Online courses

Online training

Go to the course catalogue

Unique Selling Proposition

What is a unique selling proposition

What is a unique selling proposition?

A Unique Selling Proposition is a benefit your company offers to customers that makes you better than all your competitors. USP, or Unique Selling Proposition, is the key to attracting new customers and is most often used online in combination with different types of advertising, from banner advertising to targeting.

The definition of a unique selling proposition originated with American marketer Rosser Reeves, who specialised in television advertising. One day Reeves realised that the rapid growth of competition in the market made it difficult for companies, regardless of their size, to catch the consumer's attention. So, the USP became the answer to the question of how to set itself apart and differentiate its products so that the target audience, who is looking for similar benefits, will turn their attention to a particular company.

The importance of a USP

Why is a unique selling proposition so important? Simply put, it determines the position of your business in the market because, without it, a company is much less likely to find, interest and engage an audience. Since the USP is a solution to a particular problem that concerns a specific segment, it thus contributes to the positioning of the business and, with it, increases its visibility. In an era of product abundance, this is probably the only way to keep your business afloat and not get lost amongst its peers.

Creating a unique selling proposition is primarily aimed at satisfying consumers, since it is through comparisons of different selling propositions that they decide which product they prefer. In fact, this is a reference point that helps not to get lost in the variety of available options, a distinctive and memorable marker of the company.

Directly for the company, the USP plays the role of the core of marketing strategy to attract new customers. Around this proposal advertising is formed, aiming to popularise it and bring it to a large number of people. That is why the meaning of a unique selling proposition is enormous because if it is phrased correctly and carefully, it can increase the effectiveness of any marketing by many times.

Types of unique selling propositions

A Unique Selling Proposition must focus on a particular company's characteristics, specifics, and objectives. Additionally, it must target the conditions of the niche in which it exists. Consequently, it is not possible to identify specific types of USPs, but it is possible to determine three categories (aspects) under which they may fall:

  • Products. The USP focuses on a product or service that the company offers which is superior to any alternatives. For example, a bookshop that offers rare titles which cannot be found anywhere else.
  • Price. In this case, the USP is about the financial benefit customers will receive if they choose your company. Such offers make unobtrusive comparisons with competitors and emphasise quality - for example, low-cost grooming services for dog breeds that require regular and expensive coat care.
  • Support. This category of the USP is built around customers' need for security, peace of mind and assurance. That is, the emphasis is put on reliable support from the company before, during and after the purchase. For example, an appliance company that allows returns within two weeks without any questions.

How to write a Unique Selling Proposition

How to write a Unique Selling Proposition

It would be best if you considered the following factors when creating your Unique Selling Proposition:

  • The needs and desires of your target market. What are they? What does your potential customer want? Who are they?
  • The uniqueness of your company. What are your strengths? Which ones do your competitors not have? How can they be made even more robust?
  • The benefits of doing business with you. What exactly do you offer your customers? Why should they choose you over a competitor?
  • Channels for promotion. How will you communicate your PR message to your target audience online and offline? What tools are available to you to do so?

Now we can move on to a step-by-step guide on how to create a unique selling proposition in practice:

Step 1: Conduct market research into the market and your target audience

Before you can work out what to sell and how to do it, you need to understand who the target audience will be for your selling proposition. In short, get to know your market as much as possible. Find out your customers' expectations and needs, especially those still unmet. If you can meet a need that your competitor cannot meet in whole or part, you have already established your USP.

At this step, it is necessary to refuse the general approach to a niche and business, having chosen a narrow direction. Don't try to create a USP that covers everything. Instead, it should focus on a specific segment and your particular skills or product characteristics.

For example, one segment of an IT company's target audience looks like this: start-ups who want to build their website on WordPress and, at the same time, optimise it for search engine ranking to get their product to market quickly.

Step 2: Research your competitors and do a comparative analysis to identify your unique features

It is not enough to know what your target audience wants - you also need to know who can satisfy their desires besides you and how. Only by analysing other people's USPs, products and features can you understand how to differentiate and beneficially present yours. To do this, gather a list of your competitors and answer these questions:

  • Who are your main competitors?
  • What does their selling proposition look like?
  • What about their products? How are they different from yours? What are their weaknesses and strengths?
  • Why and how does it work?
  • How do people find out about their USP?
  • What do people think of them?

Online reviews and user surveys can help you answer the last question.

Step 3: Define and formulate your primary message

You must write out your main advantage (difference) and the side features. After comparing them with your competitors, you will most likely have several options. You must decide which difference you will take at this stage and make it the main one. Yes, there can be several USPs, but remember that each should focus on its target audience. Therefore, start with the one that is the most prominent and beneficial in terms of resources.

