5 Brilliant Ways to Hone a Unique Selling Proposition

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Written By Natalie S

Create a USP to deliver more value to customers, differentiate your brand, and do business better than ever.

What is a USP and why do you need one?

Having a ‘unique selling proposition’, or USP for short, is as important as it sounds, no less for small businesses than for big brands.

Also known as a USP, this simple statement identifies the clearest benefit that customers gain from your business.

The USP forms an important foundation from which you can build your business. The firmer the foundation, the higher your business can go.

Honing a brilliant USP helps you:

  • Improve offerings – clarify what you do best and get better at it
  • Increase profits – figure out where you could best pour your efforts and increase return on investment
  • Marketing – be more effective in your brand strategy and craft messaging that resonates with audiences.

As the ultimate reason why they would choose you over alternatives, a USP is often the thing that differentiates you from competitors.

Or, thinking about it another way, the USP highlights a customer problem and how your offerings can solve it.

As you can see, the concept of a USP is not simple. If it were, every business would be nailing it, and they’re not.

By clicking on this blog today, you’ve clearly felt a need to streamline and strengthen that bond between yourself and your customers.

As you read this list of ways to create your USP, you’ll get more familiar with the concept and gradually get closer to creating an effective one.

USP examples

Throughout this blog, we’ll be giving you heaps of USP examples to help you brainstorm your own.

But to get the ball rolling, USP examples could include stand-out customer service, a niche product made locally, speedy turnaround times, or convenience.

Sometimes, the USP can be intuitive. Note down the first thing that comes to mind—it might well be the perfect USP for your business.

But most times, the USP is not what you think it is. For example, MacDonald’s USP has little to do with their burgers.

Instead, the main reason a lot of people find themselves in a MacDonald’s restaurant time and again is to pop into their consistently clean toilets.

Your USP might also be something you haven’t started doing yet, but once you start, your sales will improve.

For example, a personalised service could add that ‘wow’ factor that keeps your customers coming back for more.

Your USP could also be an insight into your product, behind the scenes access, or something that plenty of businesses do but never advertise. Think M&M’s “melt in your mouth, not your hand”.

1. Use a formula

Here are 3 of the most reputable formulas for developing a USP.

They have some overlapping concepts and some differences, so it’s helpful to try each one and see which is your favourite.

The Value Proposition Canvas

Invented by digital brand strategist Peter J Thompson, the Value Proposition Canvas helps you compare the value you provide to your customers against alternatives.

Use the graphic below to brainstorm your:

  • Customer – consider their wants, needs and fears in relation to the purchase of your product.
  • Product – (aka ‘service’ or ‘offering’) include not just what the customer bought but also the customer experience while interacting with your business.
  • Substitutes – include competitors or any alternative to buying your offering, including doing nothing.

As you compete this task, imagine being your customer and tune in to how they really feel.

A square on the left labelled product and divided into thirds labelled benefits, features and experience. A circle to the right labelled customer divided into thirds labelled wants, needs and fears.
Peter J Thompson’s “Value Proposition Canvas” Source: Peter Thomson

The Unique Value Proposition

The UVP (instead of the USP) was developed by Harvard Business School’s Institute for Strategy & Competitiveness.

It helps you define the connection that exists (or could) between your business and the customer.

A graphic with a triangle of text bubbles which read from right to left “What customer?” “Which needs?” and “What relative price?”
Harvard Business School’s Unique Value Proposition

In this model, there’s a greater focus on the price of the offering and how that translates into value.

Regardless of whether you are offering a discount, parity or premium product, you can still provide value to your target market as they perceive it.

No need to try to offer cheaper prices or to emphasise affordability – your audience may prefer to pay top dollar for the value your business offers them.

Steve Blank’s formula

The third formula we’ll look at today was devised by former Google employee and start-up expert Steve Blank.

While the former formulas were great for nutting out the USP, this one can be better for honing the USP into a succinct phrase.

Use Steve Blank’s simple but ingenious formula to fill in the blanks:

 “We help X do Y by doing Z.”

2. Look at great USP examples

A USP is not the same thing as a tagline, but a company’s slogans and mottos can often capture the USP in a nutshell.

Here are some examples from wildly successful brands to help you get ideas.

As you read these, remember not to set the bar too high for yourself.

You probably won’t become what’s called a “disruptor”—a brand that completely transforms, and then monopolises, an industry. But you can still carve out a unique and successful space for yourself.

The Domino’s Pizza Guarantee

“Fresh, hot pizza to your door in 30 minutes or less… or it’s free.”​

In this guarantee, Domino’s solves the problem of wanting your pizza home-delivered but also wanting it as hot as you’d get in a restaurant.

The Woolworths Tagline

“The Fresh Food People.”​

The Woolworth’s USP is not stated as directly as the Dominos one, but it’s implicit in their tagline.

It suggests that they differ from other large supermarket chains, which are faceless and stocked with non-fresh produce.

The FedEx Motto

“When your package absolutely, positively has to get there overnight.”​

FedEx may not be the cheapest courier service, but they have a huge and dependable share of customers who will pay for rapid reliable deliveries.

