The One Marketing Tool You Can’t Afford to Ignore

A unique selling proposition (USP) is the dividing line that sets you apart from every other business in your industry. If you don’t have a USP, you will languish with the faceless masses, a nondescript peddler of products or characterless seller of services.

But with a USP, you’re a rock star. You’re a Prince. Did you think of Prince Charles just now? How about William? No? That’s because Prince is Prince and he has the corner on the Prince market. That is what you need to achieve for your business—and a USP is how you get there.

Basically, your USP will be your answer to this question: Why should I choose one business rather than its competition? But you don’t have forever to give the answer, because here’s the kicker: You can only use one (maybe two) sentences to lay out your USP.

These well-known brands are great examples:

Zappos: The only online shoe retailer that offers free shipping and free returns 365 days a year.

Domino’s: The only pizza company that guarantees delivery within 30 minutes.

Nordstrom: You can return anything purchased at a Nordstrom store at any time, no receipt necessary.

For certain industries, this can be a really difficult concept to master. What on Earth can people get from me that they can’t get from any of my competitors? Your first instinct will be to say something like “best service” or “best quality—but the best thing to do is to resist that impulse. Except for very rare occasions, that just simply isn’t true. And you know it. Customers know it, too. You may have amazing service and a top-shelf product, but let’s be real: Others do too.  

What you need, then, is a benefit that meets these two criteria: one, it is truly unique, and two, customers actually want it. Without uniqueness, you’re just another brick in the wall. Without a desirable benefit, you’re peddling space heaters in Miami.

Follow these five simple steps and you’ll be on your way to determining the specialized USP for your business.

1. Have an honest conversation. Gather your leadership team (or if it’s just you, set aside some time to be alone) and have a frank discussion or thinking session about how you stack up to the competition. List out everything that you consider to be a desirable benefit of doing business with you. But don’t just think about unique things—consider everything, as in any reason someone would want to do business with you.

2. Find out if you are actually unique. Go through the list above and cross out anything that your competitors can also claim. Is there anything left?

  • Yes? Skip to Step 4.
  • No? Proceed to Step 3.

3. Brainstorm possible USP benefits. With your leaders, brainstorm new ways you can offer a benefit to customers that they can’t get elsewhere. Answer these questions:

  • What void in the marketplace can you fulfill?
  • What can you guarantee about your product or service?
  • What do people hate about your industry that you can fix?
  • What niche do you or can you service that will differentiate you from others in your industry?

4. Choose a USP benefit. Identify the benefit above that best suits your business and put a big red circle around it. If there are multiple choices that suit you well, choose the one that is easiest to implement up front.

5. Write Your USP. Write a sentence (or two) that both clearly states your benefit and explains how it’s exclusive to you. Use clear, conversational language.

Boom! Done. Now go about implementing any changes you need to in order to make the USP true, then slap that USP on every piece of marketing that goes out the door to make sure people automatically associate you with your new USP. When customers need what you offer, they’ll have an awesome reason to call you instead of the competition.

Joy Gendusa is the founder and CEO of direct mail marketing firm PostcardMania. Joy began PostcardMania in 1998, with nothing but a phone and a computer. Find Joy on Google+.

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