What’s a unique selling proposition?
Did you know that 1 in 5 young businesses fail because they can’t outpace their competitors? That’s partly because they didn’t communicate clearly what they offer and how it benefits their prospective customers.
A great way to avoid this common pitfall is to develop a unique selling proposition (USP). A USP simply helps you define what you sell and why you’re the best choice for your customers’ needs.
A USP is not the same as your tagline or advertising copy. Instead, it’s an internal statement that serves as the foundation of your company’s messaging. It helps ensure that your messaging (in whatever form) clearly communicates who you serve, what needs you fill, what’s unique about your offering, and why this makes you the winning choice. That way, your prospects can easily understand why you’re the best choice for them, and your customers are reassured that they made the right selection and are encouraged to stick with you.
What makes a good USP
Your USP should include the following elements:
Our company/product/service is:
- For: your audience
- Who need: your offering
- Company/product/service: your company or offering name
- Is the one: your unique differentiator
- That: unique benefit that you offer
- Unlike: competitors in your category
- Summary: your company or product name is the unique offering and benefit
Here’s an example: Beverly’s Best Meals is a catering company that makes and delivers nut-free meals for busy families with allergies that struggle to make healthy meals on weeknights.
A USP for Beverly’s Best Meals could read:
- For: Busy families with nut allergies
- Who need: Nutritious, tasty, nut-free meals prepared and delivered right to their door
- Company/product/service: Beverly’s Best Meals
- Is the one: Source of safe, tasty, prepared meals in Chicagoland
- That: Makes meals that are nutritious and safe for families
- Unlike: Other catering companies in Chicagoland
- Summary: Beverly’s Best Meals is the only meal delivery service in Chicagoland that provides nutritious, safe, and tasty meals to families with nut allergies.
The process of creating a USP forces you to think about how exactly you benefit your customers and why they should buy from you, not a competitor. It can help you clarify your offerings, the channels you use to reach your target audience, and of course, the messaging you use to communicate your benefits.
Here are some more examples:
Annie’s Salon is a hairdresser that specializes in blow-outs.
- For: Busy, style-conscious, professional women
- Who need: To look great for work and events
- Company/product/service: Annie’s Salon
- Is the one: Hair salon in San Diego
- That: Provides fast, affordable, expert blow-outs
- Unlike: Other salons in San Diego
- Summary: Annie’s Salon is the only salon in San Diego that provides fast, affordable, expert blow-outs to style-conscious, professional women.
Muse Instruments hand-makes string instruments such as guitars, violins, mandolins, and banjos from rare or unusual wood, such as apple or tiger maple.
- For: Serious musicians who cherish hand-crafted quality
- Who need: Beautiful, durable, and acoustically perfect stringed instruments
- Company/product/service: Muse Instruments
- Is the one: Manufacturer of stringed instruments
- That: Makes professional-quality instruments from handpicked, rare, and unusual woods
- Unlike: Other stringed instrument manufacturers
- Summary: Muse Instruments is the only stringed instrument maker that hand-crafts professional-quality instruments from rare and unusual woods for professional musicians and hobbyists alike.
Claire’s Event Organizer is a planner and executor of events for demanding higher education clients.
- For: Demanding higher education clients planning high stakes conferences and events
- Who need: To please and impress colleagues and supporters by hosting flawless events
- Company/product/service: Claire’s Event Organizer
- Is the one: High-end provider of event organizing for higher education clients in greater Austin, TX
- That: Provides event planning, set-up and management for events that get results
- Unlike: Other event planners in Austin
- Summary: Claire’s Event Organizer is the only high-end event planner for higher education in Austin, TX delivering support for demanding clients who need to run flawless events that deliver on their objectives.
Note that USPs can focus on different aspects of a company’s offerings. One company may rely on its product quality to stand apart, while another may rely on customer service, breadth of offerings, or expertise. Other things that might differentiate your company are:
- Unique skill set or product
- Signature style
- Materials used
- Focus on a narrow market
- Customer service
- Business processes
- Speed of service
- Pricing model
Create your USP
Now it’s time to develop a USP for your business. Briefly answer each of these questions:
- Who do you serve? In other words, who’s your audience?
- What do they need? In other words, what’s your offering? This can be for your whole company or for a specific product or service.
- How would you describe your company in one phrase? In other words, what industry or category are you in?
- What’s unique about your company or offering? Keep in mind that this must be meaningful to your prospective customers.
- Who do you compete against? This helps to frame how you, and your customers, think about you. For example, are you a caterer or an event planner? Are you a painter or an interior decorator? These potentially subtle distinctions can help you think about how prospective customers think about your offerings.
Answering these questions will help you pinpoint what your customers need most, how you deliver that very thing, and how you do that better than anyone else. And voila! Say hello to your USP.
Validating your USP
Once you have your USP, you want to be sure it resonates with your target audience. One of the best ways to do this is to talk to your customers in person, on the phone, or even via an online survey. This grassroots market research can help you find out what actually matters most to the people who buy from you, rather than what you think matters most. Sometimes these two things are aligned, but not always!
When you conduct this research, be sure to ask about customer needs that aren’t being met—by you or your competitors.
And speaking of competitors, study them. Look at their websites, advertising, and social media presence to get a sense of how they position their company and offerings. Visit their stores or shops. Then, consider how your company serves the market differently. The insight you gain will give you a clear understanding of their offerings and business processes so you can pinpoint how you’re different and better. For example: Are your products easier to use? Do you have technology that helps get the job done faster?
Keep in mind it’s critical that your USP reflects the truth. It should be backed up with real customer experiences and competitive insights, rather than simply telling the market what it wants to hear.
How to use your USP
Once you have a strong USP, it’s time to share it with the world. You’ll find lots of opportunities to do this through your marketing efforts, but you should also look for ways to underscore it in everything your business does, from your return policy to the outbound message on your voicemail.
The most important thing is that your UPS serves as a touchstone for decision-making and client care and guides the focus of your marketing. This means resisting the urge to rave about product features in your messages and, instead, sharing the benefits your USP delivers to customers. This will show them why your company is the perfect fit for their needs.
Time to celebrate your uniqueness
Now that you know how important a USP is to your business, start brainstorming what makes your business different—and better—than your competitors. The more attention you pay to your USP, the more it’ll become an ingrained part of what people think about when they think about your business.