In Search of a USP: the Definitive Guide to Creating a Strong Unique Selling Proposition

As I have mentioned in my previous posts on marketing strategy, one of the most important things you do in marketing is researching, formulating and communicating your USP – unique selling proposition (sometimes called a unique selling point).

what is a usp

What is a USP?

USP in marketing is a short phrase that highlights the main benefit for your customer, is unique to your company or product and makes the customers choose you over the competition. USP may, but does not have to, be identical to your company slogan.  USP is directed at the customer and is the core of the marketing communication strategy.

The USP can be formulated for your company, product, service or brand. It includes one or maximum two points and is never a list.

usp-components

There are different approaches to finding your marketing USP, below I will describe three most common approaches and provide you with examples. I will also outline some typical mistakes.

customer usp

Customer-based approach

    The first approach logically focuses on customers and what they perceive as valuable.
  • Who are your customers?

This includes correctly segmenting the market you are in and selecting the appropriate target segments. Do not try to position your product for too many segments at once, focus is the key to success in marketing.

  • What is important to them?

Try putting yourself into your customer’s shoes. A good exercise for this is creating buyer personas, as this helps to understand the target customer better and even develop more empathy towards them.

  • What wants and needs do your customers have?

An obvious way of finding out what represents value to your customers is asking them about their wants and needs (i.e. doing a marketing survey). However, this will be only be the top of the iceberg. Generally, when formulating your USP it is better to go a level deeper and consider more hidden (secret) needs.

For example, the Rituals brand is built around the need for relaxation and escaping from stress instead of a very basic need of keeping one’s body clean.

  • How do they make buying decisions?

According to neuromarketing, people are often driven by subconscious stimuli that have little to do with their rational decisions. The rule of thumb is: the lower is the price, the less rational is the buying decision. (Think of candy and chocolate bars at the cash register).

In case of larger sums, customers tend to rationalize the decisions more, sometimes taking days or weeks to compare price and quality of similar products. However, what is considered a high price buy will largely depend on the income or the psychometric qualities of your target group. Besides, even rational decisions can be influenced by marketing tools.

  • Why do they buy your product?

If you already have a product that enjoys customer acceptance, make it part of your USP.  If your product solves a particular customer problem, this has obvious value to them. For example, the USP of Walmart is “Every day low prices on a broad assortment – anytime, anywhere.” The reason why customers go to Walmart is that they are able to find a large range of products at guaranteed low prices.  In addition, Walmart in the US offers a good store coverage with over 5,000 stores. It also offers its products online.

  • How do targeted segments differ from one another?

Sometimes it is not possible to communicate a USP that will work across all customer segments. Depending on how different the segments are, you might need to come up with a different Unique Sales Proposition for each segment.

usp competition

Competition-based approach

Another popular strategy for formulating your USP is selecting something that makes you stand apart from your competitors.

  • Who are your competitors?

To understand your competitors, you should be aware of the market you are in. You can analyze both your direct and indirect competition.

  • How are you different from the competitors?

When doing competitor analysis, you can pay attention to the following points:

– The range of products and services they offer

– The target customer segments

– The marketing channels and marketing instruments they use

– What unique value they try to communicate to customers through their marketing

Having looked at several most prominent competitors, you will find some key differences between you and the competitors (whether real or perceived).

  • What are you doing or can you do better than your competitors?

During a thorough competitor analysis, you will find out what they are currently doing better than you and where you can possibly learn from them (benchmarking).

During your analysis you are also likely to find some “weak spots” of your competitors. For this, you can use, for example, reviews and customer opinions. Dig deeper to find if this is something that you are already doing better (or can do better).

  • Why should customers choose you over the competition?

When formulating your USP based on Competition approach, select something that both makes you stand apart from your competitors and is relatively difficult for them to imitate. This will eventually come back to customers because your USP should induce them to choose you over the competition.

internal values usp

Intrinsic approach

The next approach focuses on your company and the unique capabilities you have.

  • What do you do?

