(Read Time: 8 minutes)

Ever had the feeling that your marketing isn’t quite as effective as it could be? Perhaps you’re already actively promoting on Facebook, or you’ve experimented with Google ads … but you’re just not getting the results you expected.

You might have invested in a fancy graphics guy, a top-level copywriter, and some slick stock photography. You may have even targeted your promotions perfectly. But if you’re doing everything right and the outcome still feels wrong … it’s time to go back to basics.

Stop throwing money at ineffective campaigns, grab a coffee, and let’s take a look at your unique selling proposition, or USP …


What is a Unique Selling Proposition?

A USP is a sentence or paragraph that states the key benefit of your product or service, and what you offer that your competitors don’t.

Let’s say your company makes ice cream, and you sell a wide range of different flavors … well that’s great! But lots of ice cream companies sell lots of different flavors … there’s nothing unique about that, and using it in your messaging is likely to turn potential customers … well … cold.

But what if your company only uses milk from free-range organically-fed cows that are treated according to the highest welfare standards? Now we’re getting somewhere.

This is something unique about the product that’ll help to attract a certain target group; it clearly signals why they should choose your ice cream over your competitors’.


Why Having a USP is so Important

Very few businesses out there are one of a kind. Just think of all the pizza places, electricians, window fitters, or clothes retailers out there. What would motivate you to choose one pizza delivery service over another? Domino’s Pizza grew from a small business into a global empire by having a strong USP – delivery in 30 minutes or your pizza for free.

A solid USP makes it easier to attract new customers … and potentially charge a little more rather than engaging in a discount war with a competitor. Sure, some folk are attracted by the lowest price, but let’s go back to our ice cream analogy.

People who care about sustainability and animal welfare are likely to choose cruelty-free products even if they are a few cents more …

They are motivated by the feel-good factor, not the cost. They feel pleased that they’re supporting a cruelty free and environmentally conscious company.

So instead of just claiming that you’re the best … think of a USP as a claim that you’re the best at something that nobody else is doing. Like guilt-free ice cream!

If your USP is not truly unique, getting customers to pay attention to you will be a constant battle, and you will always struggle to succeed in your marketing.


What a USP is Not

Don’t confuse USP’s with taglines and slogans. They are not the same thing.

A tagline or slogan is usually only a couple of words long and is next to, or part of, the logo.

Sometimes a great tagline can summarize a USP… but usually taglines are too short to contain the full proposition.

For an example of what a USP is not, look to Vodafone. Their tagline is ‘Power to You’. Its purpose is to grab your attention. Catchy it may be … but it doesn’t communicate any concrete benefit. It doesn’t promise anything that its competitors are not already delivering, nor give you any clue as to why you should choose Vodafone over another provider.


Examples of Great USPs

TOMS Shoes

With every product you purchase, Toms will give a free pair of shoes to a person in need. While its product might be stylish and include a great delivery and returns service, that alone is not enough to make the company stand out in the world of shoes. It’s the charitable act that makes its story compelling.

Ruby On Rails

The popular platform for developers, Ruby on Rails, helps you to build web applications. Airbnb, Soundcloud, and Spotify all use its services. What makes it unique? It’s free, it’s fun, it’s easy to use, and it’s open source … so anyone that uses it can contribute towards making it better.

Saddleback Leather

There are plenty of companies out there that hand-stitch leather goods. A fair amount of them probably also have a nice brand story and a tradition of craftsmanship … but how many offer a 100-year warranty? Not many. Saddleback’s USP tagline ties in nicely with its USP: ‘They’ll fight over it when you’re dead’.

The Dollar Shave Club

Razors and men’s grooming products aren’t hard to come by, but they are pricey, and most people only have time to pick up what they can find in their local supermarket. What makes The Dollar Shave Club special? ‘Dollar Shave Club ships amazing razors and world-class grooming products for just a few bucks.’ Their tagline summarizes this perfectly: ‘Shave time. Shave money’.

ConvertKit

‘Email marketing for professional bloggers’. You won’t get a clearer indication of who this product is for than that! Other email marketing platforms pitch themselves at a more generic crowd and are designed so that anyone from a plumber to a design agency can use them …

ConvertKit is very clear about who it benefits, having been built from the ground up specially for this target demographic.


How to Create Your Own USP

Identify your ideal customers

One of the biggest mistakes marketers make is trying to be too many things to too many people. By spreading yourself too thin and trying to please everyone, you attract no one.

This concept is perfectly illustrated in the tale of the the old man, the boy and the donkey in ‘Book Yourself Solid’ by Michael Point.

An old man, a boy and a donkey were going to town. The boy rode on the donkey and the old man walked. As they went along they passed some people who remarked it was a shame the old man was walking and the boy was riding. The man and boy thought maybe the critics were right, so they changed positions.

