Creating a unique selling proposition (USP) for your brand is about much more than just getting a sale from an ideal customer—it’s the core of your entire product.
Once you’ve figured out how to articulate your unique value, it can be woven through your marketing campaigns and pitches to make your product come alive. Even if you know how your product differs from others on the market, it’s challenging to make it stand out from the crowd to a potential customer in a clear, defined way
That’s where your USP comes into play.
We're going to look at:
- what exactly a USP is,
- some killer examples of USPs from a load of different products and markets to get your brain juices flowing, and
- how to find your unique selling proposition in 7 steps
What is a unique selling proposition?
Your USP is the single thing that makes your business better than the competition.
USPs define your position in the marketplace to your target audience. Also known as a value proposition, USPs are your secret weapon for connecting with a target customer. A deliberate, thoughtful USP helps to focus your marketing strategy and product decisions and makes you stand out in a flooded market.
The difficult part is figuring out just how to make your business or product stand out in the first place.
The best USPs directly address a specific customer need. Before we get into how to build your own selling point for an ideal customer, let’s look at some examples of stellar USPs.
Great examples of USPs:
USP: One for One
If we want to talk about unique selling proposition examples in a saturated market, let’s start with footwear. How do you even begin to stand out, and get noticed by a prospective customer, among Nike, Adidas, Jordan, Vans, Converse or Reebok? (Just to name a few.)
Let’s look at TOMS Shoes. They're reasonably priced, lightweight, somewhat comfy shoes marketed towards folks who want their footwear made in a morally and environmentally friendly way.
There are also hundreds of brands like that out there for a potential customer to choose from. So, how is TOMS different?
They literally donate a pair of shoes to a child in need for every pair sold. Their mantra is summed up in a simple tagline; one for one.
They’ve been hugely successful—when they sold to private equity firm Bain Capital, they were valued at $625 million.
TOMS stood out because they distinguished themselves as a mission-driven, ethically-minded organization. Their one-for-one model is a strong USP, and is widely copied in the retail world today, and they’ve expanded their products to include accessories, eyewear and coffee under the same USP.
De Beers Jewellers
USP: A diamond is forever.
A diamond isn’t just a precious material. It’s snuck into every rom-com, jewelry store commercial and Instagram ad as the symbol of everlasting love.
As a jeweler, how do you stand out with a strong USP among the thousands of other diamond companies out there?
Created in 1948, De Beers still uses their slogan to this day. Advertising Age even named it one of the best slogans of the 21st century.
The De Beers USP works because it goes beyond their product and speaks directly to the customer. It doesn’t talk about the cut, clarity or carats of their diamonds. While those are important, those are just product features to a prospective customer. Instead, De Beers goes beyond diamond features and speaks to what the diamond means to people— true, everlasting love.
USP: Get fresh, hot pizza delivered to your door in 30 minutes or less or it’s free.
Domino’s created this campaign a few years ago with significant success.
Delivery pizza isn’t a new concept. They’re cheap, hot, and a dime a dozen. While it isn’t a succinct slogan, Domino’s 30-minute guarantee stood out in the world of food deliveries where standard pizza deliveries take 45 minutes.
They not only made the guarantee, but also backed it up with the promise of a free pizza. It was a bold claim that stood out in a crowded market.
USP: Thoughtful standards for modern travel.
Away is a luggage company that disrupted the travel marketplace. They set out with the ambitious goal to create “the perfect suitcase.”
They accomplished it by thoughtful design (like adding a phone charger to the bag) and luxury at reasonable prices (they adopted a direct-to-consumer business model model to keep prices lower.)
But instead of detailing a monotonous list of features, they keep it simple. They’re the modern alternative to the suitcase market. How they’re designed, manufactured, sold, the features they include—all of that is encapsulated as under their USP as the symbol of “modern travel.”
Now that we have gone over unique selling proposition examples, let’s talk about how to create your USP.
How to create your USP
1. Brainstorm: write down all the features that make your product unique.
Get a pen and a piece of paper. Write down anything and everything that makes your product unique.
Don’t overthink it, just jot down everything that comes to your mind that can be used as a USP example. It could be something that you thought was insignificant—such as how your product is made or sourced—that turns out to be the missing link in your USP.
If you’re struggling to come up with a USP example, it sometimes helps to think of it from your customer’s perspective:
- What is your customer looking for? What are they struggling with?
- How does your product or service fulfill that need? How does it solve their problem?
- How does your service/product better than your competition?
- Why would your customer choose your product over the competition?
You can also use your CRM. It’s an untapped gold mine of customer data.
For example, in Copper, if your sales team is logging their meetings and calls with prospects, it becomes a great research tool to hone in on your target market and messaging. (Focus on prospects who converted into customers.)
Digging into your customer history is a great way to find nuggets of messaging that worked well in the past.
Another idea is to think about your company culture.
- What about your company is unique?
- Are there any special materials, techniques or technology that you use that other competitors don’t have?
Next, research your competitors. Don’t just check their features; look at their advertisements and marketing strategies. Look at how they position themselves in the marketplace. See if any of the features you have written down are not being offered by your competitors.
Take a look at this example from an online store selling bumper stickers.
Their USP is relatively simple: they offer full-color stickers at a one-color price. Unlike their competitors, they don’t have a confusing pricing scheme. They’ve managed to set themselves apart from their competitors in one simple move.
The result? Customized stickers sales rose by over 800% in the 18 months after they introduced their USP.
2. Don’t try and please everyone. Narrow down your audience.
We get it. You don’t want to be pigeonholed into a niche and appeal to fewer people—it's counterintuitive.