Step 4: Start with the positioning

Positioning in the market is about establishing the brand's identity and image in the target audience's eyes. This positioning is, as you can guess, based on your new USP. Therefore, it is better to develop several variations of your PR messages for promotion, depending on where you plan to place them: on banners, in video ads, in articles, etc. Also, create a single slogan - a universal version of your USP, which will reflect its essence but can be applied everywhere and describe your business.

Consider the following points too:

  • Use the active voice in your sentences and only positive words without negative particles ("not", "no", "none", etc.).
  • Do away with all words that express half-measures or doubts. For example, remove the terms "almost", "better than" "for sure", etc. Instead, your USPs should sound solid and confident.
  • Give preference to memorable and unusual words. If your USP resembles a competitor's USP, it's the wrong proposition. Instead, try to play with neologisms, terms and jargon only your audience can understand.

Step 5: Conduct an A/B testing of the proposition

Before you launch a Unique Selling Proposition in marketing and invest all your resources in it, test it to see if it works locally and has the desired effect. To do this, run a test campaign with several ready-made variants of the USP and see which one brings more traffic to you. Also, keep track of sales data and changes in sales after the offers have been launched. Only by testing the USP in practice will you guarantee real success for the company. Then, based on the research results, you can select the best selling proposition and launch a full-scale promotion based on the results.

Unique selling proposition vs Value proposition

Unique selling proposition vs Value proposition

The value proposition is the ideas that underpin the business model, even at the start of a company launch. It is a kind of declaration, a list of benefits and solutions that a company plans to offer customers to improve their lives. Thus, the value proposition essentially answers the question of what the company does and why it is on this market.

What is the difference between a value proposition and a unique selling proposition? Despite it looking similar, these are very different marketing concepts, even though they both address the target audience and their needs. Unlike the USP, which is a specific and direct message, the value proposition is a system of values that customers seek in companies. That is to say, it is the emotional and practical sensations that the client will receive when using absolutely all its products. Thus, the value proposition relates to the company and reflects its essence regarding reputation, while the USP is an instrument for promoting a specific product.

USP examples

USPs can be found in every ad, from text to video and in every niche, from clothing to real estate. Here are some examples for a better understanding of different brands:

  • "Melts in your mouth, not in your hand." This unique selling proposition belongs to M&Ms and may sound strange but exciting. It was with it that M&M's sales once peaked.
  • "Made-to-order hot pizza delivered in 30 minutes or less - guaranteed!" But sadly, as it proved impossible to fulfil, the Domino's pizzeria chain had to scrap this promise.
  • "Love your beverage or let us know. We'll always make it right." The Starbucks USP means commitment and loyalty to the customer, so it inspires trust and is memorable.
  • "Empowering the world to design." A proposition from online graphic design service Canva. The company emphasises its innovative design approach, flexibility, and freedom of action for the client.
  • "Dental implants made of German metal-ceramic. We put them in good faith with a 10-year guarantee". This USP belongs to a dental centre and addresses the customer's need for security (part of the guarantee and conscience offer).
  • "Shampoo with conditioner! The minimum time with the maximum hair care!" This USP was built around a product additional reward scheme.
  • "One thousand five hundred of our students could get into Harvard, and so can you! An Ivy League professor teaches in our academy." Such a proposition takes advantage of its expertise with the message, "We're really in it".

You can also find examples of unique selling propositions on the websites of companies such as McDonald's, Nike, Coca-Cola, Apple, Amazon, and Tesla.

How to improve your current unique selling proposition

How to improve your current unique selling proposition

If your business already has a ready-made USP, here are some ways to improve its effectiveness:

  • Put yourself in the customer's shoes. The most widespread mistake entrepreneurs make is to regard their product as a source of profit and something to sell. It might seem counterintuitive. Nevertheless, focusing on your potential customers' vision, thinking, and problems are crucial when forming your USP. To do this, you must abstract away from business metrics and your opinions about the product and put yourself in the customer's shoes. For example, try buying from a competitor as an ordinary person, or try it in your own company. For example, if you own a restaurant or food point, go there with your family, and order a pizza. What did you expect from it? Were the expectations met? How was the service? The interior? Other details?
  • Price is not everything. Many people believe that if a product is cheap, it will be sold out in minutes, even if it is useless. However, 90% of customers are willing to overpay the competition but get a quality and valuable product. So don't worry that your customers will be scared off by the price. Of course, you need to focus on the well-being of your segment, but you shouldn't make it the sole basis of your USP.
  • Engage emotions. Instead of critical thinking, today's people use associative thinking more commonly. Therefore, it will likely outweigh or complement any other rational arguments if you evoke a positive emotional response.
  • Play with the customers' motivation. To do this, go beyond traditional customer demographics and work through customer avatars more carefully in terms of personal preferences, psychology, and emotions. After all, motivation is not always rational. It can be so subjective that you will never be able to guess what motivates a person. But you must try!