Start with listing all products and services you currently offer or would like to offer in the near future.  The list may get quite long, but this is just the first step.

  • What do you do especially well?

After you have a full list of what you could possibly do, select the areas where you really feel comfortable and possess a high level of expertise. Ideally, this should not be a kind of tacit knowledge that only one person has but something that can be shared and transferred between team members.

  • How is that valuable?

Analyze, what products or services are already popular within your target audience and what makes them sell so well.

  • What is difficult to copy?

Your USP should not only reflect what you can do especially well but also set you apart from competitors. The unique quality of your product can be real (e.g. a patented recipe or a geographic origin of a product) or perceived (a strong brand). For example, part of Chanel’s USP (female liberation and wearable haute couture) is the unique personality of its founder, Gabrielle Chanel.

  • What don’t you do?

A successful brand positioning always includes a target segment. There is nothing more dangerous for your brand and your USP than trying to serve too many market segments. This dilutes your marketing message and leads to waste coverage during any marketing campaign.

Compare these USPs by two different IT companies: “Creating value for our customers with our expertise” vs “Innovative IT-solutions for Retail and Logistics”.  I think that the second one offers much more clarity and is more attractive to their target customers.

  • What is your company mission?

Mission is basically a reason why a company exists. This is the value it brings externally (customers & stakeholders) and internally (employees & shareholders) on a day-to-day basis.

  • What is your vision?

As opposed to mission, vision is future-oriented. It is a description of an “ideal self” of a company or where it wants to be in the future. A vision should be (@robert.lueders):

– Easy to remember

– Clear to understand

– Future-oriented

– Inspiring

– Challenging

– Oriented towards your primary goal

Sometimes, mission & vision statements resemble the USP or even replace it in the company communication. Although they can be interrelated, the essential difference between them is that mission and vision are directed internally reflecting company philosophy and the way things are done.

The USP, on the other hand is what the company wants to communicate externally toward the target customer. Besides, if a company offers several products geared towards different customer groups, it may have several USPs, however, it will only have one mission and one vision statements.

usp ideas

Some USP ideas

Below I will list some ideas that can be used for creating your USP:

  • Exceptionally large product variety
  • Offering exclusive products symbolizing status and wealth
  • Providing high standards of security or reliability
  • The lowest price in the given segment or for the given type of product
  • A complex product or technology made easy to use
  • Saving time for your customer
  • Doing good by selling the product (e.g. fair trade)
  • Providing flexibility and customized solutions
  • Making the process of utilizing the product or the service enjoyable
  • Expertise for a given (niche) topic
  • Unique company or product history
  • Local company with high awareness of the local market
mistakes usp

Mistakes in USP

And last, but not least, I will list some typical mistakes in formulating your USP:

  • Ignoring your present state (how you position yourself now)

Choosing a USP that is too different from your present market positioning you will cause confusion and diminish the credibility of the USP.

  • Being too generic (selling everything to everyone)

If someone completely unfamiliar with your company hears your USP, they should get an idea of a) what you do b) who your customers are. Thus, avoid too generic USPs such as “improving your life”.

  • Not considering the customer

Independently of what approach to creating a USP you will choose, you should by no means disregard the customers and their needs.

  • Including too many benefits into a USP

A USP should not include more than 1-2 benefits. These are the key points you focus on, the ones that stand for the highest customer value. Do not dilute your message by including too many points into your unique selling proposition.

  • Not being unique (different from competition)

In order to cut through the clutter, you should try to avoid “standard” phrases and formulate your USP in a more unique or creative way. E.g. the Red Bull energy drink uses the phrase “Gives you Wiiings”

  • Ignoring the market trends

Sometimes a USP needs to be changed or re-formulated over time due to the changing market trends, new technology, changes in the tastes of your target audience or in case of a major event that affects your industry.  For example, due to the increasing importance of environment protection, some brands started to use USPs highlighting the sustainability of their products.

  • Not being truthful

When working on your USP, always make sure that it connects to reality. Negative customer opinions can spread really fast nowadays, so it is essential that the benefit you claim really exists.