But have you ever heard of the old adage, "If you try and please everybody, you'll end up pleasing no one?"
The same rings true for marketing your product.
Don’t try to please every single person who's looking for a product like yours. And don’t try and sell it to everybody. When has a product always managed to please everybody?
Never. It will end up sounding generic and boring.
Instead, think about a core group of people who would benefit from the unique points you identified in step one. One way to do this is to take Kevin Kelly’s advice and start off selling your product to a core group of 1,000 people.
As Kelly says, marketing to a smaller core group is not only more feasible but will also allow you to focus on having a direct relationship with them.
You can also create buyer personas to narrow in on your target audience.
Buyer personas are representations of your ideal customers. They’re based on market research and your existing customer data. Identifying your top 2-3 customers can help you hone your USP and ensure your product is focused towards them.
3. Speak to your unique audience.
Now that you’ve found a couple points that only you offer (and accepted the fact that narrowing down your audience will actually benefit you), it’s time to get serious and become unique to your new, smaller audience.
The best way to do this is to focus—not on marketing yourself as the best product, but on making yourself stand out. This could be a feature of your product or a quirk in its creation process.
Let’s talk about chocolate—another saturated market where all the messages kind of sound the same. But what if you were looking for a super quirky chocolate company? You'd go with The Mast Brothers.
Sure, they make and package every bar themselves. But even that’s not enough to make them stand out. So, what is?
Well, when they source their cacao beans, the owners literally sail across the ocean from New York in a wooden sailboat to find them.
It’s weird, wacky… and absolutely genius. If you heard that story, you'd buy a bar. At least I did.
Update: Mast Brothers was actually exposed for creating mediocre chocolate. However, they're still growing today—which shows the importance of having a good USP... your product doesn’t even have to be particularly good! (Not that we’d advise that approach.)
4. Fill in the gaps your competitors are missing.
This is to really seal the deal on your USP. Take a step back and look at what your competitors are doing well—and what they're doing average at.
Are they falling short in their customer service department?
Is their product only available on certain platforms? That means they're probably missing out on a certain market.
Make sure your USP fills in the gaps where your competitors fall short. This is your opportunity to be unique.
5. Show the customer how you'll solve their problem.
Marketing your product used to be as easy as telling customers what they should buy. Times have changed. Now, you must find out your customers' hopes and desires, and reassure them that you're going to solve their problems.
Here’s where you start a relationship with your customer, build their trust over time—and without them even realizing it—become the only option when the time comes for them to purchase a product in your market.
If you're able to build trust and confidence in your brand or product with your customer, it can lead to opportunities like subscriptions and ongoing purchases.
Take email marketing giant MailChimp, for example.
They have a quirky marketing strategy involving a chimp and they're extremely inviting to small businesses. In fact, their entry-level plan allows a business to send email campaigns to 2,000 subscribers for free. There isn't an option to pay (even if you wanted to). Once a business scales past that point, it must enter into a subscription to continue using the service.
The genius lies in the initial stages of the customer scaling their business. When a business uses MailChimp for free, they are seeing first-hand exactly how MailChimp can solve their problem—a classic example of show, don't tell:
A relationship with your customer isn’t a luxury; it is a must in today’s marketing world. Always nurture your relationships.
6. Be personable.
It may be an obvious one, but nobody likes buying a product (especially a subscription or something expensive) from a not-so-friendly brand. Being personable can go a long way for your company.
Let’s look at Oprah. From her talk show to Super Soul Sundays, she’s one of the most successful, richest, beloved women in the world.
In a commencement address, she sums up her personal USP in a beautifully short statement: the power of service.
Her career and mission aren’t about her success, viewership or fans. It’s about recognizing your unique gifts and what you can do to serve others.
Oprah could talk about her successful talk show. She could talk about her book club, magazine, podcast or the fact that she founded an entire television network from the ground up. But that's just what she’s accomplished; it’s not who she is.
Oprah’s USP is the core of her character and beliefs. It’s personal, authentic—and resonates with millions of people.
7. Be recognizable, instantly.
Now, think of a way to condense all of your uniqueness you have found in the last six steps into an instantly recognizable phrase. Make sure it's short, concise, and easy to understand.
Once you’ve got your phrase, try and solve your customer’s most urgent problem within that phrase.
Take this example from FedEx:
"When your package absolutely, positively has to get there overnight."
I know who I’m shipping my package with.
What to avoid in your USP
Despite the above examples, many, many companies get their USP wrong. (Or they don’t have one at all.) In my experience, most companies make three mistakes in their USPs.
- Generic language: Most USPs are generic (“We’re the best.) They don’t speak to the true value of their specific product and service. Every company says they have the best product or service. You can’t simply say you’re the best without speaking to why and how you stand out in the market.
- Confusion between a USP and product features: At the end of the day, your customer doesn’t care about the type, material or innovation behind your product. They simply want it to work for them. Your USP isn’t about you; it’s about how your product serves your customer.
- All talk: Consumers are savvy. They can discern BS and substandard sales pitches quickly. If you claim you’re the best, most successful, highest-performing, etc., you need the evidence to back it up.
Trust the process.
Creating a successful unique selling proposition takes time, care, and effort.
The easiest way to get the ball rolling is starting to take action. Now.
Don’t push the process aside and leave it until the end. Start creating and building your USP as you develop your business model.
Write down your unique points, research your competitors when you have time, and start to consider the problems your customers are facing and how you can address them in your USP.
The process will help to not only shape your finalized USP, but also shape and create your marketing plan in the process.