I bet you’ve been through that USP exercise.
You know the one.
USP stands for Unique Selling Proposition, and every marketing graduate in recent decades has been taught that if you position your business to focus on the one thing that makes it better or different (your USP), you will soar above the competition.
Sounds easy, doesn’t it?
But admit it. When you went through the exercise to identify your USP, you struggled to come up with anything original. Instead, you reeled off a few features you thought should make the cut, like:
- Our quality is second to none
- We have an experienced team of friendly staff
- We have all the right certificates hanging on our walls
- We always deliver on time and on budget
- We have integrity/high values
- We’re a one-stop-shop
- We’re great value for money
- We care
Let me guess. This list is now masquerading as your ‘About Us’ page.
USP = Utterly Stupid Process (Unless You Approach It Differently)
Understanding how to differentiate and position your business should never boil down to a list of bland, khaki mush you think people want to hear.
And guess what? If you asked your competitors what their list looks like, I bet there wouldn’t be much difference. So, you all cancel each other out, leaving nothing but a sea of sameness.
Depressing isn’t it.
But it doesn’t have to be like that. You just have to approach it from a different angle. Like this:
Stop Thinking About You and Start Thinking About Your Customers
The mistake most businesses make is to focus on what they do, instead of what their offering means to their customers.
For example, think about the last time you ordered a bunch of flowers. You probably Googled florists in your area, skimmed through a few sites, and spent way too long agonizing over endless images of generic bouquets.
They all looked the same. They all promised the same thing. So, you ended up ordering an overpriced bunch from a florist you will never use again because you can’t remember their name. And you don’t care anyway.
Then you discovered Petalon, and all your flower prayers were answered.
Petalon delivers flowers by bicycle, and their tag line is: We make flower delivery simple, accessible and bee friendly.
What other florist can make those claims? And here’s how they live up to their USP (and why I would use Petalon instead of their competition):
- They respect my time: They cut right to the chase, offering only two bouquets a week. No fuss, no complicated decisions to make.
- They’re not robbing me blind: Petalon’s flowers are seasonal, fresh from the local market, beautifully presented, and surprisingly affordable. They give me access to fabulous flowers without ripping me off.
- They represent values I want to be associated with: Quirky, reliable, stylish. And confident enough to set their own rules. Plus, I’m helping to save bees. Bonus!
So, it’s not about Petalon. It’s not even about flowers. It’s about what Petalon and their flowers mean to me, their customer.
3 Simple Questions You Should Ask Yourself to Unearth Your Uniqueness
1. Why Should My Customers Give a Damn About My Business?
They don’t. Unless you give them a damn good reason, like Petalon. So start by asking yourself why your customers should care about you and your business.
- How does your product or service make your customer’s life better?
- How does it solve their problem?
- Is there something distinctive about you, your staff, the building you occupy, your company history?
- Is there anything unusual about the way you conduct or business or deliver your product/service?
- What are you most proud of?
- What values does your business represent?
- How do you treat your customers? What experience do they have with your business?
- Can you make any guarantees?
2. Why Did I Start My Business?
Don’t say “to make money”. That’s a by-product of any business. It might have been to make a name for yourself, or because you truly believe you could do it better than anyone else, or you wanted to follow your passion.
- What pushes your buttons?
- What’s the real motivation behind everything you do?
- What are your personal values?
- Who do you want as customers, and who do you not want.
- How have the challenges you’ve faced influenced the way you do business?
- What would you not do for money, within the context of your business?
- What’s your biggest wish for the future of your business?
3. Does My Business Satisfy a Human Desire?
Here’s the thing: Every decision we make is driven by the need to satisfy a basic human desire such as curiosity, social acceptance, survival, love of family, and so on.
So what human desires does your business satisfy?
- What values do your customers hold dear?
- What do they struggle with on a daily basis?
- What keeps them awake at night?
- How does your product or service make them look or feel better, in their eyes and others?
- What actual words and phrases do your customers use about you?
- Why do they want to be your customers?
- Can they satisfy the same desires if they buy from your competitors?
If you’ve answered all these questions you should have a large, chaotic pile of thoughts and ideas. And somewhere, hiding in that pile, is your USP.
What you’re looking for is a strong characteristic or benefit that your competitors cannot lay claim to. It may be lurking in repeated words or concepts that weave their way through your answers.
It may be linked to your particular experience or industry insight, or the way you deliver your product or service. Are you operating in a specific niche or do you specialize in delivering services to a defined market segment?
Do you have a particular quirk or strong personality that gives your business the edge? Or can you make a promise that no other competitor makes?
What truly sets your business apart that’s going to resonate with your customers’ needs and desires?
Have you found it yet?
Maybe you need a little inspiration.
Great USP Examples for Ideas and Inspiration
A word of caution: While some of these USP examples double up as tag lines, or advertising slogans, that’s not what you should be aiming for. Your USP should be the cornerstone of all your marketing communications. It should be the reason people choose to buy from you, the perception they have of your business, and the reality that sets you apart from the competition. If you can also express your USP as a tag line that’s a bonus, not a goal.
TOMS sells shoes. So far unremarkable. However, the company was founded on one simple philosophy: It matches every pair of shoes purchased with a new pair of shoes for a child in need. One for One®.
This is one of the strongest USPs ever conceived and has grown the company into a multi-million dollar enterprise in 10 years.
Everyone knows Gillette’s tag line, ‘the best a man can get’. It’s deeply embedded because it’s been the ethos of the company from the very beginning. “We’ll stop making razors when we can’t keep making them better” is the cornerstone of the entire company’s being, and the reason Gillette is at the cutting edge of its industry (pun intended!)
Gary Vaynerchuck builds businesses. That’s his tag line and USP. And he’s got the creds to back it up.
Building a USP around your personality works well, but only if you are authentic and interesting. Think of Richard Branson, Jamie Oliver, or Martha Stewart. Their business USPs would be completely different without their strong personas at the helm.
Method’s USP makes cleaning products sexy: “our founders set out to change the world by creating beautiful cleaning products that are as kind to the planet as they are tough on dirt.”
And they live and breathe this philosophy in everything they do, from their clean and colorful website, to their stunning ‘green’ packaging, and even their amazing factory with its rooftop greenhouse. There isn’t another cleaning product company that comes close.
Continuing with the sustainability theme is Fresh Green Ads, a ‘green’ media agency that uses only environmentally friendly advertising mediums such as crop art and ice sculptures. Using this approach as their USP gives them a massive point of difference in a competitive industry not usually known for its planet-saving values.
Find Your Spark of Uniqueness
Are you feeling inspired? Have you started to think about your USP differently?
I promise that at the heart of your business there’s a spark of uniqueness, which sets you apart and gives your customers a damn good reason to care.
So, go find it, and stop drowning in a sea of sameness.