Later, they passed some people that remarked: “What a shame, he makes that little boy walk.” They then decided they both would walk!

Soon they passed some more people who thought they were stupid to walk when they had a decent donkey to ride. So, they both rode the donkey.

Now they passed some people that shamed them by saying how awful to put such a load on a poor donkey. The boy and man said they were probably right, so they decided to carry the donkey. As they crossed the bridge, they lost their grip on the animal and he fell into the river and drowned.

So if you can’t be all things to all people … who should you be aiming to attract? Consider the 80/20 principle. The top 20% of the customers in any market of any industry spend 80% of the money. And the top 4% of customers spend 64% of the money … So obviously if you attract that magic 4%, they’ll generate the most revenue for the least amount of effort.

In fact targeting this top percentile is 16x more profitable than taking a scattergun approach in which you try to target everyone!

This short exercise will help you to identify your target audience:

Who is your perfect customer and what do they really want?

Write down everything you know about your target customer: their age, What publications they read, where they shop, where they are most likely to come across your messaging, and what they are looking for …

What are their problems and how can your product or service solve them?

There are only two types of messages that will attract the interest of your ideal customer … problems they don’t want, or results they don’t have. How does your product or service help them solve that?

Understanding the Difference Between a Feature and a Benefit

There probably isn’t a business owner in the world that hasn’t struggled with the feature versus benefit conundrum. A feature is basically what your product does or is. The benefit is the outcome or result that your customer will experience after using your product or service … it’s answering the ‘what’s in it for me?’ question from a consumer perspective.

Here are a few examples  …

Diet Coke’s feature is that it is low in calories … its benefit is that it helps you stay slim enough to fit into your favorite jeans.

The feature of a 24-hour convenience store is its opening hours … the benefit is that you get to buy products at any time.

A Landcruiser’s feature is that it has 4-wheel drive … the benefit is that it’s suitable for all terrains.

A salad bar’s feature might be that it offers 50 different toppings and dressings … its benefit is that there are plenty of choices to liven up your salad.

Ask Your Staff

Be sure to involve the people who know your brand the most intimately … your staff! Not only are two (or more) heads better than one …  your staff are on the frontline dealing directly with customers and helping them solve their problems.

Your sales team, store manager or customer service team will have a great idea of who your target audience is and what motivates them to buy from you.

Survey Your Customers

Why take a wild guess at what motivates your customers to buy when you can get it straight from the horse’s mouth? No matter how you plan to survey them, here are a few golden rules …

Keep it short! Your customers are not going to sit around for 30 minutes excitedly answering your questions. In fact, most will drop out of the survey after the first four or five.

Ask only the questions that help you reach your end goal. Remember we’re focusing on the USP here. Be ruthless in cutting out any unnecessary questions. Ask your customers what they think you do well, what you do differently, and why they came to you in the first place.

Don’t ask multiple questions at once such as “How did you find on our site? Do you understand what our product does? Why or why not?” Keep it simple. Stick to one point at a time.

Make sure your questions are neutral. So steer clear of questions like: “What do you think of our great new range of ice cream flavors?” Instead ask: “what do you think of the new flavors we recently added to our range?”

Lastly … if you can … offer some sort of benefit or bonus for completing the survey.

Analyze the Competition

Take a look at your three closest or most similar competitors. You may have a killer USP that is highly relevant to your business … but if your competitors are saying the same thing, even if it’s in different words, it’s not unique. Even if they don’t do it as well as you, having the same message will not help you stand out from the crowd.

Pick your top three competitors and do some digging!

Answer These Three questions

Why should I do business with you and not your competitors?

Go through the answers from your customer surveys and pull out all the compelling reasons

How do your products or services separate you from your competition?

Brainstorm with your staff members to crystallize the main reason you’re different. It could be quality, convenience, reliability, friendliness, cleanliness, courtesy, customer service or something else …

Once I’ve done business with you, what am I going to feel?

This is where we focus on the benefits (not the features) that your product or service delivers. The results they get.

Wrapping it all up

Now take the answers to the three questions above and merge this into a statement that’s 90 words or less.


Conclusion

Your USP is the foundation of all your messaging. It’s the peg on which to hang your marketing strategy. The most important thing throughout this exercise is to put yourself in your customer’s shoes … All too often entrepreneurs are so in love with their own product or service, they find it difficult to separate their own feelings from what the consumer really wants.

Once you have your USP, be sure to test it throughout all of your communications and enjoy the results!

If this seems like a herculean task and you’d like a little help creating the perfect revenue-generating USP, don’t hesitate to get in touch!

About Paul Hanney

Paul is the Founder and Chief Marketing Strategist at Phorge. With over 10 years experience in digital marketing and having generated over $27million in revenue. Paul's focus is on helping businesses grow and scale using sustainable and automated digital marketing strategies.
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