As a final thought, I would like, once again, to hightlight the importance of selecting the right USP that reflects your internal expertise, presents value to your customer and sets you apart from competition.

 

 

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The Why and How of Effective Personal Branding

If you think that personal branding is only important for Hollywood stars and CEOs of Fortune 100 companies, think twice. Because the chances are that YOU can greatly improve the effectiveness of whatever you are doing through a smart personal branding strategy.

Why personal branding?

A strong personal brand will:

  • Help you find a perfect job if you are unemployed
  • Win more projects and customers if you are a freelancer
  • Promote your company if you are an employee or a company owner
  • Attract more attention to a good cause if you a volunteer

Building a personal brand

Building a personal brand is similar to building a product or a company brand. It begins from investigating the needs of your target audience and ends with concrete activities to promote your brand.

personal branding strategy

Environment & target audience

The main goal here is to match your core values to the needs of the target audience. In personal branding, authenticity (being who you are) naturally plays a more important role than in product branding.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What am I good at?
  • What are my advantages as a professional?
  • Who are my competitors?
  • Who are the leaders in my field? How did they achieve success?

Then turn yourself to your niche:

  • Who are they?
  • What are their interests and needs?
  • What channels of communication do they use?
  • Who can become my partner or maybe an advocate?

Here you can find a more detailed explanation about investigating your target audience.

Branding strategy and USP

After you defined the direction you will be moving in, you need to get to grips with the branding strategy.

Margaret Mark  and Carol S. Pearson came up with the theory of brand archetypes, which is briefly shown in this table. This is something you should probably keep in mind when crafting your brand.

brand archetypes mark pearson

For example, if you are a trainer, you can select the archetype based on the type of sports you teach: a hero (high-impact training); a caregiver (restorative yoga classes); a creator (contemporary dance classes); an explorer (outdoor activities) or even an outlaw (extreme sports).

However, you can select the archetype based on other criteria (the point is being true to yourself). You can also combine several archetypes to create a unique brand personality.

Another way to convey the uniqueness of your brand is to use the following:

  • Rituals (things you habitually do).  Example: Winston Churchill smoking pipes.
  • Attributes (things you own, wear or carry around). Example: Black sweater and jeans of Steve Jobs.
  • Mystery (biography gaps, rumors, dissonances).
  • Background story (events or circumstances that led to personal enlightenment, “turning point” events).

Brand positioning

Brand positioning means working on concrete visual, intellectual and emotional qualities of your personal brand.

During personal contact, you have several ways to influence how you are perceived by your target audience.

Visual cues

Those include facial expressions, body language, clothing style, hair and makeup, body shape, etc.

Verbal effect

Rhetoric, intonation, choice of words, correctness of speech, negotiation and presentation skills.

Communicative effect

Empathy, tactfulness, “tuning in” with your audience, making a positive impression, conveying the expertise, answering the needs of the audience.

In addition, you should create a consistent “personal identity” (“corporate identity” in company branding). In other words, select personal colors, fonts, create a logo, a signature, a motto, etc. Those are used to “anchor” the brand in the minds of your target audience. Use them consistently in:

  • Social media profiles, personal blogs;
  • Business cards, printed materials;
  • E-mails, letters, etc.

Brand promotion

The final step in personal branding is to start promoting your brand.

Below you will find an overview of promotion channels.

pronoting personal brand

 

Social Media

What is important: Relevant channels, consistent presentation, authenticity, truthfulness.

What it can bring: Networking, strengthening brand image, opportunity discovery.

Events

What is important: Selecting events according to your niche, connecting with target audience, considering active and passive participation as well as organizing and hosting events.

What it can bring: Publicity, networking, expertise demonstration, opportunity discovery.

Partnerships

What is important: Partnering with influencers and thought leaders from your niche, selecting advocates for your personal brand, meaningful partnerships, authenticity.

What it can bring: Publicity, reach, strengthening brand image, expertise demonstration.

