How Unique Selling Propositions Have Helped Create Corporate Success Stories 

Your Unique Selling Proposition (USP) is an introductory statement that differentiates you from your competitors. It’s a short, carefully chosen description of what your business does that makes it different.

Your USP should ensure that you stand from the crowd and are remembered for the products and/or services you sell.

Here are two examples of well-known businesses that have a very good understanding of how effective a good USP can be:

1. John Lewis, the well-known London Departmental Store;

“Never Knowingly Undersold”

2. The Computer Company Sun (now part of Oracle Corporation);

“The Network is the Computer”

Both of these USP’s are strong statements that stick in the memory and influence customers.

A good USP alone isn’t sufficient to ensure success. John Lewis would never have been as successful as it has if it didn’t offer a wide range of quality products, and Sun would never have succeeded if it hadn’t built its reputation on its ability to help both small and large companies network their computers.

But in each case their USP’s ensured that both these businesses stand out from competitors who provide similar products and services.

Why its Important for a Small Business to Seem Unique

One of the biggest mistakes many small businesses make is not being (or appearing) unique. If you want to establish yourself as a small business in a competitive marketplace or survive in an economy that isn’t doing well you must differentiate yourself.

The businesses and individuals that you want to sell to need to have a reason for buying from you rather than from your competition. Consider an example from your own experience. How often have you looked in Yellow Pages or done a Google search for a local business and been overwhelmed by the choices presented?

When this happens you probably don’t go through each business in turn. You look for those that grab your attention and seem relevant, and more often than not will choose one that proclaims a particularly eye-catching benefit or purpose in a single statement (the USP).

For example, if you’re looking for electrical goods you might choose an electrical retailer who boasts “the widest range of electrical goods in the county” or if your looking for a plumber choose one who offers a “24 hour call-out service”.

In each case it’s the outstanding USP that commands your attention.

Companies with outstanding USP’s are the first we investigate, and are likely to be the ones we visit or telephone first.

Build Your USP into the Fabric of Your Business

Your USP needs to be embedded into everything you do. It’s not something that you mention from time to time or use in an advertisement. It’s the single statement that becomes strongly linked with your business.

Whilst you might not find it difficult to include your USP in your advertisements and on your business cards you may find it more challenging to use it in verbal introductions and conversations (when the USP becomes what many people call your business Elevator Pitch”.)

For example, whereas you might have said:

“I’m John Smith. I run the computer shop in the high street”

You might now need to get used to saying:

 “I’m John Smith. My computer store has the widest range of laptops in the City”

Without a USP you are no more than a ‘me to’ business, and “me to” businesses rarely survive for long. They usually end up in price wars because prospective customers can’t identify anything unique about them.

Make Your USP Clear & Specific

The more clearly you announce your USP the more often you’ll get chosen instead of your competition.

Your objective is to ensure that when someone is looking to buy a product like yours, your company’s name must be the first that comes to mind.

However, there are lots of very woolly USP’s that are poignant or witty but don’t do a very good job at helping you understand what the business is about . Make sure that your USP is clear and specific.

USP’s like:

 ‘The Best Selection” or

‘Service with a Smile”

are worn-out,tired and unspecific.

Choose USP’s like:

 “Delivered in 30 minutes or your money back” or 

“Buy today and be watching it tonight”

Both of these are specific and measurable.

How to Identify and Develop Your USP

Don’t rush into deciding on a USP.

As we pointed out earlier, you’ll be using it throughout your business on your business cards, in your literature and on your website. If you get it wrong and need to make some changes, it’s going to cost you money.

If your USP is a promise, make sure you’ll be able to fulfill it. This is especially important if it’s a delivery promise with a money-back guarantee! Or a value promise like that of John Lewis (they back their USP up with a price match guarantee).

Research Your Market Before Picking a USP

You’ll need to do some research to help you with ideas for your USP. Start by looking for urgent needs in your market area that aren’t being met (sometimes called “performance gaps”). Many businesses that base their USP on industry performance gaps are successful.

For example, if you live in an area where plumbers are regarded as unreliable because they don’t turn up when they promise, your USP if you have a plumbing business could be:

“XYZ Plumbers. Two-hour response – or we pay the call out charge” or

“XYZ Plumbers. Prompt and Efficient Service and a Five-year Guarantee”

Your USP Doesn’t Have to be Unique

After all we have said so far, this statement might surprise you because although a USP is a statement of your uniqueness it doesn’t always have to be unique.

Just make sure you proclaim it first!

For example, if you are a furniture retailer and choose the USP:

‘Buy today, we’ll deliver it tonight.’

It’s very likely that your competitors can probably do this as well. But you grabbed the USP first, so it’s yours.

If others follow you and use the same USP they will be strengthening the advantage you have already fixed in your customer’s minds.

Integrate Your USP into Everything You Do

We have already talked about this earlier in the article, but it’s a point that needs to be made strongly.

Once you have your USP start integrating it into everything you do:

  • Put it in your brochure headlines
  • Use it in your advertisements
  • Display it prominently on your website
  • Use it frequently in your direct mail and all your email communications
  • Put it on your business cards and promotional items
  • Use it in sales presentations and at networking events.

See “Step 5” of our article on “Developing a Small Business Marketing Plan” for more ways of using your USP.

If you’re fortunate enough to be interviewed by the media, make sure you use your USP as much as you can during the interviews.

You can’t “over-do” or “wear out” your Unique Selling Proposition – especially if it’s powerful. The more you use it the better it will stick.

Some of the best USP’s have become established company slogans and strap-lines that others start to use in conversations about the business. John Lewis and Sun are good examples of this.

When Sun was building its business it wasn’t unusual to hear people say “…. if you want to get the best out of the individual desk-top computers in your business you should talk to Sun, they reckon the network is the computer. It’s the way forward”. Of course we all know this now, but this wasn’t always the case!

Also today, if anyone mentions John Lewis it’s not unusual to hear people say “. . . . you should visit them, they are never knowingly undersold”.

Four Steps for Developing Your USP

Every small business needs a USP?  Start developing yours today. Here are four steps to follow:

  1. Research your marketplace and start building a list of unmet needs or performance gaps
  2. Look at the USP’s your competitors are using. The chances are that many of them will not be very good USP’s. They’ll provide you with some examples of USP’s to avoid.
  3. Come up with a candidate list of USP’s which apply across the whole of your business. Make sure they are not too long. Four to five words is best, although up to ten is OK (this may be necessary if your USP hinges around a guarantee).
  4. Start trying out these USP’s on friends and colleagues. Ask what the USP suggests to them and get them to compare your USP’s with those of your competitors.
  5. Lastly, choose the best of your USP’s and use it in meetings and conversations. If it’s effective and you feel comfortable with it launch it and use it throughout your whole business.

As your business grows, don’t forget to ask your customers why they decided to do business with you. When you do this you’ll find out how effective a good USP can be, especially if they use your USP in the answers they give!


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