Updated April 20, 2012Doc Sheldon
Your USP is your unique selling proposition. It’s what makes your product or service preferable to the competitions’. It may be your price, quality, service, fast delivery… or any of a number of other characteristics of your offering.
And everything has at least one thing that can make it special.
Unfortunately, everyone doesn’t capitalize on their USP. Some people have never even given it a thought. And unless you happen to be the ONLY source for what you offer, you can’t afford to wait one more day to identify your USP and start pushing your offering on the merits of that proposition.
A couple of things to remember
If you’re satisfied being just one more peddler of blue widgets, then more power to you. But you really need to consider two facts before you settle back into your chair to continue doing business the same old way.
1. As just one more peddler of that widget, you’ll never be truly successful. You may make some money – you may even last a few years at it. But you’ll never control your destiny, because you’ll always be a captive of your market. Prices, features and service levels are set in every niche, by somebody. That somebody is the one that controls the market. They lead, rather than follow. They set the pace, and all the other peddlers must dance to their tune and usually be satisfied with their table scraps.
2. Every product or service – let me repeat that – EVERY product or service will eventually lose its market. It may be outshone by a new improved version with better capabilities, or be undercut by drastically lower prices. The demand may simply dry up. But eventually, everything becomes largely obsolete.
From chariots to buckboard wagons – from leisure suits to 8-track tapes, products have been fading from popularity or necessity for as long as markets have existed. Personal computers will eventually go out of popular use, as well. And eventually, we’ll see the internal combustion engine become a quaint collector’s item.
In order to prosper now, and be better positioned to respond to those market shifts later, every business needs to identify their optimum unique selling proposition and build their marketing effort around it. Have you identified yours?
How to identify your USP
Identifying the ideal USP is a process that needs to be unique for each offering. But there are a few thought processes that may help you find yours.
I usually build a comparison chart in Excel, listing the top competitors in the niche and making honest appraisals of the standing of my offering alongside the others, using a 1-5, worst to best, rating, in terms of:
This one is self-explanatory. Use a five point scale (1= Very Expensive, 5= Very Inexpensive), rate your offering in comparison to your top competitors.
It may be somewhat difficult to be objective here. You may recognize some high quality features of your product, but if the market doesn’t recognize them, they don’t count. Perception is the key here. If the difference in quality is really substantial, you may have a potential USP here – but only if you exploit it.
Shipping from stock within 24 hours, or expedited shipping can sometimes be considered a USP, but typically, it’s a weak one. If it gives you an edge, it’s generally going to be short-lived.
This can become a marketable quality, if you use it to demonstrate your confidence in your offering and a willingness to stand behind it that outshines the competition.
Customer Service –
There’s gold to be mined here! Particularly in the Western world, the market is heavily influenced by nuances of quality customer service. Whether this is your main USP or not, it’s still an area that every business needs to focus on, in order to remain competitive.
Brand recognition –
There’s definitely a benefit to being a household name, and if your company enjoys strong brand recognition, you need to be taking advantage of that. Don’t fool yourself, though… many companies tend to overestimate the fame of their brand.
If you’re leaving satisfied customers in your wake (and if you’re not, then FIX that), you should be asking them for testimonials and/or reviews. Let them tell of their experience in their own words. Don’t forget, they’re doing you a favor by expressing their satisfaction. Return the favor with a coupon for free shipping or a discount on their next purchase. Notice I said “return”… never offer them rewards in order to acquire their endorsement… their testimonial loses all credibility. Better to make it an unexpected Thank you, afterward.
There’s more gold to be found here. Valued added features aren’t always obvious to the public, so if your company’s offering possesses some extra value that sets it aside from the competitions’, you need to capitalize on that. If it doesn’t, I strongly suggest you consider adding something to sweeten the pot.
Once you’ve finished your comparison chart, you should have a better idea of where you stand. Weak and strong points are the areas to pay particular attention.
How to put your USP to work
If your competitors are kicking your butt on price, you need to take a hard look at your processes, cost controls and margins to see if you can improve your standing. An innovative approach to regain competitive pricing can occasionally result in identifying cost reductions that can take your offering from a 1 to a 5, but if you’re not looking for it, don’t expect to find it.
Conversely, if you already have the best prices in the market, you need to focus your marketing efforts on communicating that fact to your potential customers. Remember, your perspective is different from theirs – what is obvious to you may elude them. Improve your pricing even further if you can, or perhaps simply stress the fact that you haven’t increased your prices in X years, while your competitors have increased theirs by an average of Y% in that same period. Be honest and provide verifiable evidence.
The same analysis applies to each of the above points. Improve your weaknesses, stress your strengths. Communicate both your strengths and improvements to the marketplace.
Since your customers are your target, it’s important to remember that they are also the most valuable source of information, both in terms of their desires/pain-points and feedback on your offering. Ask them what their greatest problem is with the products or services in your niche; ask them what they see as their greatest need. Then, Listen. To. Them.
The pain-points and desires you unearth may be nagging at other potential customers, even if they’ve never actually considered. Identifying them and simultaneously resolving them can be invaluable.
Avoid making vague, unsubstantiated claims. “We provide the highest quality widgets at the lowest prices” means nothing. People are inundated with marketing hype all day, every day and will see such empty claims for what they are. Offer credible proof of your claims, however, and you may get their attention.
Marketing is all about effective communication. Few of us would argue that an effective marketing campaign must say things the right way… doesn’t it make sense that we should also be saying the right things?
Another place to use the USP process
And while we’re on the topic, remember that USPs don’t only apply to your product or service offering. Universal selling proposition is a VERY applicable concept where your website is concerned, as well.
Ease of navigation, location of desired information, visual appeal… these and numerous other factors come into play when managing a website, in terms of conversion and return visits. If you use the above method of identifying and optimizing your website’s USP, as well, you’re certain to reap the benefits.