How to Develop a Kick-Butt Unique Selling Proposition Or USP (By Luthando)

If you’re wondering what the guy’s in the brown trucks and shorts have to do with anything, then take a closer look at the chapter title. I said USP not UPS!

In the realm of business in general and for businesses in niches in particular creating and having a Unique Selling Proposition (USP) is what may give you that edge you need over your competition. In the world of marketing, there are very few direct response copywriters who are as well know as Jay Abraham. His definition of what a USP should do is explained in his own words:

“A USP is that distinct and appealing idea that sets you and your business, or practice, favorably apart from every other generic competitor.”

If you go online and look up the definition on “Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia”, you will find this short explanation and a reference to one of the pioneers in marketing and identifying a company’s USP, Rosser Reeves. The definition is as follows:

In his book “Reality in Advertising,” Rosser Reeves (Chairman of the Board at Ted Bates & Company) gives the precise definition as it was understood at his company:

1. Each advertisement must make a proposition to the customer: “buy this product, and you will get this specific benefit.”

2. The proposition itself must be unique – something that competitors do not, or will not offer.

3. The proposition must be strong enough to pull new customers to the product.

Reeves also wrote that a USP does not necessarily have to be a verbal message. It can be communicated both verbally and visually. For example, a classic Clairol advertisement showing a picture of a model and just the headline, “Does she or doesn’t she?” implied the USP, “If you use Clairol products, people won’t even notice that you dyed your hair.”

However, Reeves warns against forming a USP based on what he calls “The Deceptive Differential” – a uniqueness that is too small or too technical that customers cannot observe the differences in actual practice.

Reeves is also the creator of these two very famous USP’s:

“Fast, fast, fast, relief”- Anacin
“Melts in your mouth, not in your hands.” – M&M’s

One of the greatest examples of a powerful USP is one that changed an industry and took a struggling business owner having challenges surviving in a very competitive market to standing out above the rest; that is until the others caught on. If I were to write the words: “Fresh, hot Pizza delivered in 30 minutes or less or it is FREE”, would you be able to tell me what company this referred to? The answer is of course Domino’s Pizza.

Clearly Tom Monaghan of Domino’s changed the way in which the likes if Pizza Hut, Papa John’s and any other mom and pop store does business to this day. Now the suggestion to create a USP for you personally or your company does not have to have such a dramatic effect on other businesses as Domino’s had.

If we go back to the definition for a minute, can you ask yourself what you could do as an individual that would give you the distinction you need over your competition? What appealing idea or service can you adopt that sets you, your business, or practice apart from the generic competitor and more importantly what is the favorable impression that is left? Why should I or anyone else do business with you as opposed to anyone else? If you can answer these questions through your USP, then you have found a powerful marketing message that should be exploited.

It is not enough to just proclaim that if you are the best, the least expensive, or are number in customer service, everyone proclaims that. Your promise in your USP must also be delivered otherwise the USP is meaningless and just a catchy slogan. Domino’s promised you the pizza in thirty minutes; they never said it was going to taste good! Jay Abraham further states that, “It is critical always to fulfill the “big promise” of your USP.”

Since many big companies can spend literally millions building brand recognition, you as a relatively small business owner must strive to forge your own identity. In the scheme of things it really does not matter since the BIG business and marketing lesson here is to remember, the USP is the nucleus around which you will build your success, fame, and wealth, so you better be able to state it clearly.

If you can’t state it clearly, your prospects or customers won’t see it either. Whenever a customer may need the type of service or products you may have to offer, your USP should bring you or your company immediately to that prospects mind.

Another critical question your USP must ask and answer is this:

“Why should I or anyone else do business with you or your company, above any and all other options, including doing nothing, or whatever I’m doing now?”

Clearly your USP must inspire some sort of change in behavior if your target customer has been purchasing a similar product or service other than yours. The buying habits of many people are pretty regimented, sometimes your compelling reason for them to do business with you may not be the same reason the customer is buying now. How do you come up with something that reaches your target customer?

Start With Asking Your Existing Customers

I will get into the direct marketing science of ferreting out the bias in your customer list later on in this book; right now let’s just get some simple answers to some simple questions. If you have been in business for a while and have developed some sort of customer base, then take about ½ hour and either get on the phone or send out a letter with a few questions specifically designed to help you find out what exactly is it about your goods or services that brought these customer or clients into the door in the first place.

