Identifying Your USP (Unique Selling Proposition)

What’s your unique selling proposition (USP)? To market your business effectively and win customers, you need to know how you differ from competitors, and why that difference is important.

Deciding on a USP is possibly the most important decision you can make about your business.

If you make your business stand apart from the crowd, everything you do will be easier. Customers will be easier to come by. Adoring fans will gladly spread the word about what you do because they love it.

On the other hand, if you don’t develop an effective USP, building an audience or getting any customers to pay attention to you will be a constant struggle.

Your USP can mean the difference between success and failure.

What is a unique selling proposition?

Your unique selling proposition is what makes your business stand out. It’s what makes you different and earns you a special place in the minds of your potential customers.

If the word “selling” turns you off, you can think of it as the “unique market proposition” if you’d like. It’s not about selling, it’s simply about differentiation. There are other terms such as Point of Difference (POD) used to describe the concept, too. Whatever you want to call it, differentiating your business is a good thing, whether you’re talking about the business itself, your products or your marketing.

Think of your overall USP as your reason for being. Think about it from your customer’s point of view. With tens or hundreds of potential options out there, you have to answer the question, “Why should I buy from you?” Or “Why should I read your blog, when there are millions of other blogs I could be reading?”

If you don’t answer that question quickly, your potential customers or readers will move on. It’s really pretty simple.

It’s not about being the best

Having a great product or superb content is probably not enough of a difference to make your business stand out. In most markets, having a great product is just the price of admission.

When you’re small, it’s hard to compete on product or content quality alone. You need to change the conversation. Instead of screaming “hey, look at me, I have great stuff too,” you want to confidently say, “hey, I’m all about X, we do things differently. If you’re into X, we’re the only place you can get it.”

That’s the power of a unique selling proposition. You want to be the best at something, but you can make it far easier if you define your competitors yourself.

Your USP sets customer expectations for the way you’ll do business and the results the customer will achieve. It’s vitally important to meet those expectations, so be sure the USP you choose is one you can fulfill.

Promotion is only a small part of marketing

A good USP gives your small business a way to promote itself based on something other than price. But promotion alone can’t make up for a crappy product, mediocre content or the lack of a unique selling proposition. That would be like putting lipstick on a pig.

Building a high-traffic website or successful business starts with your point of view. It begins with your thesis, how do you see the world, how you care for and help your customers, and extends through to your content, products, customer interactions and then finally to your promotion.

Attracting customers isn’t something you “bolt on” in the end. It’s something you work on at every stage of your business, and your unique selling proposition is the first stage.

How to find your unique selling proposition

So, you’ve bought into the idea that a unique selling proposition is important, but how do you define yours?

There are a lot of different approaches you can take. Your USP might end up being a combination of things. There’s no one right answer. And depending on what business you’re in, even a small amount of differentiation could lead to a much greater shot at success.

Here are a few simple ways to differentiate your business. These aren’t the only ways, but it’s a starting point to get you thinking.

1 – Research customer comments about your industry

What are people saying about competing companies or products? What are they writing about in reviews,  or asking questions about on product Q & A pages? What are they saying in social media? What are your own customers telling your salespeople? Write down what you read, then consider how your product or service can solve the problems people are writing about.

2 – Use your personality

If you’re running a very small business (like I do), or are are the primary owner of your business, sometimes your personality alone can be a powerful difference.

You have to have a personality that resonates with some people to pull this off, but by putting your personal stamp on many aspects of your business, you create something no one can directly compete with (there is only one you, after all). Gary Vaynerchuk is a great example of this approach.

3 – Explore the intersection of ideas

Interesting things happen at the intersection of ideas. Instead of a restaurant that specializes in Japanese or Chinese food, do both and promote your menu as Asian fusion. Think about it. Mix collective buying power with the social web and you get Groupon.

Think about the topic your business is about, and what you could add to the mix to make it more interesting and unique. It doesn’t require inventing something new, just combine two things you already know about.

