What is Your Unique Selling Proposition?

July 28, 2015

One of the great “got it” moments of my career is when I first heard the phrase “unique selling proposition” (USP). Rosser Reeves was a true Mad Men advertising icon, whose accomplishments were used to model the television character Don Draper. Reeves wrote a book in the early 1960s called “Reality in Advertising,” which is as relevant as ever. In the book, he identifies a reasonably easy way to differentiate your business and coined the phrase unique selling proposition to describe it.

Every company needs a USP to succeed. It is the one special thing about your company, service or product that sets you apart from all of your competitors. Your USP should be differentiating and shouldn’t be easy to duplicate by your competitors. Your USP should be promoted and advertised — ultimately becoming the cornerstone of your brand-building efforts.

How do you know that you have a unique selling proposition? Every company has one. It is a matter of uncovering it, discovering it or inventing it if you are truly a commodity without differentiation. It is the thing that customers really like about you. It is what keeps them coming back instead of going to your competitors.

Your unique selling proposition isn’t always obvious. It sometimes needs to be teased out of the myriad features and benefits associated with your product or business offerings. It generally goes beyond products and services to identify your special way of doing business — a closely held belief — a “tenet,” so to speak.

Another way of looking at your USP is that it is your entire sales pitch summarized in a single sentence or thought. It is the proverbial elevator speech, but faster, boiled down to something you would say to a sales prospect as the doors to the elevator are closing. What would you say? One sentence that would clinch the sale.

How do you create a USP that both sells your company and conveys your differentiating essence? There is no universal answer. It takes the serious work of thinking about your brand to identify an exceptional USP, but here are six steps I use to start the process:

Know your customer – First and foremost, it is important to know your customers and how they perceive your brand. Ask them what makes your brand unique? Ask them why they come back to you? Maybe you already have a USP, but it just needs to be communicated more clearly.

Know your environment – Take a fresh look at your competitive position in the marketplace. Who are your toughest competitors? How are they positioned and what brand space do they own? What is their unique selling proposition? How are you going to differentiate your brand from theirs?

Can you disrupt your industry? – Every industry has areas that need to be reinvented and revitalized. If you are not positioned to be the disrupter you will most assuredly become the disrupted at some point. Make sure your USP is on the leading edge and not trailing change in your industry.

Embrace the vision – If you have a vision of the future for the company and industry, take a fresh look at how that vision can be embodied in a USP.

Write them down – Revisit your USP candidates daily for a week – get feedback from trusted management members. Narrow the list. Have your top management team vote on them. Make a decision on the ONE that will have the greatest positive long-term impact on the company.

Codify the USP into a brand strategy – Once you have the USP you must then refine it into a brand message and incorporate it into the brand strategy making sure that it is communicated throughout the organization. These precious words will ultimately become your driving force for growth.

Remember, your USP should not be confused with a tagline. A tagline, when it really works well, is a beacon for the company that sends a message to all of the key constituencies of the company about the essence of the corporate brand, including all of the products and services under the corporate umbrella.

BMW’s “The Ultimate Driving Machine” is a classic and timeless tagline. The USP is that BMW is a car that has been engineered for YOU the driver. The tagline is more succinct and punchy. The tagline keeps the brand promise, but the USP is the deal closer.

Developing a USP is an old-fashioned marketing tradition that has withstood the test of time as one of the most effective exercises you can do to differentiate your company in the marketplace.

This article was originally published in the Business Observer.

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