If you do not have a customer/client list, then shame on you for letting future business get away without capturing contact information. If you ask some good probing questions to your customers, then you may be able to determine a common thread as to why they chose to do business with you as opposed to the other people in the yellow pages.

Could you start by just going down your list of major sales over the last one to three months and listing all your big or repeat customers? Most of your customers will welcome your questions and will assist you in your data mining. Your good or repeat customers know why they bought from you; go ask them for God’s sake! Compile your answers and see if there is a common thread. While you’re at it, get them to send you a testimonial. Another critical topic when it comes to marketing your business we will get to later.

There is a wealth of valuable information contained in what your customers will tell you. Some of the answers you get from your customers will yield great positive information, and some may cause you to go as far as to fire someone. Don’t waste the information you gather, use it to craft your USP to attract other like-minded customers to your business.

One of the easiest ways to create a marketing USP is to make a list of features of your goods or services. Turn these features into tangible benefits, what the feature will do for you. Next, rank the benefits from most important to least important. One of the top two benefits will be your USP. With this exercise, you may even come up with a second USP.

Another important ingredient in a strong, powerful USP is to make the message in your USP a deeply felt emotional connection with your target market that tells people instantly why they should consider doing business with you. Whatever your USP ultimately ends up being, the message MUST be specific, meaningful, and concise.

Finding Your Unique Selling Proposition

Sometimes in order to determine your USP, you must look at how you and your company are positioned in the market place. Positioning your goods or services is all about making what you are offering different from, and more importantly, more valuable than your competitors’ goods or services and hammering home that belief into the minds of your targeted market. What you do with your positioning is that you create a unique and positive identity for your goods or services therefore making your goods and services distinguishable from what every other competitor is offering.

When you stop and think of the mountain of junk mail, print advertising in newspapers, and the endless television commercials, we are literally numbed to advertising and endless pitches for products or services. Like I mentioned earlier, since you are dealing with targeted customers with previous buying habits, your positioning and message must be strong enough to break through and convince or persuade them to change their buying habits.

The lesson here is that by positioning your goods and services as superior in quality, the prospect is forced to re-examine their decision and beliefs as to why they are using the goods and services of your competitor. By positioning yourself as the obvious choice, you are staking your claim to the higher ground forcing your prospect to pay attention to what you or your marketing message is saying.

Think about it, everyone wants to believe they are getting the best value for their money. When you plant that seed of doubt that your targeted market may not be getting their money’s worth, you have opened the door just a crack and it is up to you to take advantage of that opportunity.

In reality, there may be very little difference at all between your goods and services and those of your competitor, however if you fail to express and communicate clearly why you are unique and make that connection to your targeted market, you and your competitor may as well just merge your operations. By positioning yourself or your company as the obvious choice through your USP, it makes what you are offering to your customers more valuable and will lead to more business.

The old saying of “perception is reality” certainly holds true in business and when establishing a powerful USP the perception you are trying to project, should be followed with the reality that you will deliver on your bold USP. Also remember that you can not be all things to all people, but you can certainly be the one to choose from or simply the obvious choice for a great many of them. You also cannot do business operating under the “greater fool” principal. Consumers are smart and will not fall for false promises more than once.

Your USP is also one of the starting points in all your communications with your prospective customers or clients. Your actions must match the USP or again, all you are doing is selling snake oil and you will find that despite your best efforts, your business will die on the vine because you will in essence be marketing a lie.

The congruency of your USP with the customer experience will fortify your positioning in your business. That congruency must also be translated by everyone who comes in contact with your customers. If the mission statement of the company and company policies are not in line with your USP then you will have different people pulling in different directions all the while expecting or hoping for the same results: increased revenue. Can you really expect to be successful if this is the case?

Let’s take the company FEDEX as an example of this. If their USP that is so clearly identifiable as “Guaranteed Overnight Delivery” were compromised by just one pilot who decided that maybe he could wait just another day to fly the plane into their sorting facility, would that cause some problems? You’re damn right it would cause some problems! What this guy would have done was to make that clearly defined USP of FEDEX and turned in into the joke they call the U.S. Postal Service.

As a business owner you must make certain that the USP you develop for your business is both company policy and congruent with the rest of your marketing as well as your staff training and posture. If you are going to work to develop a great USP and begin to see what a difference it can make in driving more business to your front door, don’t you think your insurance that your work is not sabotaged is to make sure your staff understands what is expected?

The real good news that comes from developing a solid USP is that in many cases your marketing will become much more focused and refined. You will stop spending money on image ads that for lack of a better word; suck! We will also get into the concept of the “message to market match” and how this will also help define your USP later on.