Advertising

What is important: Selecting relevant channels, consistency, authenticity, communicating value to the target audience.

What it can bring: Publicity, reach, strengthening brand image, opportunity discovery.

PR

What is important: Working with relevant mass media, focus, regular updates, observing code of conduct.

What it can bring: Publicity, reach, strengthening brand image, expertise demonstration.

This is by no means an exhaustive list and this topic certainly deserves a deeper dive in one of the follow-up posts.

As you can see, personal branding is a highly important matter, especially in times when a lot of us need to re-orientate and apply creativity in achieving our goals more effectively.

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Elements of a Marketing Strategy – Part 2

This is the second part of my post on important elements of a marketing strategy In these posts, I would like to share a more general view on marketing, without getting into detail on the tools and strategy implementation.

marketing strategy
Elements of a marketing strategy

Company

One of the most important steps in creating a marketing strategy, in addition to defining the products you offer and your target customers, is defining who you are. In other words, your company identity and how you want to communicate it.

Branding

Remember that your company is a solid part of your brand. Do not neglect corporate identity elements, such as logo, colors, fonts, etc. Once they are set, use them consistently in the marketing and sales materials, as well as internal documentation.

People

This is arguably the most important company asset and should be part of your marketing strategy. This aspect, is, of course, not just limited to PR efforts for senior management. A lot of tech companies employ “product evangelists” to personalize their marketing. Apart from this, sharing personal employee stories, e.g. on social media, may contribute to the positive image of your company and create more trust.

Mission and vision statements

Although they may seem unimportant at first, a well-formulated set of values and a common vision can become a driving force for company development. They can also be the “glue” that holds different people together.

Although it may sound ironical, it is equally important to define who you are not. Trying to serve more customer segments and flexibly adapting your company image accordingly will confuse your customers. In the worst case, they will start distrusting you.

Competitors

Someone once said that companies should stop concentrating on beating the competitors and instead focus on delivering value to their customers. Although I share the same view, this doesn’t mean that you must disregard the competition.

Learning from competitors

Learning from competitors has two sides to it. On the one hand, you can benchmark the strategy of your more experienced /successful competitors. On the other hand, you can also learn from their mistakes. Take a critical look at:

  • Structure and design of their websites
  • User journey on the website
  • Selection of social media channels and shared content
  • SEO strategy (backlinks opportunities, keywords, etc.)
  • Content types used for content marketing

Direct and indirect competition

In order to understand who your competitors are, you can think in terms of competition levels (e.g. a model by Lehman & Winter).

You probably concentrate on your direct competitors (product form competition), however, try to think of competition in a wider sense. Product category competition includes similar products that can differ in functionality or design. Generic competition is the next competition level that includes products that can be used as substitutes but do not offer the same features or benefits. Budget competition comes from products allocated to the same part of consumer budget (e.g. “entertainment”, “housing”, “education”).

competition levels marketing
Marketing Competition Levels (Lehman & Winter)

Marketing tools

I put marketing tools at the end of this list on purpose. If a company lacks experience in marketing, they tend to concentrate on the tools too much. It is not uncommon that they ask such questions as: “Shall we use Google AdWords?”, “What do we write in our blog?” before they defined who they are, what products they offer and who their target customers are. (I talked about this in one of my older blog posts on mistakes in marketing).

One well-known model for marketing decisions is 4 P’s by McCarthy (Product, Place, Price, Promotion). If we adjust this model to online marketing, the promotion will include:

  • Advertising (Google AdWords, display, etc.)
  • PR (Social Media, blogs, guest articles, etc.)
  • Direct selling (e-mail marketing)
  • Promotion (e-coupons, free trial, etc.)

You also need to make decisions on how to position your product, what pricing strategy you will choose and what your sales channels will be.

All in all, when crafting your marketing strategy, you need to go through several distinct steps and plan carefully. Also, remember that once the strategy is selected, you need to follow it consistently. Making too many changes and adjustments along the way will inevitably result in time and budgetary losses.

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