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What is a Unique Selling Proposition? (with Examples)
Written by: Victoria Yu
Victoria Yu is a Business Writer with expertise in Business Organization, Marketing, and Sales, holding a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration from the University of California, Irvine’s Paul Merage School of Business.
Edited by: Sallie Middlebrook
Sallie, holding a Ph.D. from Walden University, is an experienced writing coach and editor with a background in marketing. She has served roles in corporate communications and taught at institutions like the University of Florida.
Updated on May 31, 2023
What is a Unique Selling Proposition? (with Examples)
When you first started your business, you might’ve had vague, lofty goals like “I want to run a successful bookstore” or “I want to start my own CPA office.”
But as you look around now, you might see hundreds of thousands of other business owners, all with the same dream as you! With so many competitors, how do you stand out from the crowd and earn a consumer’s dollar?
A unique selling proposition (USP) is what differentiates one business from another in an industry, telling customers why they should pick your business over the next one. If you’ve been struggling to make your business stand out from the competition, this guide will explain everything you need to know about USPs with examples that provide insight to help you create a great USP of your own.
A unique selling proposition (USP) is a statement of what makes your business different from others in the industry.
It’s important to have a distinct USP so that customers can remember you and what makes your product or business better than the rest.
A USP focuses a business’s marketing and sales communications and drives strategy.
Definition of Unique Selling Proposition
A unique selling proposition (USP) is a short statement of what differentiates a brand from competitors: a product benefit, feature, or company trait that consumers value and will come to know the company for. It’s also called a unique selling point.
A USP can be based on product characteristics or price structures, but there must be some objective kernel of truth to the claim – if you claim your blankets are softer than a dream, they’d better be appropriately soft! The product itself doesn’t have to be unique, but the message and promise do.
Why is a Unique Selling Proposition Important?
A USP clues a prospective customer in on what makes a product or company better than another one, making it easier for customers to buy the product that suits them the best. It serves as a guarantee for the customer that even if the product fails in all other aspects, at least the most important feature will perform well.
Marketers and sales reps use USPs to target specific customer pain points, telling consumers that this specific product will meet their needs better than a competitor’s. It can also drive strategy, allowing decision-makers to identify the company’s strengths and strategic position in the industry.
An important thing to note is that USPs are used for products and brands, which sometimes might not be the entire company as a whole. For example, Mars Inc. sells dozens of different candy products, and yet the USP for M&Ms sets it apart from its sibling products made by the same company: “Melts in your mouth, not your hand.”
How To Make A Unique Selling Proposition
If you’re a business owner just starting out and haven’t found your niche yet, here are some tips to help you develop and implement a USP.
1. Research your target audience
If you don’t appeal to customers, you’ll never make a single sale! That’s why the first step is to research the product’s target consumer. Create a buyer persona or ideal customer profile of the target customer you hope to sell to: their demographics, location, budget, psychographics, and more.
Put yourself in your customers’ shoes. Do research and conduct surveys to get a good feel of why customers buy the products they buy: what emotions drive them, what qualities they look for, and the lingo that resonates best with them. Doing this will help you match the product with customer needs.
For example, let’s say you’re starting an online fast-fashion business. Your ideal customer would be young women in their 20s and 30s of medium to high socioeconomic status, who are very conscious of current fashion trends and want to always be wearing the coolest clothes.
2. Identify core competencies
Next up is to focus on yourself: what can your product provide that competing products can’t? It’d be tragic if you found an amazing USP that appealed to buyers, only for a competitor to steal it and do it better.
A strong unique selling proposition is based on something that a company is good at that competitors can’t copy easily, something rooted in proprietary knowledge and core competencies.
Going back to our clothing business example, you might discover a unique shipping partner that could make your deliveries ultra-fast compared to other companies. If you enter an exclusive contract with that partner, other companies won’t be able to replicate your shipping speed.
3. Look at the industry
As the name implies, a unique selling proposition should be unique from competitors, giving consumers a benefit or emotion that other products can’t. A gap in the industry would represent a prime opportunity for a new brand.
As an inverse to the previous section, it’d be quite the faux pas if a company were to copy the USP of another. In addition to the bad blood, between two products with the same USP, customers would likely default to the better-established one, correctly identifying the other as a copycat.
Additionally, when working on your USP, research future industry forecasts and predictions to see if there are new trends you can get in on early or aging trends that you should stay away from.
With our clothing business example, your closest competitor would be Shein. Though you and Shein might sell the same clothing, Shein focuses on providing them at the lowest price, while you focus on delivering them as fast as possible. Since your USP is different from your main competitor, your USP should be safe even if you have the same items.
