A unique selling proposition (USP) can tell people what to expect when doing business with you. It’s a way to introduce yourself quickly and connect with the perfect customers. The only problem is that a lot of companies don’t know the right way to build one.
In the following sections, you’ll learn everything about these propositions, including how to make one and tips for success. Let’s get started with some definitions.
Table of Contents
- What is the definition of a unique selling proposition?
- What are the three parts of a unique selling proposition?
- Why does your company need a USP?
- What are some examples of unique selling propositions?
- How can you use a unique selling proposition?
- Where does a unique selling proposition show up?
- What are the steps to make a USP?
- What should you remember when coming up with a USP?
- What else can you do to boost your business?
What is the definition of a unique selling proposition?
A unique selling proposition is sometimes shortened to an acronym — USP.
When your company has a USP, it’s your way of telling your customers who you are and why you’re different. That’s the “unique” part of a USP.
A customer has so many options as they’re looking for a product or service that you provide. This is your opportunity to explain why your option is the best and what your core values are. A USP is often tied to the “trademark” part of your operation. If your company offers a higher-quality, more affordable, or higher-tech solution over your competitors — then that detail typically shows up in the selling proposition.
A USP has three parts.
What are the three parts of a unique selling proposition?
If you take a closer look, you’ll see there are three distinct parts of your USP. Unique, selling, and proposition.
What is a USP unique selling? You’ll see these concepts in motion in a later section when we show you some examples. For now, let’s learn the definition of the three parts.
Your USP won’t do anything special if it doesn’t highlight what makes you unique. When you first wrote your business plan, a big part of the process is explaining why your company is special and what sets you apart. This should make its way into your USP.
Part of your USP needs to sell your goods or services. More importantly, it needs to sell your business. Rather than long-form writing that explains why your product is worth buying, you only have a sentence. This is where being sales savvy comes in handy.
A proposition is a business suggestion. The word itself implies something that isn’t too aggressive or demanding. Think of it like proposing to a potential customer. That’s what you’re doing, after all.
The USP should be delicate and not pushy, just like a wedding proposal. You’re asking a consumer to give you a chance by showing them what makes you special. If you do it right, your customer will say, “I do.”
A USP is a marketing tool.
Why does your company need a USP?
There’s no legal requirement to have a unique selling proposition to run your operation. That might make you doubt the legitimacy of having one and question the true need of a USP.
The truth is that a USP can do nothing but help your company. A USP can:
- Immediately show people who you are
- Express your brand’s voice
- Highlight what makes you stand out
- Show what you stand for
If you want your business to be known for something specific, a USP is where you can express that. A piece of brand awareness revolves around customers associating you with a certain trait. Your USP will explain what that trait is and help your brand become recognized.
What are some examples of unique selling propositions?
It will probably help if you see a unique selling proposition example or two.
In this section, we’ll show you some examples and explain why each USP works. Even if you don’t recognize the brand, you should still be able to imagine who the company is thanks to its USP.
USP: “They’ll fight over it when you’re dead.”
What feelings do you immediately have over a USP like this? You know the brand is tongue-in-cheek humorous, their products are highly desirable, and they provide long-lasting products. You don’t even know what the product is, but you want it.
USP: “Love your beverage or let us know. We’ll always make it right.”
Starbucks is expressing their commitment to the customer. This USP tells you that they care about you. This isn’t a selling proposition for a low-cost, “you get what you get” type of coffee shop. As you probably know, Starbucks is known for high-quality, high-cost, irresistible coffees. A promise like this one in their USP speaks to this idea perfectly.
USP: “We’re number two. We try harder.”
This is the perfect example of taking a seemingly-negative part of a business and flipping it into a selling proposition. Avis is a car rental company that has always been behind Hertz. The company models are pretty identical, so Avis used their USP to claim some business.
The notion that people in first typically get complacent is something that any consumer can recognize without explanation. Avis is explaining that they want to be the #1 company, so they’ll try harder to get there.
USP: “When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight.”
Shipping giant FedEx used to have a USP that shows that they’re reliable, dependable, and you can count on them. As a customer shipping out time-sensitive packages, why risk it with another company after reading this USP? The use of “absolutely” and “positively” makes it hard to argue with the fact.
Tiffany & Co.
USP: “The right one is worth waiting for.”
This example shows how far creativity can take you with your USP. Tiffany sells diamond jewelry with a focus on engagement rings. The USP uses a play on words. It can either refer to the right ring or the right person to marry.
