In today's competitive business environment, there may seem to be a nearly infinite number of options for your potential customers to choose from. No longer are buyers limited to local companies—thanks to the internet, there's a world of alternatives out there, and seemingly endless marketing messages barraging consumers. To make your business stand out from the crowd, it can be vital to identify your unique selling proposition (USP).
A USP may be especially important if your company is essentially selling the same thing as other businesses in your industry. How can you determine what makes your business different from the rest? Here are six ideas to help.
1. Study the best.
To get a feel for a good USP, look around you at market-leading companies that do a good job of differentiating themselves. They don't have to be your competitors or even in the same industry—the goal is just to analyze what makes for a good USP. For example, with dozens of brands of smartphones and computers to choose from, why do people go crazy for Apple products? The USP of beautiful design, simple functionality and just plain cool makes Apple stand out.
2. Think benefits, not features.
When developing your marketing message, consider how your product or service benefits customers—not just on its features. The same applies when you're coming up with your USP. For example, if you own a dry cleaner, focusing on the features of your business wouldn't be too exciting. Just like every other dry cleaner, your service gets clothes clean. Maybe you have a special feature, like using environmentally friendly dry cleaning methods. But it’s how these features benefit the customers that can be key. Instead of focusing on “green cleaning” in your USP, you might emphasize that customers can feel safe wearing clothes you've dry cleaned because no harmful chemicals are used.
3. Consider the four Ps.
Product, price, placement (that is, distribution channels) and promotional methods make up the four Ps of marketing, and each one of these factors can inspire elements of your USP. Do you deliver your products or services in an unusual way? For example, Dollar Shave Club made its name by selling low-priced men's shaving products online via a subscription model—a distribution method that was new to the men’s grooming industry. An unusually expensive (or inexpensive) product can be part of your USP; consider how well this tactic works for artisanal food creators.
4. Get emotional.
Creating a USP is often not a matter of logic. Like all sales and marketing tactics, a good USP typically relies on emotion. To identify your USP, you should understand why customers buy what you sell. Are they trying to impress the boss? Do they want to proclaim their status to their neighbors? Are they trying to appeal to the opposite sex? Do they believe what you sell will help bring their family closer? Are they passionate about a certain cause? Any of these emotions can be part of your USP.
5. Find out why customers buy from your business.
You might conduct customer surveys and polls to find out why your customers patronize your business rather than your competitors. You can also talk to customers and get informal insights, and ask your salespeople to do the same. Keep your ears open and watch social media for what people say about your business. By getting customers’ insights and opinions, you'll notice trends that may spark ideas for your USP. Perhaps customers prefer your fashion boutique to the one down the street because your selection of clothing is highly curated so shopping is easy, while the other store’s racks are packed with mismatched items that take hours to dig through.
6. Examine the competition.
To hone a USP that makes your business stand out, it may help to know the USP of your competitors. Peruse their advertising, marketing and social media messages; visit their locations and websites to see what USP they’re promoting. By researching how your competitors are marketing themselves, you'll be better able to position your business as different (or even diametrically opposed). A USP that is “shared” by others is, by definition, not unique, so while fast delivery might seem like a great USP for your pizza restaurant, it won’t work if any of the other dozens of pizzerias in town have that same USP. You’ll likely need to choose something different, like the fact that you deliver all kinds of Italian dishes along with pizza.
Identifying your USP is not just for new businesses—it can be an ongoing process. Your USP will likely change over time as the market changes and you introduce new products and services. Assess your USP on a regular basis to ensure that you, your salespeople and your employees are all on the same page. Only then can you convey your USP to your prospective customers through marketing, sales tactics and advertising.
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A version of this article was originally published on November 6, 2015.