defining your unique selling proposition or USP and how you provide unique value to your clients.

In the past month, I’ve read two marketing books — The One Page Marketing Plan by Alan Dib and Dan Kennedy’s No BS Guide to Direct Response Social Media — and both were very clear about the key to success: defining your differentiation. But I’ve been consulting with staffing firms for more than 25 years and met some very successful executives and entrepreneurs along the way. And in all that time, I’ve seen very few — if any — truly compelling USPs.

Is There No Unique Differentiation in Staffing?

Ask most staffing executives what sets their company apart, and you’ll get a few common responses:

  • It’s our people.
  • Our industry knowledge makes us unique.
  • It’s our service.
  • It’s our quality of talent.
  • We’re a full-service staffing firm.
  • We’re a highly specialized staffing firm.

Be honest. How often do you say one of these things when someone asks what makes you different? In a service-based industry like staffing, it’s tempting to differentiate based on service quality. The problem? Customers have to experience your service to see the difference.

So, How Can a Staffing Company Truly Differentiate Itself?

If you can’t differentiate yourself on service quality, how do you do it? Am I saying there is no good way to differentiate in staffing? Of course not. Differentiation is unlikely to come from what you do because the processes most staffing companies use are similar. Your real differentiation comes from who you are:

  • Your mission
  • Your vision
  • Your core values

…and how you live these things every day. So, what are mission, vision and values? And what’s the difference among them?

Here’s how to differentiate your staffing firm in a way that matters to employers and job seekers.

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Define Your Mission

A mission statement clearly defines what you do, why you do it and whom you’re doing it for. If you’re a Simon Sinek fan, your mission defines your “what” and “why.” Define your mission by asking yourself:

  • Why was the company founded?
  • What major problem are we trying to solve?
  • What do we strive to be the best in the world at doing?
  • For whom do we do it?

The best mission statements are bold. Inspiring. And they address issues that aren’t being resolved by anyone else in your field. They’re also easy to remember — ideally, 10 words or less.

Focus on Your Vision

Your mission should be distinct from your vision. While your mission defines what you do and why you do it, your vision defines where you are going. Think of it as the future state of your organization.

Your vision can get very specific. Think about:

  • How big your company will become — in revenue, location, number of employees, etc.
  • The services you’ll offer.
  • The impact you’ll make on your industry/community.
  • The path you’ll follow to achieve your growth.

Your mission is the dream. Your vision is the plan to get there.

Know Your Core Values

Over the past 25 years, I’ve seen countless companies list core values like honesty, integrity and hard work. While these may be true, they don’t differentiate. They’re vanilla. Any company might adopt these. And who wants to work with a company that doesn’t embody these values?

Core values should be written as an easy-to-remember word or phrase supported by a one-sentence description. Then, add examples to provide clarity for your team.

When your core values are the foundation of your culture, you’re truly living your values.

Differentiation Is About Who You Are

Your service processes can be replicated. Your sales and recruiting methods are probably very similar to your competitors’. What makes you unique is your purpose for being (mission), your path for getting there (vision) and how you live and work every day (core values). In an industry like staffing where differentiation is hard to achieve, this is your (truly!) unique selling proposition.

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