After reading this, you know that Tiffany must focus on high-quality, perfectly-selected rings for their customers. If you’re willing to wait for the right person, you need to wait for the right ring, too.
USP: “The milk chocolate melts in your mouth, not in your hand.”
Such a strange selling point, isn’t it? This is an example of a USP that you probably heard of before. The level of creativity from M&Ms’ marketing department is pretty respectable.
Of course, a consumer would want chocolate that can survive all the way into their mouth without messing up their hands. The uniqueness of this USP is what sets it apart.
USP: “America’s most popular meal kit.”
This USP works like a tagline in theory. It plays on people’s idea that the best-sold product must be the best product. After all, if the majority of America decided to go with HelloFresh, why shouldn’t you?
It’s clear that HelloFresh built their model around being a clear choice, and their USP reinforces that idea. Other meal kits might offer better prices or higher quality, but why stray from the popular path? That’s what they want you to think, at least.
How can you use a unique selling proposition?
After seeing the examples above, you might be a little confused. Each unique selling proposition seems to go a different direction, yet they’re all USPs. No matter how they’re spelled out, every USP is looking to do the same thing: convert a consumer into a customer.
We mentioned it a few times, but it deserves to be repeated. A USP is there to tell consumers who you are, what you do, and why you’re a clear choice. A unique selling proposition is nestled between what your customers want and what you excel at doing.
Put yourself in the consumer’s shoes, for a second. If you’re looking to buy new speakers, you probably know exactly what you want already. You’re looking for a high-quality, large, Bluetooth-compatible set of speakers — all you have to do is find the right company to offer it.
If you stumble across an option that has a USP that speaks to the quality, size, and tech-focus of a company, you can jump for joy. You just found the right company. This experience is what you want searchers of your product to have. Your USP will take business away from your competitors by connecting you with the right people.
Where does a unique selling proposition show up?
A selling proposition can be put anywhere that you want:
- Sales pages
- Business cards
- Social media platforms
It’s always a good idea to put your USP on your website, preferably on your homepage. Maybe your floating header can also have your USP on it so as people scroll through your goods and services they can be reminded of what makes you special.
You’ll typically see a USP near a logo or company name. This helps to strengthen the connection between the two. When a customer reads the name of your business and your USP together, they will keep them paired in their head. Next time they think of you, they’ll think of your USP.
What are the steps to make a USP?
After learning more about USPs, you might feel the itch to come up with your own. You want your business to stand out so you can grow and find more success. But a lot of people get disheartened when they talk about a USP. People think that they need to bring in a marketing expert to put together a proposition that helps sell their business.
This simply isn’t true. You can come up with an exceptional USP with a little brainstorming and effort. No one knows your business better than you do, and that’s the main focus of a USP. You know what makes you unique, why people should choose you, and how to leverage your qualities.
A little creativity goes a long way, here. If you still don’t believe us, let’s tell you the steps to make a USP. Below are steps that are optimized to help you achieve the perfect USP.
Define your target audience
A USP is meant to connect you with the right people. If you don’t know who these people are, then the proposition will fall flat.
Your target audience should directly coincide with your ideal customer. You’ll want to think about qualities they look for in a product and what makes your target audience special:
- Socioeconomic background
Don’t forget to write all this information down. This is the heart of your USP.
Understand what makes you special
After you realize who you’re talking to, you need to understand what makes you special. Ask yourself:
- What kinds of things do people compliment your business on?
- What is the major focus of your brand?
- Why would anyone choose you over your competitors?
This step involves a lot of introspection. You’ll be looking in the mirror and uncovering the truths about your operation. Make sure you’re really honest during this step. Lying about your special qualities will do nothing but hurt you in the future steps.
When you come up with a list of what makes you special, it can be as long as you want it to be. However, it’s generally a good idea to pick out a few key selling points. This is what your USP will revolve around. A USP is almost like a high-quality product description for your entire company.
Take a look at what your competition is doing
Part of knowing what makes you unique is knowing what your competitors are — and more importantly — aren’t doing. In this case, your competition is the businesses that can steal potential customers from you.
If your competitors have a USP already, then your job just became a lot easier. Otherwise, do some digging and uncover what makes them special. This might be time for your business to pivot if you see a noticeable gap in the market.
