In order to grow your business in an ever more competitive world — a world with endless consumer choice — you must have something that differentiates you from your competition.
On top of that, given all the demands for people’s attention, you need to be able to communicate your competitive advantage within about three seconds.
This is where your USP comes in.
USP stands for Unique Selling Proposition, and it’s a concept as old as marketing itself. In short, your USP is your one-sentence answer to this seemingly simple question:
Why should somebody do business with you instead of a competitor?
You’ll know that you have a really good answer to this question when it accomplishes most or all of the following:
- Articulates one or more benefits to buying your product or service.
- Starts a compelling narrative for doing business with you.
- Provides something unique to the customer.
- Amplifies the value that the customer receives from choosing your company.
With an effective USP in hand, you’ll find that your business gains a number of benefits. Your marketing messages will become more consistent, as you’ll build everything from your USP. Your marketing will become more cost effective, as your USP, in tandem with a well-defined customer avatar (target market), will help with marketing placement decisions. Your content marketing becomes easier to execute, because now you have something to benchmark against for staying “on brand”.
Good & Bad Examples of USP
Let’s take a look at some examples to illustrate the concept.
I’ll start with some bad examples, pulled from one of my favorite sources for finding bad advertising: The Yellow Pages. Yes, those still exist.
- Serving the Peninsula for 35 years.
- Three generations serving the peninsula.
- Free local delivery.
- Free initial consultation.
- Prompt, innovative solutions for your individual needs and concerns.
- We can help!
- Open 7 days a week!
What do you see in common with these examples? Why am I picking on them?
Hint: Can you even tell what industry these examples come from?
Standing on their own, these don’t communicate anything about what the customer benefits from doing business with the company in question. In reality, these are all just over-used platitudes.
They also all fail one of my favorite copywriting tests, which is to ask: Who else can say that? If 30 companies all say the same things in their ads, then there is zero differentiation being communicated. And with no differentiation, how do people make buying decisions? By price.
Let’s consider some better examples. Not all of these are amazing, and hit every point on the previous checklist, but they’re a much better start than the bad examples above:
- Carpets dry in one hour or your cleaning is FREE.
- Complimentary delivery and installation with every home theater system, a $350 value.
- Unlimited text, talk, and data, with no contract.
- Free loaner car with every full auto paint job.
- No recovery, no fee.
- Comprehensive 5-year warranty with every home purchase at no cost to you.
Since many readers here are accounting and tax professionals, here are some examples from your own industry that I thought I’d share:
- Same day turn around on every tax return, or we’ll give you $100.
- We’ll get you the maximum refund allowed by law, or your tax prep is free.
- 100% accuracy guaranteed, or we’ll pay the IRS penalties for you.
- We’ll find at least $10,000 in new tax savings, or your consultation is free.
- Never talk to an IRS agent ever again, guaranteed.
- Your load factoring agreement reinstated within 45 days, or you don’t pay me a dime.
- Your personal information protected with bank-level security, plus $10,000 in ID Theft protection at no extra cost, just for being a client.
Crafting Your USP
You’ll often find that the most effective USPs center around a tangible outcome, a service or performance guarantee, or the highlighting of a unique benefit.
With this latter item, the unique benefit, it doesn’t necessarily need to be something that only you can provide. Over the centuries, there have been some amazing USPs used in a variety of industries that simply communicate something that everybody does, but that nobody ever talks about.
In the tax world, one of the best examples was the H&R Block “second look” ad campaign that they ran successfully for a number of years. In reality, every tax professional wants to look over prior year returns for technical reasons, and if they find an error in the client’s favor they’ll encourage the client to amend the return. This is pretty standard practice.
But Block took this perfectly normal thing that nobody talks about, and made it there USP for a few years. They built most of their marketing around this one thing, until other tax pros caught on and started copying it.
Domino’s pizza is famous for doing something similar. Every consumer expects their pizza to be still be hot when it arrives at their door, and they expect a fresh pizza. And they usually expect it within a reasonable amount of time, like half an hour or so. That’s just kind of the basic expectation, right?
Well, nobody was communicating it. So Domino’s created a USP out of it: “Fresh, hot pizza delivered in 30 minutes…” They just took the basic consumer expectation and articulated it. Then, they added a performance guarantee, “…or it’s free.”
So when crafting your USP, think in a similar manner. Take significant time and write down answers to questions like these to help craft your own USP:
- What tangible outcome do you deliver for clients?
What is the single most amazing element of you client experience that makes them say, “Wow!”?
- What part of your process do you genuinely do better or differently than anybody else?
- What frustrations do people experience in relation to your product or service, and how can you alleviate that?
- What performance guarantees can you provide?
- What is something your business does for customers that everybody in your industry does, but that you can execute better and communicate as such?
This is an exercise that should not be taken lightly. It should be a little difficult — if it’s not, you’re not digging deep enough. For most businesses, this will take several hours of your time to do it correctly.
You may also find it beneficial to ask other people. Your staff, some of your customers, other business owners, mentors, etc.
An effective USP can make or break a business, so it’s worth putting the time and effort in to getting this right.
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