4 – Narrow your target audience

Here’s another technique that’s pretty easy to pull off. You can choose a narrow target audience who has never had a business like yours cater specifically to it. For example, become a web designer for plumbers, or a plumber for recreational vehicles, or write about online marketing for dentists.

Think about this from the customer’s standpoint. If you were a dentist and needed help with online marketing, wouldn’t you be inclined to choose the business that specializes in dentists?

The other benefit of specializing in a narrow market segment is that promotion becomes much easier. You know where to find dentists together at conferences and where they hang out online, so you know how to target them.

5 – Narrow your topic

Specialize narrowly in one particular aspect of your topic. Instead of being a web developer, become a web developer who translates visual designs into working WordPress websites. Instead of being an auto mechanic, become an auto mechanic who specializes in American-made electric vehicles.

6 – Narrow your target audience

Remember, you’re not trying to appeal to everyone. When starting out, creating a USP might seem like you’ll be leaving out some potential customers. It’s a natural tendency to want to please everybody.

But when you try to please everybody, you end up pleasing no one. The goal of your USP will be to connect more strongly with some people, and not so much with others. This is what you want because when you connect strongly with a smaller audience, your influence can spread much more quickly.

Communicating Your USP

Once you’ve developed a unique selling proposition, your job is to communicate it clearly and often. That’s the role of branding, design and messaging. A great name, tagline and design can really tie this whole concept of uniqueness together.

And remember that the USP isn’t a one-time decision. You have to constantly remind people of what you stand for. Tell them in no uncertain terms on a regular basis why your business is different.

Among the places to use your USP:

  • Your 30-second commercial (introduction) at networking meetings
  • Marketing brochures
  • Ads
  • Your website
  • Social media
  • Videos
  • Your business card
  • Press releases
  • Customer Proposals
  • Press releases and publicity

Be Unique, But Not For Its Own Sake

Being unique is an important marketing strategy, but beware of being unique for its own sake. Being the only business who sells waterskis in the desert makes you unique, but it doesn’t mean there’s a market for your product.

Your unique selling proposition only works when you’re addressing some demand. It’s not necessarily about defining an entirely new market with unproven demand.

Being unique also requires clarity. If the unique selling proposition you come up with takes someone minutes or hours to understand, it probably won’t be effective. Being clear is another essential aspect of building a successful business or popular website.

Can you succeed without a dynamite USP?

Yes, of course it’s possible to succeed without a great unique selling proposition. It’s possible, but definitely not as easy. And success without a good USP requires better product development and promotion, along with some outside factors (maybe a little luck).

Sometimes there is so much demand in a market that multiple (virtually identical) businesses can succeed without working hard to differentiate themselves. In these cases, as long as you have a great product and a way to reach the market, you might be able to break through.

Look at the WordPress themes market, for example. There are lots of successful players in that market, and not too much difference between them.

In terms of audience building, a USP is really the foundation of your efforts and will have a multiplier effect on your product and marketing.

You can always create a great product and rely on good old fashioned hard work to grow your business, but by adding a solid unique selling proposition you’ll reach your goals faster.

What if your business doesn’t have much of a USP?

So, you have a website or business, and now you’re thinking, shit, I didn’t really think about this USP stuff before I started. What do I do now?

Don’t do anything rash, first of all. You can refine your unique selling proposition without scrapping your entire business, and still make a big difference. The important thing is that you now understand how to use uniqueness to your advantage.

And here’s a word of caution. All of this can seem a little daunting at first. I’ve seen plenty of people get hung up on the concept of the USP for weeks or months. But remember that research and planning with no action won’t get you anywhere. It’s better to start working on your idea and refine it as you go along than it is to get stuck contemplating the perfect USP without doing anything.

Disclaimer: The content on this page is for informational purposes only, and does not constitute legal, tax, or accounting advice. If you have specific questions about any of these topics, seek the counsel of a licensed professional.


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