If you go for a USP that promises such outstanding service, be sure that your business can live up to its pledge.

3. Find your brand differentiation 

When a customer is considering whether to buy your product, they’re usually weighing you up against a competitor.

They consider things such as whether they get your product cheaper or faster from someone else. Or whether someone else provides higher quality service.

Even if you provide a really niche product and have no competitor businesses, think of your ‘competitor’ as the alternative to purchase, which might be no action at all.

By looking at your current point of difference or how you can develop one, you’ll be one step closer to refining your USP.

Ask yourself the following questions to figure out your brand differentiators:

  • Why should someone buy your product instead of someone else’s?
  • Is the greatest value you offer in cost savings, quality, durability, peace of mind, or something else? ​
  • Do you provide a great customer experience, convenience or personalised service?
  • Do you offer more experience or expertise than others?​
  • Do you offer the widest range of products?​
  • Is yours an artisanal, niche or bespoke offering?​

Brand differentiator examples

Consider this list of brand differentiators and whether you might be able to use a similar strategy:

  • Be the underdog – Uber was once the challenger brand that offered a much better price compared to mainstream Taxi services. Their questionable legal status in the early days contributed to this.
  • Link to a Country – the Vegemite brand and product has come to represent all things Aussie.
  • Brand Packaging – if most brands in your industry follow a packaging trend (think blue for feminine hygiene or yellow for butter) then choosing an alternate design will make you stand out.
  • Redefine Your Product – bicarb soda has been around for centuries – —most often used as a leavening agent or antacid –but it can be used in some unexpected and inventive ways. If you have a generic product, consider giving it in a new context.
  • Customer experience – think of your customer’s overall sentiment when they interacted with your business. Were you welcoming or cold? Easy to get hold of or evasive? Did you make their lives easier or more fun in any way?

Don’t forget that your customer experience includes not just phone and face-to-face interactions but how your customer felt when they googled you or visited your site.

Need to improve on the digital side? See our blog on How to Create a Website that Customers (and Google) will Love.

4. Research competitors

One of the best ways to work out what sets you apart from the rest is competitor research.

Even if you’ve been in business in your industry for many years, a closer look at your competitors’ USPs will shine light on what you do that is unique.

Start your competitor research by choosing the top five businesses that compete for or share your market. This could be anyone from the family-run business down the road to that new-to-the-neighbourhood huge multinational corporation.

Next, note the following about each competitor:

  • Their products and/or services
  • What they do the best
  • Their market share​ (e.g., frugal young mums, men on Valentine’s Day, etc.)
  • Whether their market share been going up or down
  • Their unique selling proposition​
  • Their advertising strategies
  • Why people love them
  • What people dislike about them
  • Their geographical areas
  • Their pricing model
  • What their social media engagement is like
  • How their customers rate their service
  • The sort of reviews they get

Now you’re ready to compare your brand to your competitors’.

Ask yourself:

  • What do they do well according to their customers?
  • What do you do well according to your customers?

Another thing you can do to analyse your competitors and carve out a unique nook for yourself is to list all the criteria your clients use when they decide to buy.

Imagine you and your competitor are on a scale. What are the factors your client will consider when weighing you up?

Once you have a good list of criteria, rank yourself and your competitors against each one on a scale from 1 to 5.

Reflect on how you rank compared to them and how to improve on your lowest scores. By identifying which criteria you do rank well for, you can craft your USP.

Remember that you don’t necessarily want to rank well on some criteria. For example, if your ideal target market is looking for premium products, you don’t want to rank better than competitors on price!

5. Troubleshoot

If you’re feeling a little stuck with your USP after trying the above methods, you might need to break out of your old ways of thinking.

These tips help you consider your USP in a fresh way.

Think benefits, not features

It’s easy to get caught up in the features of a product, such as the materials used, the location, or what happens during the service.

Take these features and figure out what benefits each one gives customers.

For example, tailored suits look better in photos to create memories you cherish.

Focus on the customer

Like a lot of small businesses, you might be focusing on what you do and spending a lot of time trying to improve on your product and service.

You should be spending equal amounts of time thinking about your customer. What problems, needs or feelings do they have? You need to know them as intimately as your own business.

Practice on the impartial

Recite your USP aloud to someone else. It doesn’t have to be your ideal customer, but it can’t be a friend, family member or significant other who will be too biased to give good feedback.

Listen to the person’s reaction as you tell them. Do they instantly get what your business does and see the benefits with a simple “Ah!”, or do they respond with a furrow of the brow and a hesitant “Okay…”?

If your USP is simple enough for someone else to understand, you’re on the right track.

Make the connection

Is your USP is sounding over-complicated, over-wordy, or even a bit spare? You could be missing the connection between your customer and your offering.

Remember Domino’s hot pizza deliveries?

Think of what problem/s your customer faces in relation to your product or service and how your business gives them a solution that no one else can.

How to create a unique selling point

If you’ve tried all of the above and still come up short, don’t be disheartened.

Creating your USP is a process that takes several sittings.

Feel free to give your ideas time to percolate and revisit this guide another day.

Now that you’re thinking about how to provide a solution to a problem, you’re well on your way to crafting a brilliant USP.