As an exercise, try and quickly and as concisely as possible answer these five simple questions:

1. What does your business do?

2. For whom is your business for?

3. In your opinion, what is the biggest benefit to doing business with you?

4. Prove your claim; to what do you attribute that benefit?

5. How will your customers perceive this benefit, relative to the competition?

In another article found online at here are some more closely related strategies to help you uncover your USP and use it to power up your sales:

· Put yourself in your customer’s shoes. Too often, entrepreneurs fall in love with their product or service and forget that it is the customer’s needs, not their own, that they must satisfy. Step back from your daily operations and carefully scrutinize what your customers really want. Suppose you own a pizza parlor. Sure, customers come into your pizza place for food. But is food all they want? What could make them come back again and again and ignore your competition? The answer might be quality, convenience, reliability, friendliness, cleanliness, courtesy or customer service.

Remember, price is never the only reason people buy. If your competition is beating you on pricing because they re larger, you have to find another sales feature that addresses the customer’s needs and then build your sales and promotional efforts around that feature.

· Know what motivates your customers’ behavior and buying decisions. Effective marketing requires you to be an amateur psychologist. You need to know what drives and motivates customers. Go beyond the traditional customer demographics, such as age, gender, race, income and geographic location that most businesses collect to analyze their sales trends. For our pizza shop example, it is not enough to know that 75% of your customers are in the 18 to 25 age range. You need to look at their motives for buying pizza-taste, peer pressure, convenience and so on.

Cosmetics and liquor companies are great examples of industries that know the value of psychologically oriented promotion. People buy these products based on their desires (for pretty woman, luxury, glamour and so on), not on their needs.

· Uncover the real reasons customers buy your product instead of a competitor’s. As your business grows, you’ll be able to ask your best source of information: your customers. For example, the pizza entrepreneur could ask them why they like his pizza over others, plus ask them to rate the importance of the features he offers, such as taste, size, ingredients, atmosphere and service. You will be surprised how honest people are when you ask how you can improve your service.

If your business is just starting out, you obviously won’t have a lot of customers to ask yet, so “shop” your competition instead. Many retailers routinely drop into their competitors’ stores to see what and how they are selling. If you’re really brave, try asking a few of the customers after they leave the premises what they like and dislike about the competitors’ products and services.

Once you’ve gone through this three-step market intelligence process, you need to take the next -and hardest- step: clearing your mind of any preconceived ideas about your product or service and being brutally honest. What features of your business jump out at you as something that sets you apart? What can you promote that will make customers want to patronize your business? How can you position your business to highlight your USP?


If you are serious about your business, you must also become a serious student of marketing. Because in the grand scheme of things, no matter what business you are in, you are ultimately in the marketing business. If you fail at the marketing of your business, then no matter how well your product or service may be, you are not going to survive if you do not attract enough people or customers with MONEY for your business to survive.

One shortcut that may help in this search for the ever elusive USP may require some creativity and perhaps some soul-searching. If you can’t find your own stride, start to analyze how other companies use their USP to their advantage. You could even play prospect and see how their sales process works. But if all you do is go through the exercise of studying the ads and marketing pieces of other like companies, you should be able to gather enough information to get pointed in the right direction. If you take this exercise serious enough you will also learn a great deal about how companies distinguish themselves from competitors.

So as you have read so far, if you really want to take your business to the next level, having a powerful USP is one thing that you will need to develop. The longer you wait, the longer it will be before you start to grow your business in a big way.

You must remember in the end that every potential customer or client you will come into contact with will want to know what is in it for them if they are to do business with you. If you cannot clearly convey to them the benefits, there is a very good chance they will move on and take their business and their money somewhere else.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, the possibilities for building a distinct and appealing USP is unlimited. It is almost always best however, to develop a USP that profoundly addresses an obvious void in the marketplace that you can honestly fill. This alone will separate you from the rest of the “me too” businesses in your market.

The other fact you should be aware of is that since you are reading this, you have an advantage over your so called competition because very few business owners or businesses know how to develop a USP that is effective. They follow the crowd like lemmings and do what everyone else is doing and then they wonder why their businesses do not stand out from the rest of the crowd. The point is to focus on the one niche, need or gap that is most sorely lacking, provided you can keep the promise you make.