In other words: If everyone else is offering the highest-quality product, then maybe you can pivot and offer the most affordable option. This is bigger than a USP, but it’s worth mentioning.
At the end of this step, you should have a comprehensive list of your competition, what makes them special, and how they’re capitalizing on that.
Think about why someone would choose you
Now you know what the other guys are doing and you have an idea of what makes you special. Time to change your perspective for a second. Imagine you’re a potential customer, shopping around for the best company.
If you’re looking at a lineup of companies in your industry, why would you — as a customer — choose your business? This step is where brutal honesty has to come out. If your answer is “I don’t know,” then it’s time to go back to the drawing board.
The answer to this step will tell you what points you need to focus on. You might find that this step yields different answers from that list of what makes your business special. If that’s the case, then you need to reshape your operation.
It could reveal that something you think is a selling point doesn’t set you apart from the crowd. In that case, it’s not a selling point at all.
Recognize your brand’s voice
Pause for a second and think about what your brand’s voice is. Do you even have a voice yet? A voice is how you talk to your customers and how content is written on your site. Your voice is part of your brand awareness.
A good example of a noticeable voice is the USP from Saddleback Leather that we showed you earlier. Their voice is humorous, a little dark, and modern. Make sure your USP uses your voice.
Look over everything you’ve gathered thus far
Now it’s time to sit down and look over the data you just gathered. At this point, your should know:
- Who your audience is
- What makes you special
- What the other guys are doing
- Why a potential customer would choose you
Make sure you take your time with this step. You can only build a USP if you’ve done enough work up to this point. If you think you looked over the data well enough, just look it over one more time before going to the next step.
Brainstorm different ways to express a USP
Okay, now it’s time for the fun stuff. The steps before this were all about doing your homework to make sure brainstorming will yield results.
Grab a few creative people and get to the conference room — it’s brainstorming time. What does brainstorming look like? Throw ideas out and write down everything that’s said. After you have written down your ideas, start eliminating the ones you know will not make the cut. It’s good to start with a long list of mostly bad ideas so the good ideas shine through.
You’re going to be pitching different ideas for your USP. Remember, a USP is your unique way of selling what makes your business special. You’ll be writing down potential sentences that capture the ideas you thought about earlier.
Some ideas on your list might just be single words that you think do a good job of describing your operation. The FedEx guys probably had “absolutely” and “positively” written on their brainstormed list, highlighted and underlined.
Boil it down
A USP can only be a sentence or a few words. It’s time to take all of your good ideas and squeeze them through a funnel. Concentrate the message and make sure it’s blatantly clear in just a few words.
This is the hardest step, and it might take you the longest time. When everything’s done, you’ll be left with a high-quality USP — so it’s worth it.
You want to build a USP that’s short, sweet, and to the point. Something that can easily be remembered and recited. When people think about your industry, their mind should hop to your brand and your USP.
What should you remember when coming up with a USP?
If you’re struggling as you go through the steps above, don’t panic. This is a big step for your operation and it’s not easy to do. Review the tips below for a little extra help as you’re building your own USP.
Don’t be afraid to get personal
You defined your ideal audience, so it’s okay to get personal.
Talk about ideas, concepts, and issues that your target clientele is familiar with. For example, an eCommerce site is competing with everyone else on the internet. That’s why knowing trends helps with marketing. Using purchasing trends from your target audience will help you personalize the message.
Having a very broad USP won’t do anything for you. You want one that’s been defined and sharpened to a point. You want a personal proposition that seems like you’re talking directly to your ideal customer.
Use your brand’s voice
We can’t stress this idea enough. You need to use your brand’s voice in your USP.
If your proposition is goofy and silly but the rest of your business model is incredibly professional, it will hurt your business. A stark contrast like this will leave people scratching their heads.
It reflects poorly on you and makes it seem like you don’t know how to run a cohesive business — since the content surrounding your business isn’t cohesive. A quick way to fix this is to also refer back to your branding and voice as you create written content.
It’s okay to take your time coming up with a USP
A lot of people try to rush the process of coming up with a USP. Sometimes a good idea will come to you quickly, but you shouldn’t ever put a hard time constraint on this process.
After all, this USP could define you in the future. You want it to be perfectly polished.
What else can you do to boost your business?
A high-quality unique selling proposition is just one of many ways to market your small business. Having a strong proposition will better position you against your competitors. Potential customers will respect your USP and it might lead to a lifelong customer.