What Is a Unique Selling Proposition?

What Is a Unique Selling Proposition?

A unique selling proposition (USP) is a succinct, memorable message that identifies the unique benefits that are derived from using your product or service as opposed to a competitor’s.

A USP should be used as a strong and consistent part of an advertising campaign. It can be posted on your website, painted on the company’s cars or trucks, printed on the letterhead, and used in the packaging copy. It becomes, essentially, a positioning statement—a declaration of your company’s unique standing within the marketplace as defined by your product’s benefits.

Often a USP is a quick and snappy condensation of the company’s strategy. This is especially true when a company offers one type of product or service. But even more so than most strategies, USPs tend to focus on one or two of the most powerful and easily communicated benefits derived from using a product or service. The USP might focus on price, quality, dependability, breadth or depth of the product or service line, technical edge, fashion, customization, specialization, or nature of service.

Related: Q&As: How to Develop a Unique Selling Proposition

Why Should I Develop a USP?

Why can’t a company simply describe its products, benefits, and features? Why must it be locked into a consistent image? Why can’t the benefit focus change from one advertising or publicity campaign to the next?

Every day, people everywhere are bombarded with literally thousands of advertising messages in newspapers and magazines, on television and the radio, on the sides of buses and on billboards, and of course, on the Internet. Because advertisements are so inescapable, all of us tend to shut out a great deal of the messages they impart. Most ads also have a low recall rate—few people remember them for any length of time after seeing or experiencing them.

Related: How to Choose the Right Advertising Media

To build long-term product recognition, an advertiser should focus on getting prospective customers to remember one succinct and consistent message regarding its product. To expect consumers to remember a continually changing or drawn-out message is a near-futile hope.

Generally, a USP will immediately convey one of the strongest competitive advantages of using your product. It needs to put your product in a different place in the consumer’s mind than the ones already occupied by your competitors. Otherwise, you are simply engaging in trade association-type advertising or, in other words, promoting all products within your marketplace or industry.

What Is the Difference Between a Strategy and a Unique Selling Proposition?

The best way to answer this question is through an example from my own experience. The strategy for Bob’s Rent-A-Bike was multipronged and included delivering rental bicycles directly to summer visitors at their campsites, motels, or summer residences.

The strategy also included targeting families and others interested in longer term rentals, such as for multiple days or longer. Another component of the strategy was to have rock-bottom costs by purchasing only used bicycles, operating with virtually no overhead by using an old garage on the family property for storage, rather than renting a commercial location, and using the family station wagon to deliver bicycles.

Related: Streetwise Advice: USP vs. Business Strategy

All of this information, of course, was way, way too much for a unique selling proposition. Furthermore, some of it wasn’t going to sound appealing to customers at all. For example, I didn’t want to advertise, “The only bicycle rental firm delivering used bicycles in the family station wagon and operating from an old garage!”

So instead, to develop a USP, I focused on the most important, most compelling part of the message: bicycles delivered to you. And then, to make it sound much more compelling, I added in the powerful word “free,” even though this required a qualification in finer print. Thus, the unique selling proposition was “Bike rentals, delivered free!” Underneath the headline, the fine print qualification read “a minimum of 2 bikes for 2 days.” This unique selling proposition is short, valuable, and memorable—great for use in marketing campaigns!

You Need to Create a Drop-Dead, Totally Differentiated USP

This becomes particularly important—and of course, a more difficult job—when competitive products or services have virtually identical features that offer like benefits. Developing a USP that accomplishes this task is called “product differentiation.”

For example, a perfume manufacturer could use the product name, packaging, and advertising to create a certain distinct mood or feeling about each of its product lines. It can carefully target each line to a specific audience. Think of Shalimar—“The Gardens of Shalimar have inspired thousands of lovers. And one perfume.” Or Liz Claiborne’s Vivid—“A spirit that will not be denied.”

Similarly, a cola bottler or brewer of beer may use a USP to identify its product with a fun and appealing lifestyle that creates a positive product differentiation.
Great examples of effective product differentiation include:

Walmart’s “Always the low price.”

FedEx’s “Absolutely, positively overnight.”

UPS’s “We run the tightest ship in the shipping business.”

Stouffer’s “Nothing comes closer to home.”

Midas Muffler’s “Guaranteed for as long as you own your car.”

Developing a powerful USP is usually not going to happen in a few minutes or a few hours. You need to try to brainstorm a whole bunch of different possible alternatives, tossing out words that may work, kind of like the way words are placed all over a busy Scrabble board. You are probably not going to come up with a USP by scheduling it: “Monday 10 a.m. to 11 a.m.—create awesome USP!”

Instead, it is the kind of creative endeavor you need to play with—get the ideas and words on your computer screen and move them around while you are watching TV late at night, sipping latte at the coffee shop, or munching your burger at lunchtime. Go back and work on it again and again. It can be an exceedingly important part of your business. I simply cannot emphasize that enough!

Takeaways You Can Use

  • Your USP is wicked important!
  • Your USP must be short and snappy.
  • Your USP must differentiate you, not simply make an unsupported claim to be better.
  • Consumers need to remember one succinct and consistent message about your product.

Your Business Plan Is Your Business: The Rest is Execution

About Bob Adams

Bob Adams is a Harvard MBA serial entrepreneur. He has started over a dozen businesses including one that he launched with $1500 and sold for $40 million. He has written 17 books and created 52 online courses for entrepreneurs. Bob also founded BusinessTown, the go-to learning platform for starting and running a business.