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Unique Selling Proposition

If you want your business marketing to pay off, your business needs to have a USP or unique selling proposition. The USP is what makes your product or service unique—different from everything else on the market.

Of course, very few businesses are truly unique, so it takes some hard work and creativity to come up with a USP that will work for you. Here’s how to do it:

Analyze your competitors. An in-depth competitive analysis is useful here, if you have recently completed one for a business plan or strategic plan. Assess other companies’ advertising and marketing messages, their brand and image, and the features and benefits of their products and services. Look at it not so much from the point of view of a competitor, but from the perspective of a customer. How do your competitors look to prospective customers?

Next, get your customers’ opinions of your products and services. There are many ways to do this: You can conduct in-person focus groups, perform online or phone surveys, or look at reviews and ratings of your products online. You can also ask questions about your products and services on social media and see what your followers and customers say. What are the strong points (and weak points) of your products or services from your customers’ point of view? What problems do they have that your business helps solve? How do they make the decision to buy from you and what factors influence them? Most importantly, what gets them to buy from you rather than your competition?

Last, but not least, assess your products or services—again from a customer’s viewpoint. Create a list of features and another list of benefits. Features are aspects of your product or service. For instance, if you sell retro-style bicycles, the features might include bright colors, handlebar baskets or thick tires. Benefits are ways the product or service benefits the customer. Benefits of the retro-style bikes might include making customers look “hip,” bringing back childhood memories or being easier to ride than, say, racing or mountain bikes.

With all this information at hand, now it’s time to come up with a USP. Often, a USP is tied to the four Ps of marketing: product, placement (where it’s sold), pricing and promotions. In the above bicycle example, your bike’s USP could have to do with its unique product features; being sold only in hip surf or beach shops; upscale pricing that conveys status; or creative promotions, such as having a celebrity or charity affiliated with your brand.

What if your product or service really doesn’t have a unique benefit or feature to hang your USP on? Maybe all your competitors are very similar. Here’s where you need to get creative. Look at your competitors’ marketing messages, examine their products or services, and you’ll probably find some feature or benefit they aren’t promoting. Even if their businesses have the same feature or benefit as yours, the fact they aren’t promoting it leaves an opportunity for you to grab the spotlight.

For instance, suppose you own a carpet cleaning business using products that are safe for children and pets. The problem is all of your competitors use the same products. The opportunity is that they don’t trumpet the fact. Promoting your business as “The Kid- and Pet-Safe Carpet Cleaner” can enable you to “own” that USP. Even a seeming disadvantage can be turned into a USP—remember Avis car rental company’s slogan, “We’re No. 2. We try harder”?

Once you’ve got your USP, sum it up in a catchy, memorable phrase and make it part of all your marketing, advertising and branding to drive home what makes your business truly unique.

Brian Moran

Brian Moran

Prior to rejoining the world of entrepreneurship, Brian was the Executive Director of Sales Development at the Wall Street Journal where he oversaw the sales development and marketing programs for the financial and small business categories among the many Journal brands. From 2002-2010, Brian was President of Veracle Media and Moran Media Group.

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