Updated April 5, 2018
According to the Entrepreneur.com encyclopedia, a unique selling proposition (USP) is The factor or consideration presented by a seller as the reason that one product or service is different from and better than that of the competition.
But let’s get real here: your unique selling proposition is more than just a factor differentiating you from the competition. It is the compelling reason that potential customers must choose you over all others. It grabs the attention of your ideal customers. It represents the values your business stands for. And alignment with these values makes people want to do business with you.
Why have a unique selling proposition?
Your target customers are presented with many options, and it’s difficult for them to decide where to invest their time and money — not to mention their trust and respect. They might not have the understanding or experience to evaluate their options. Then again, the shared values expressed in your USP can demonstrate that you and your customer are like-minded in approach and objectives — and that you inherently understand and can accommodate their needs and desires.
A strong unique selling proposition answers these key questions:
- How are you different from the competition, and why is this relevant to customers?
- What is the specific and unique benefit to choosing you over the competition?
- Why do customers care about this benefit?
Appeal to what customers care about
At the heart of a strong USP is an appeal to at least one benefit that your target customer values above all others, including:
- Optimize resources. How can you save customers time and money?
- Stress problem-solving. How can you help customers solve problems?
- Appeal to emotion. How can you help customers avoid negative feelings of stress, irritation, or frustration?
- Boost self-image. How can you help customers heighten their own perception of their business?
- Guarantee results. What compensation can you promise if claims are not met?
- Encourage comparison to help them get the best result. Are you confident enough to suggest that customers shop around, or solicit multiple proposals?
Strategies to determine your USP
Wondering how to zero in on your specific USP? Start with brainstorming around a variety of topics.
Understand what motivates buying decisions. Know which factors customers are most interested in, when confronted with choices.
Analyze the competition. Identify where competitors have an advantage in terms of price, service, location, or quality. Then figure out ways to improve upon that.
Identify frustration factors. Determine competitors’ weaknesses you can capitalize on, such as slow delivery or a cumbersome return process.
Emphasize behaviors, skills or traits. Being selected “Most Organized” in my senior class is an unusual distinction, and has worked to my advantage in marketing for many years.
Cite specifics you can substantiate. Collect evidence wherever you can find it, including ratings, reviews, awards, thank you notes and work samples.
Know why customers buy from you. Highlight what current clients praise, and address feedback from negative reviews to turn it to your advantage.
Capitalize on stereotypical negative factors. I often hear complaints about lack of a timely response from web pros.
As one of my own differentiating values, I commit to respond to all emails within 24 hours. And I do.
During a recent three-day Disneyland vacation, I had plenty of time waiting in line, and used it to answer email on my phone. With a response of “I’m on vacation, will do this when I’m back on Friday,” clients rest easy knowing that their request is in the queue.
Get personal. Leverage the reputation of a personality, spokesperson or mascot.
Promise a concrete guarantee. Boost consumer confidence with a money-back guarantee, free return shipping, or a discount if delivery is not as specified.
Don’t go there: How to sabotage your USP
Creating a unique selling proposition sounds easy enough. Then again, the wrong USP can do serious damage to both your reputation and bottom line. Steer clear of the following approaches:
Relying on low price. Beware of lowering prices in an attempt to boost sales. With so many other factors to consider, price alone should no longer be the differentiator. I like to say “you can’t be the best and the cheapest at the same time.”
Highlighting something you can’t substantiate. Don’t say “thousands of small business owners prefer us” unless you can produce testimonials, survey results, objective reviews and numerical evidence.
Going generic. Using highly generic and replaceable terms isn’t meaningful. Saying you are the leading or the best doesn’t necessarily convey real information about your advantage — unless you really did receive a “best of” award.
Touting a benefit that doesn’t matter to customers. It your claim doesn’t appeal to what concerns your customers, it’s not making a difference in their buying decision.
Claiming an “empty” benefit. When everyone makes the same claim or promise, its value is diluted, and eventually meaningless.
Trying to appeal to everyone. Don’t just say “we’re the best choice for individuals and small- to medium-sized businesses or nonprofits.” Narrow down your audience of ideal clients, then appeal to them — and only them.
