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Zyro Glossary eCommerce


What is a unique selling proposition (USP)?

Your business, product, or service’s unique selling proposition (USP, also known as ‘unique selling point’) is the feature or collection of features that sets your offering apart from your competition. 

A USP represents the value or benefits of your product or company which customers will not find elsewhere. It is how you distinguish your brand from similar competitors within the same market. 

Your company’s USP should both be a central pillar of your business plan and a prominent feature of your marketing campaigns. Customers should be able to use your USP to quickly understand why they should choose you over alternative options. 

When defining your USP, you should ensure that it reflects genuine benefits to your customers. Rather than being something that makes you aesthetically different, a USP should be something of material value to your target audience. 

If your company is the only company, or one of only a few companies, that offers specific products or services to your target market, then your USP is obvious. 

However, if you’re operating in a more crowded market, you may need to be more niche and specific in your USP to ensure you stand out. 

Although it’s important to your marketing strategy, your USP is not just a slogan. While a slogan can communicate a USP, the USP itself should be more concrete and true to your company’s core. 

Why a clear USP is important to business success

Articulating a clear, persuasive, and deliberate USP when planning your business or launching a new product is not only helpful, but essential. In most cases, it’ll help you answer the question: “Why do we do what we do?”. 

Beyond expressing your raison d’être, your USP can help you with:

Standing out 

Shoppers compare before they buy. Whether or not they realize it, the primary question in their minds is “how are you different from your competitors?”, and it’s your job to answer this question. 

To make sure you have a compelling answer to this question, identify your USP. 

Forming strategy 

Planning a marketing strategy is hard work. Choosing who to target, what to say about your company, and how you want to feel about your brand are all important considerations to be made. 

All of these decisions are made simpler by understanding the unique selling proposition that operates at the core of your offering. 

You’ll target those most likely to benefit from your USP, it will form the core of the messaging, and will be the characteristic you want stuck in customers’ heads. 

Sending the right message

On a more granular level than your broad strategy, your USP should inform every marketing message your company publishes. 

From the features of your product or service you choose to highlight, to the tone and voice of your marketing copy, your unique selling proposition should be front and center. 

Examples of unique selling propositions

To help better understand how USPs function, let’s take a look at 5 examples of unique selling propositions, and how companies incorporate them into their marketing messaging. 

1. Saddleback Leather – quality

With its slogan “They’ll fight over it when you’re dead”, Saddleback Leather establishes the idea that its products are so durable that they’ll be in good working condition long after you’re not. 

Most companies will claim their products are “high quality”, so if you’re making a statement of quality your key USP, you have to make sure of two things:

  • Your products genuinely do last over time (online reviewers will rip you shreds if not) 
  • Your messaging makes it clear that you’re not messing about

In this example, it’s generally accepted that Saddleback does offer superior products. The company also backs this claim up with a staggering 100-year warranty, which definitely puts their money where their mouth is.

2. DeathWish Coffee – superlative 

A common construction for a USP is to claim that your product or service is the “best”, “biggest”, or “most”. 

Take, for example, DeathWish Coffee, which claims to sell the world’s strongest coffee. 

Everything, from the tongue-in-cheek name and skull and crossbones logo to the references to its strength plastered across its website and marketing materials, communicates this core idea. 

The beauty of this proposition is that it is totally simple and easy to both communicate and understand. The danger, of course, is that other companies may see it as an invitation to come along and knock you off your top spot. 

A word to the wise: if your USP is some variation of “the world’s most…”, do your research to make sure you can back up your claim. If you can’t walk the walk, don’t talk the talk. 

3. Vasanti – inclusive 

Vasanti is a cosmetics company that, on top of promising high-quality products, has built its USP around being inclusive. In effect, this means offering makeup matched to all skin tones and types. 

This selling proposition is particularly effective in markets which have typically been exclusionary, or have failed to serve certain demographics. 

This USP functions in two key ways:

  • The company appears more virtuous and inclusive, so it appeals to shoppers who are attracted to ethical purchasing opportunities. 
  • By offering a broad range of cosmetics of different skin tones, Vasanti effectively creates a larger potential customer base for their products. 

If you plan to establish your USP around a similar concept, ensure that your brand is truly inclusive in all its operations and practices, since you will be opening yourself up to heightened scrutiny. 

4. TOMS Shoes – charitable 

TOMS Shoes takes a sideways approach to its USP. 

While they certainly offer stylish and durable products, the unique selling proposition they choose to put front and center is the fact that the company donates two pairs of shoes to a disenfranchised children for every pair bought by paying customers. 

What’s interesting here is that, rather than demonstrating how customers benefit directly from using TOMS’s products, the company transforms the purchasing process into a virtuous act. 

By buying TOMS shoes, customers are both spending money not only on themselves, but also on others. 

This ‘charity by proxy’ is likely to appeal to anyone who empathizes with the less fortunate. It’s also convenient that this good deed comes at no extra cost to the consumer. 

5. Dollar Shave Club – cost-effective 

While the previous examples have shown that some of the best unique selling propositions are those which think outside the box, sometimes it can be as simple as offering a great price. 

The California-based company has built its unique selling proposition right into its name, so that customers and potential customers know exactly what they’re about from the outset. 

While the facts that their products are higher quality and delivered directly to customers are helpful for marketing purposes, the affordability and financial good value of the product are the key USP for the company. 

Since men’s razor brands traditionally focus on the features of their products (e.g. multiple blades for a close shave), Dollar Shave Club mostly talks about keeping things cheap. This means oven the tone of their messaging makes them stand out. 

