Do you even know what a USP is? It’s a Unique Selling Proposition and without one, your business is fighting an uphill battle for survival.
Why worry about having a unique selling proposition?
The key to effective selling in this situation is what advertising and marketing professionals call a “unique selling proposition” (USP). Unless you can pinpoint what makes your business unique in a world of homogeneous competitors, you cannot target your sales efforts successfully.
Pinpointing your USP requires some hard soul-searching and creativity. One way to start is to analyze how other companies use their USPs to their advantage. This requires careful analysis of other companies’ ads and marketing messages. If you analyze what they say they sell, not just their product or service characteristics, you can learn a great deal about how companies distinguish themselves from competitors.
For example, Charles Revson, founder of Revlon, always used to say he sold hope, not makeup. Some airlines sell friendly service, while others sell on-time service. Neiman Marcus sells luxury, while Wal-Mart sells bargains.
You need to give customers (and investors) a REASON for buying your brand over other brands.
Finding a good unique selling proposition
First, put yourself in your customer’s shoes. Then, ask yourself the following questions:
- What problems do they face? Customers buy solutions, not products.
- If others offer solutions to a particular problem, how does your brand solve the problem better?
What makes a BAD unique selling proposition?
Cheaper. Cheap often means your brand isn’t very good. Instead, think about providing value – and deliver on your promise.
That’s especially true for shopping and specialty goods. If you’re selling oranges, being a little cheaper might provide a good USP, but selling cheaper jewelry might backfire on you. In his book, Influence, Cialdini tells the story of a retailer selling “authentic” Indian jewelry near an Indian reservation. The stuff wasn’t selling until she DOUBLED the price, convincing would-be buyers that the jewelry was, indeed, authentic.
Better. Better is a loaded word – subject to the evaluations of others. If you’re using better as your unique selling propositions, your brand must have objective proof that it’s better than ANY other brand – not just some brands. And, the feature that makes your product better must be something consumers value as part of the solution.
Often, convincing your market that your brand is better than all the rest is an expensive proposition, better left to big brands with deep pockets.
What makes a GOOD unique selling proposition?
1. It solves a real customer problem. Look at the minivan – the most successful new car type in decades. That’s because it solved a real customer problem by providing a car that held lots of people and gear, without being clunky or hard-to-drive.
Want a more recent example? Look at AirBNB, which offers affordable housing by renting out spare bedrooms, basements, and even couches across the world.
2. It’s easy to use. For example, Apple succeeded all these years despite its higher price because it provides a unique selling proposition – it’s easy to use. In a time when other companies offered free computer training, Apple made a computer that didn’t need training – it was intuitive.
A corollary is that it’s easy for consumers to understand your unique selling proposition.
2. It’s really NEW. You can add the word new to all your packaging, but if it’s not really dramatically different inside, you’re wasting your time. Again, the NEW has to solve a customer problem. Look at 3D TV’s – they’ve stagnated in the market because, while they’re very new, they don’t really solve a customer problem. No one is out there asking for images to jump off their TV screens. Maybe the time just isn’t right for 3D TV’s, but firms would be better off waiting for customer need.
4. It benefits the planet. Consumers want to believe in the brands they buy. That’s why companies like Tom’s shoes (which give a needy child a pair for every pair sold) and Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream (which uses local sources to support the economy) have such strong, loyal followings.
How to create your own unique selling proposition?
- Think outside the box. Don’t do what everyone else is doing and just hope you can do it better. Do it differently.
- Don’t try to appeal to everyone. Find your sweet spot – those consumers for whom existing products just won’t do. Target your products (and USP) to just those individuals.
- Figure out what everyone else is doing. Too often, companies THINK they’re offering is unique only because they haven’t done due diligence to find those out there already offering your solution.
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