There are some companies that have learned their marketing lesson. There are companies that have found and can utilize their unique selling proposition (USP). And there are no other companies. Going to the market without something unique leads to devastating results. Have you ever seen or heard a commercial that says: “We have the same product like XXX, but worse, more expensive AND with less features.”
This assumption is true both for your business and for your personal self. Don’t start your business, unless you know you can do something in a unique way. And don’t go to an interview to one of the top companies in the world, if you don’t know that you going to offer them something unique.
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What is USP?
Unique selling proposition is what makes your business (and you) stand out. It makes you different and lets you occupy a niche in the mind of your customer. This is the answer of the question that every customer asks: “Why should I use YOUR product?” If you don’t have that answer, would you expect that someone is going to use your services? Or, if we expand the concept into the personal field, this answer is the reason why a company is going to hire you (or not).
USP should also be relevant and meaningful to the customer. If you are buying a plane ticket to Sidney, then you probably would not care if the moisturizing handkerchiefs that the company offers, have the best durability. On the contrary you will be looking for the cheapest service, or the most reliable, or the most comfortable.
Branding is another marketing lesson and it means: “What the others are saying about your product, when you are not there.” The USP is a key component of a brand, basically because it conveys key characteristics of a product. As discussed earlier, this is WHY a customer would buy the product.
Examples of USP
There are many examples of USP, but just in case to make the point as clear as possible (more info on Wikipedia):
- M&M’s: Melts in your mouth, not in your hand.
- Domino’s Pizza: You get fresh, hot pizza delivered to your door in 30 minutes or less—or it’s free.
- Metropolitan Life: Get Met. It Pays.
- Southwest Airlines: We are THE low-fare airline.
- FedEx Corporation: When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight.
It is not always about the slogan, but you get the point.
Another marketing lesson is competition. The idea behind the USP is not to be better than the competition, but rather not to have competition. When you have a USP you are the best at something, that cannot be found anywhere else. If we go back to the example with Southwest Airlines, they are not competing with the other airlines on destinations, comfort or services. They are the only ones offer THE BEST prices.
FedEx is not competing with the other logistic companies on price, service, availability or whatever. But you go to them when you need something delivered overnight. And moreover, when you need your package reliably delivered to the destination. As a side note: they are no longer using this slogan any more.
Marketing lesson: How to find the USP of your business
One of the most important topics that you need to discuss BEFORE starting your business is your USP. Of course there are examples of great companies that had no idea about their USP, when they started. But nevertheless, these companies all have a unique characteristics, they just did not realize it in the beginning.
1. Find the target audience
One of the first steps in determining your USP should be the target. You need to know who you are addressing with your message. And also, you need to know these people and what “hurts” them. Try to narrow the group as much as possible, until you have few enough people in it, that you know the best.
This would be a topic for another extended post, but basically in order to know your audience you need to be able to answer the following questions for them:
- Who am I? Where do I work? How do I look like?
- What is my pain? What obstacle in my life do I want to overcome?
- Where do I drink my coffee? Where do I park my car?
- What are my interests? When do I go out of my way looking for something new?
You don’t need to answer every question, but you need to know your customers so good that you could anticipate their actions. You need to offer them your USP exactly when they are asking the question about pain.
2. Be consistent
When you have chosen (or found) your USP, then you have to stick to it. There is nothing more frustrating then getting a product that appears to have one purpose, but actually has a completely different goal. How would you feel if you get M&M’s and they suddenly start melting in your hand? Or if you send a package with FedEx and they lose it somewhere above the Pacific Ocean (was it FedEx in the movie Cast Away?)
Along the way obtaining other capabilities is not wrong. But if you lose your focus and your USP you might as well lose your business.
Be sure to communicate your USP openly and clearly. Make sure your company colors correspond to your USP. Make sure the design of your site reinforces the ideas in it. Express your USP as often as possible.
3. Make it personal
After all, if you are running a small business you already have something that is already unique: yourself. You can say to your customers: “You can trust me because I am XXX and because I have done YYY and ZZZ“. As already discussed in the topic personal strengths, you already have a unique place in the world and exploring it and using it is a nice idea.
Be careful though, as there is another dimension here. If you are really good at something and you want to make it a business, then you need to realize that it would be extremely hard to grow your business beyond yourself.
Let’s get a really good doctor as an example: His or her USP is that he is the best in the field. People go to him or her because they want to have a cure. He cannot hire more doctors, because they will not have his USP. Suddenly with the success of his business, the doctor is faced with more and more work.
An outstanding slogan of a doctor that I have seen was: “Doctor with heart“. He was a pediatrician, specializing in cardio. And his slogan also conveyed the message that he cares for his patients. He was still a one-man-show, but I do believe this is an example of having a USP of a real business that could be expanded infinitely. He can hire other doctors who share his passion of “having a heart”, but who are not necessarily cardio-doctors.
4. Look for overlapping
Another great idea for finding your USP is to look for the overlapping of the different fields. You could be the “best mathematician on the tennis court”, even if you are not particularly good at both separately. But still by being the best in the intersection you can offer something unique. You can specialize there and use the skills from the one fields and the contacts form the other.
5. Narrow your product
You can also adjust your product to the narrow target audience. For example instead of buying “a graphical designer”, you could be “a graphical designer, who converts visual designs to HTML/CSS/JS code”. Or instead of “a blogger”, you could be “a blogger, who follows famous people, learns from them and shares what he learns”.
6. Do not try to please all
And last but not least, you are not here to satisfy everyone’s needs. Just like you cannot possible be friends with everybody. You and your company are here with purpose and this purpose is going to please a certain number of people, who find your products appealing. Look at your customers (as narrow a group as they are) as your tribe, and put yourself as their chieftain (more on the topic here). The other tribes will not benefit from your services, but your tribe will.
In the current “make it or brake it” reality, a company needs an edge in order to succeed. The are huge companies that crumbled, because somebody put them out of business. And there are small companies built in the garage that challenged and defeated the behemoths in their industry. What determines if you win or lose is whether you are unique or not.
The marketing lesson of Unique Selling Proposition formulates this uniqueness as the characteristics that makes a company stand out. It is not about competing better with your rivals, but standing in category of your own.