Is it any wonder and no surprise that most businesses, lacking a USP, merely just get by. The failure rate is very high, the owners are apathetic, and they end up getting only a small share of the potential business. In some instances, if it were not for a great location, they would have very little business at all. It’s crazy to operate any business without carefully crafting a clear, strong, appealing USP into the very fabric of the daily existence of that business.

By this time you have probably figured out that the need for a vibrant, meaningful USP is a vital element in your marketing and positioning of your business entity. At the end of this chapter, I will give you two exercises you can work to develop your own USP that should compliment the information already written in this chapter. Before we get to those exercises, you should have an idea on how to effectively integrate the USP you will develop into your sales material as well.

As I mentioned before the congruity of your USP message must be relayed by staff and should also be carried by outside sales forces if your business utilizes there services. Your positioning statement must not just be contained in all your marketing, it should be an integral part of your sales presentation when the sales force calls on prospects. Everything they say and do should clearly reinforce your USP. They should be able to explain the USP to the customer in a clear, concise statement.

Throughout the sales pitch, your sales associates should refer to the USP benefits or advantages, showing the prospects why it’s vastly superior to take advantage of your USP rather than your competitor’s USP, if that business even has one.

I would not suggest you simply have your salespeople try this approach on the fly. I suggest a more formal training session where they are forced to verbally express the USP you have crafted in 60 seconds or less. They must be able to clearly express how this USP benefits the client or prospect they are speaking to give compelling reasons for these benefits. Try furnishing your prospects with plenty of examples of how you honestly deliver your USP.

Talk to your staff as I mentioned already. Write specific scripts, hold contests, and reward people who distinguish themselves in promoting your USP. Set many examples so that your staff can see the USP in action. This is a great start and your staff may follow your wishes when you are around, but when you are not, will you be able to count on your people doing the right thing when do one is looking?

One great remedy to see if your USP policies are being followed is to hire mystery shoppers or callers to test if the company USP is being followed while you are out of the office for the day or away on vacation. If you have developed the script and have trained your staff, then you should be able to structure some questions for the mystery shopper that should elicit the responses your USP training was meant to answer. One of two things will happen; you will either be very pleasantly surprised, or you will have to fight the urge to fire everyone in your office. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

I think this issue has been beaten up and about the head and shoulders and the importance could not be more emphasized. It is NOT a function to ignore because it is such a vital ingredient to your business success. If you read this and do nothing, you are relegating your business to the ranks of the “me too” lemmings that all look the same and offer no compelling reason to do business with you.

Here are a couple of exercises that you can try if you are having a difficult time in crafting a USP. This exercise was suggested in an article by Jay Abraham:

With paper and pen, prepare a one-paragraph statement of your new USP. At first, you will have trouble expressing it tightly and specifically. It may take two or three paragraphs or more. That’s okay. Ruthlessly edit away the generalities, and tenaciously focus on the crispest, clearest, most specific promise you could possibly hold out. Then, rework it and hack away the excess verbiage or hazy statements until you have a clearly defined, clearly apparent Unique Selling Proposition a customer can immediately seize upon. And then, integrate your USP into every marketing aspect of your business, such as display advertising, direct mail, and field selling.

To summarize, here is a brief outline for reference you can use at any time when you are developing a USP for any new or niche business you may have.

What is a Unique Selling Proposition or USP?

Very simply stated, your USP is what differentiates your product, goods, or services from your competition’s products, goods, or services.

What a USP looks like:

  1. It is one sentence.
  2. It is clearly written, so that anyone can understand it.
  3. It should be believable.
  4. It is composed of one benefit that is unique solely to your company or product.

Develop a USP using one or more of the following strategies:

  1. Focus on a niche. In other words, before you develop the USP, find your target market. Answer the question: Who exactly are you selling to?
  2. Fill a void. This is similar to finding a niche. Look for a void in the market and fill it with your USP.
  3. Concentrate on easing “pain” or giving “pleasure” in your USP.
  4. State how your product, goods, or services will solve a problem.
  5. Look at your competition.
  6. Tell the customer what they are going to get, answer the question: What’s in it for them?
  7. Make it “measurable”. Time and price are measurable qualities.

Final tips:

1. Sit down with a piece of paper:

a. Brainstorm

b. List all the benefits your company or product can offer

c. Prioritize those benefits in order of what is the strongest, and most unique to your business.

d. Write one sentence that conveys the first benefit on the list.

2. Every employee should know your USP and be able to state it. (Especially if you are a small business.)

3. Your marketing campaigns, your marketing plan, and your business plan should surround your USP.


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