Friendly African-American boutique owner handing customer a gift bag
Friendly African-American boutique owner handing customer a gift bag

How to develop a unique selling proposition

As a business it’s useful to stand out so customers not only notice you, but they also select you over the immediate competition. One way to do this is by ensuring potential customers understand your ‘USP’ (what makes your product or service different and better).

You’re probably already familiar with businesses that promote they are the cheapest or fastest or have the largest range. But what makes your business special? To help develop your USP, list all the things you offer customers in these four main categories:

1. Business USPs

These USPs are based on how you run your business, the processes, products and services you offer such as:

  • Outstanding customer service
  • Extended warranties or guarantees
  • Ability to transact online (order, track, pay)
  • Delivery speed
  • Being an authorized supplier

It’s also possible social and environmental parts of your business will become critical USPs. This could mean using organic or recycled materials, having clear policies on reducing waste, sponsoring charities or focusing on helping to build a more sustainable world.

2. Product and service USPs

If you’re lucky enough to have invented something totally new, then you should automatically have some form of USP. But chances are your business is the same or a variation in an existing industry.

To develop product USPs try:

  • Accessing exclusive agreements with suppliers
  • Offering products or services competitors don’t
  • Providing a longer guarantee
  • Offering longer after-sales service
  • Amending, adding, altering, improving what already exists

The ultimate product or service USP is something that only your business can deliver, which doesn’t need to be world-wide and it doesn’t need to be new or innovative. If you’re the only bakery in town, you’re the only bakery in town.

3. Business collaboration USPs

Small businesses often work together to not only find customers but to also share resources. A good example is a builder who uses a close personal network of other trades (plumbers, electricians, tilers etc) to refer work to each other. The USP is the relationship.

As a business you can:

  • Joint venture with other businesses to win work
  • Identify the referral channel and make direct contact
  • Join industry groups to identify decision makers
  • Partner with buying or marketing groups

Collaboration can also include your suppliers. If you market to them and get to understand their business, they may offer you better terms, promotional material, training for staff, faster delivery, better returns policy and early notification of specials or discounts that are not offered to your competitors.

4. Marketing USPs

Some businesses manage to bubble to the top of mind in an industry (think Amazon, Google, Facebook, Airbnb) initially by being unique and then by being the dominant brand. But you don’t need to be a global player with a massive advertising budget, to be top of mind for your customers in your street, suburb, town, city or state.

Marketing USPs can be:

  • A recognizable logo and brand
  • Better qualifications and experience
  • A valued customer loyalty program
  • Online ranking and traffic to your website
  • Customer word of mouth
  • Your lead generation process

Anything that drives new customers to your business and keeps them there can be a marketing USP, including being active in social media and building a profile as the expert in your industry.

How many USPs should you have?

It’s useful to have as many as possible, but rather than a long list, customers will probably only remember two or three. To help decide which USP you should promote the most, ask prospective customers what they value and what would make them switch to your business.

Finally, protect your USPs

If you have developed a USP then it’s worth protecting any intellectual property (IP) with copyright, patents, designs, trademarks, or trade secrets. The United States Patent and Trademark Office is a good place to get an overview of what you can and can’t protect. Seek professional advice if you do intend to go down the IP path.

You can also create barriers to entry to make it harder for a business to copy your USP such as owning your location, a long lease (to prevent others moving you on), a license or contract of supply, or having brilliant and loyal employees.

Developing your USP can take time but once you have one (or many) that work, integrate the messaging into all your marketing to remind customers why you’re best at what you do.