If you’re able to deliver a premium product at a lower price than your competitors, there’s no shame in making a big deal out of it. 

What is USP analysis?

While the examples of USPs above might make it seem like they’re easy enough to establish, the task of identifying the USP that best suits your brand can be challenging. 

The first step you should take towards identifying your selling proposition is to carry out USP analysis. 

USP analysis is the process of USP analysis involves taking an enhanced look at your business, its goals, your customers, and important you competitors, and discovering which features set you apart from the crowd. 

Understanding what’s available on the market already, what expectations consumers already have, and which niches exist that are yet to be filled is crucial to honing in on your USP. 

Since your selling proposition is all about uniqueness, rather than trying to identify only what’s already there, the true art of this analysis is being able to see what’s missing, and where there’s the potential for something else to exist. 

How to develop a strong unique selling proposition

So, now you understand what a unique selling proposition is, and you’ve seen some examples of them at work, it’s time to start developing your own. 

With this in mind, we’ve created a 4 step plan to help you identify the right USP for your brand and communicate it to your target audience. 

1. Understand the needs of your target market audience

A selling proposition can be as unique and eye-catching as you want, but it’s going to be completely worthless if it doesn’t represent value to the people you want to buy your products or use your services. 

That’s why the first step is to understand who your potential customers are, and what they’re looking for from your company. 

There are a number of tactics you can deploy to find out more about your customers and their needs. This include, but is not limited:

  • Keyword research. Use SEO tools to find out what words customers use in searches related to your product or service. User search intent can reveal wants and needs you’d never thought of. 
  • Traffic analysis. Similar to keyword research, identifying the pages on your site customers frequent, and analyzing what information or products are being looked for can help narrow down your research.  
  • Learn from support. If your company has a customer-facing support team, you can collect information about the sorts of queries that crop up, and see if there is a clearly identifiable problem to be solved. 
  • Eavesdrop online. Forums, social media, and review sites are the perfect places to find out what consumers really think. What’s being complained about? What’s being praised?
  • Speak to them. You can always engage with consumers directly. Depending on your resources, you might conduct surveys, run focus groups, or simply reach out online.  

2. Find out how your business can serve those needs better than the competition

At this point, you should understand what your target audience is looking for in a product or service. Now you have to do the hard work of matching up customer needs with what’s missing from the market. 

This step is similar to the first, but instead of researching your customers, you’re researching your competitors. 

To help you get started, you could try these steps:

  1. Make a list of your competitors. Which are the companies in the same or similar industry and market to you? Think outside the box, and list as many as you can. 
  2. Identify their USPs. Look at your competitors’ websites and marketing materials. What is the core message and value propositions they’re trying to communicate?
  3. Check out what else they’re doing. This might be less obvious, by try and dig into the other needs being met by your competitors which they might not be focusing their messaging on. 
  4. Correlate with customer needs. Match up your list of customer needs with the products and services being offered by competitors. 
  5. List which needs are not being met. You should now be able to identify the specific needs which are going unmet by what’s currently on the market. 

Once you know which needs aren’t being met, you can begin strategizing ways to meet those needs. This will become the basis of your own unique selling proposition. 

3. Boil your promise to your customers down to a simple idea (your USP)

We know that we previously stressed the point that your USP should be more than just a slogan, but at the same time, it’s really helpful if it is a slogan. 

Being able to reduce your unique selling point to a single, simple, clear message not only makes marketing easier, but also demonstrates the utility of your work up to this point. 

If you’re not yourself experienced in marketing, this might be the point you want to get your marketing team, and especially copywriters involved. 

To help you clarify your message, you might try:

  1. Identifying the main points. While the concept behind your USP might be nebulous and unwieldy, at this stage you just need to take the one or two most important points. 
  2. Keeping only what’s relevant to customers. How your USP works for you is unimportant. Put yourself in the mind of your potential customers and answer the question: “why should I care about this?”
  3. Differentiate yourself. Keep in mind that the role of your unique selling point is to create a contrast between you and your competitors. Don’t shy away from telling customers exactly in which ways you’re better. 
  4. Stripping down your language. Be specific, and don’t get lost in trying to tell a broader story. Set yourself the challenge of trying to express your USP in as few words as possible. 

By the time you finish with this step, you should be able to express clearly, in a short phrase or sentence, what makes your product or service special. 

4. Communicate your USP in all of your marketing

You’ve got a perfect unique selling proposition. Now it’s time to share it with the world. 

To make the most of it, you want to roll out marketing which puts your new selling proposition front and center. 

To do so, you might:

  • Start with branding. If your product, service, or company is yet to have a name or branding, it’s advisable to try incorporating at least a reference to your USP (remember “Dollar Shave Club”?)
  • Create a killer slogan. You should already be halfway there with this, but coming up with a tag line that expresses your selling proposition will start making it real. 
  • Satisfy search intent. Remember all that keyword research you did? It’s time to start capturing that traffic with content that matches up with the searches your target audience is making. 
  • Build a social presence. Develop a social media presence that reflects the values and message that your selling proposition represents. 

Use your USP as a guiding principle. In all of your marketing, refer back to your USP, and use it to inform the kind of messaging you create.

Written by

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Duncan is obsessed with making website building and eCommerce accessible to everyone. He explains the best tools and the latest digital marketing trends in ways that are clear and engaging. His focus is on supporting the sustainable growth of small to medium-sized enterprises. When not writing, he enjoys deep sea fishing and endurance cycling.

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