Developing a unique selling proposition: The worksheet
Your unique selling proposition (USP) is the reason that your products or services are different from and better than the competition. An effective USP grabs the attention of potential customers and aligns with your company’s values. Use this worksheet to get organized and review primary factors regarding creation and marketing of your USP. Let’s go!
Start by answering these key questions:
- How are you different from the competition?
- Why is this difference relevant to your potential customers?
- What is the specific and unique benefit to customers who choose you over the competition?
- Why do customers care about this benefit?
Who is your audience?
Can you define target audiences of potential customers? Parameters to define sub-audiences could include:
- Physical attributes: Age, gender, health status
- Cultural attributes: Language, ethnic group, nationality, marital/family status
- Personal attributes: Economic status, education level
- Entity type: Individual, small business, corporation, nonprofit organization, professional organization
- Business/Organization type: healthcare, legal, finance, education, technology, animals, transportation, professional services, political, sports, performing arts, craft/hobby, etc.
- Access method: type of system used to access information about your business (computer, tablet, smartphone, website vs. social media, other)
What do your customers care most about?
- How can you help customers optimize resources?
- Save money
- Save time
- Reduce staffing needs
2. What problems can you help customers solve?
3. Which negative emotions are customers experiencing with other providers?
4. What specific behaviors or business aspects might be causing those negative emotions, and what can you do to avoid them?
5. What type of compensation would customers value if the claims in your unique selling proposition are not met?
6. What type of comparison shopping can you suggest as a means to build confidence in USP claims?
- Encourage comparison to other business’s ads
- Encourage solicitation of multiple proposals
- Offer to meet claims made in competitors’ ads
Brainstorming possible USP features
1. What motivates buying decisions of current and future customers?
- Delivery time/speed
- Additional costs for shipping/handling
- Service level and availability
- Breadth of options or choices
- Special access to products or services only available through one source
Get insight into how customers make buying decisions.
2. Which factors do your competitors highlight in their USPs?
3. How can you improve on what they offer?
4. Which weaknesses do your competitors have?
5. How can you highlight your difference when it comes to those weaknesses?
6. What positive recognition can you reference?
- Product/service reviews on other websites such as Yelp!
- Product/service reviews in third-party articles highlighting “best of” in your category
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7. What personal behaviors, skills, or traits can you highlight?
8. What concrete evidence can you produce to support your claims?
- Reviews on other websites
- Thank you notes or letters from customers
- Mention in published articles
- Professional recognition including education, certifications, memberships, affiliations
9. What do you know about negative stereotypes in your business, and how can you specifically address concerns in those areas?
10. Is there a recognized local figure who might endorse your business?
11. Do you have a mascot (fictional or real) that can be used in a positive way?
Double-check your proposed unique selling proposition
Take a few minutes to give your USP a second (or third, or fourth) look. Consider:
- Are you relying on a single factor (such as price) that would be easy for someone else to undercut?
- Can you substantiate what you’re claiming?
- Is your claim too generic?
- Can many others make the same claim?
- Are you sure that your USP is a benefit to your target customers?
- Have you targeted a specific audience, such that your unique selling proposition would appeal to most members of it?
Capitalizing on your USP
Once you have your unique selling proposition nailed down, be sure to integrate it into all of your marketing materials, starting with your website and social media profiles. Consider the following approaches in using your USP:
- Feature it prominently on the Home page.
- Add it to the header that appears on every page.
- Optimize copy around words and phrases used.
- Incorporate it into the About page.
- Create a separate Why Choose Us page with narrative and details.
- Include testimonials and reviews that specifically support your claims.
- Incorporate it into site metatags for title and description.
- Use it in PPC ad copy and the associated landing pages.
- Add to your social media profiles (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc.).
In addition, consider adding your unique selling proposition to all print collateral (business cards, brochures, print ads, etc.), giveaway items, and your email signature.
By working through these steps to develop a unique selling proposition, you’ll be well on your way to doing more than just setting your business apart from the competition — you’ll nail down the compelling reason that potential customers must choose you over all others. Good luck getting started!