4. Center your brand around the USP
So now that you’ve researched your customers, yourself, and the industry and found a benefit that’s valuable and unique, all that’s left is to put it into words and focus your brand around it.
Your company’s activities, messaging, and customer experience should all be focused around your USP. This puts each employee’s activities in step with the others, and gives rise to a distinct company culture and brand identity. From the supply chain, to marketing and sales, to customer service, each action and customer interaction will work towards the same goal. You can also use your USP as the headline for your website.
For your clothing company, you might decide on “Your Closet’s Trendsetter” as your USP. The word “trendsetter” brings to mind two things: the latest fashions, and providing them as fast as possible. Therefore, your procurement managers and stylists will know to always focus on the most recent trends and predict the newest styles, and your fulfillment managers will know that speed is the top priority. Even your customer service reps will know to pay special attention to cases where packages aren’t being delivered on time because those situations break your USP’s promise to customers.
Five Unique Selling Proposition Examples
Let’s take a closer look at five strong USPs to see what makes them work.
Costco, the maze-like membership warehouse club, promises “the best possible prices on quality brand-name merchandise,” appealing to consumers’ sense of thriftiness.
Though many companies can claim low prices and quality merchandise, Costco is unique in how it fulfills this promise – by providing everything in bulk, reducing packaging and warehousing costs, and lowering the final sticker price consumers pay.
2. Ralph Lauren
When you think of Ralph Lauren, you automatically know what they’re about: high-quality, high-end, timeless casual wear.
Their tagline, “made to be worn,” sets them apart from other premium clothing brands by promising utility and long life of use. Though they don’t offer the latest fashion trends, their apparel looks equally as good at the racetrack as it does at a dinner party and is durable enough to serve as a closet staple for years.
Japanese lifestyle brand Muji took a look at the technicolor industry around it and decided to distinguish itself by being indistinguishable. Rather than being cheaper, more stylish, or more durable than competitors, its products are designed around the concept “this will do.”
Products at Muji are plain and unbranded, appealing to customers that are tired of overthinking purchase decisions and are looking for a minimalist lifestyle. Muji’s full name (Muji Ryohin) translates as “no-brand quality goods.”
Rather than a product quality or specific benefit, Starbucks centers its USP on its emotional appeal and service: “Love your beverage or let us know. We’ll always make it right.”
As a nationwide coffee chain, Starbucks knows that it can’t promise the most expensive artisanal coffee in each location. That’s why it focuses its unique selling proposition around excellent customer service, which it can create at any location through employee training. Rather than offering a unique product, Starbucks offers a unique service: drinks customized to the customer’s exact desires.
CRM provider HubSpot’s USP isn’t readily verbalized on their website headline but can be determined from their product offerings: pick-and-choose hubs for each business function to make a customizable yet integrated CRM platform for the whole business.
As opposed to other CRM providers who might only offer marketing, sales, and customer service functions, HubSpot’s unique benefit is its breadth of options: it also offers content management and operations software, as well as more than a thousand other integrations and extensions. When shopping for a CRM, many new customers choose HubSpot over another service provider because of its versatility.
Having a great USP from the start focuses your efforts as you build your business from the ground up, ensuring that potential customers have a clear sense of your brand identity and immediately letting them know that your products are tailor-made for their needs.
With an effective unique selling proposition, you can focus your business activities on delivering qualities that attract buyers, hone your messages and marketing strategy, and make sales that satisfy.
Unique Selling Proposition FAQs
A value proposition is much longer than a USP, describing the actual job your product or service fulfills. You can share a value proposition with another company, but you should never share a USP.
A positioning statement is very similar to a unique selling proposition: it describes the product or service and explains how it fulfills a particular customer pain point. Internally, the USP and positioning statement might be the same thing; externally, the USP has more value because it could be used as a marketing message.
No, a USP doesn’t have to feature word-for-word in every single marketing material. But an element of the USP’s value should feature prominently in most messaging, even if it’s promoted in different ways.
For example, if you sell snacks with a focus on health benefits, you could promote one snack as “100% organic” while another snack could have “10 essential probiotics.”
Some common pitfalls to avoid when developing a USP are being too wordy, too vague, not being opinionated enough, and not following through.
An effective USP should make a subtle statement: if you’re “high-quality,” you imply that your competitors are low-quality in comparison. Internally, your company should also have some way to fulfill the USP’s promise: for example, ensuring high quality by using 100% cotton in your clothing lines.
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