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What is your Unique Selling Proposition [USP]?

By TIM COE Published 19th Aug 2013
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Everything is unique these days. Everywhere you look businesses are attempting to communicate their uniqueness when what most of them actually mean is that they are more unique than their competitors, which is not uniqueness – it’s just having an advantage.

But is this enough? How far do you need to go to say, hand on heart, we have a clearly defined and well thought out succinct USP?

Does that mean that it’s not possible to have a genuinely unique selling proposition? No, it doesn’t. You can have a really good USP because it’s about the words that you use and the image, or state of mind, that they conjure up. The combination of having a great product and immortalising it with an authentic killer message can make it unique.

Cow Skin
Saddleback Leather is a really good example of a company who have achieved this. They make top quality accessories such as bags and wallets out of the best quality saddle leather. Their USP is quite brilliant:

‘They’ll fight over it when you’re dead’

It takes supreme brand confidence to make a statement like this, but it really works in this case. It manages to convey an outlaw image but at the same time to emphasise the quality of the product. Brands have used this idea in the past, by promoting their product as a future heirloom, but Saddleback manage to take it further. They are essentially saying that their product will outlast you.

Ritz, but not biscuits
The difference between a USP and a basic mission statement or tagline is that it needs to create a storyline that reflects on the brands and brings it to life. If you have stayed at a Ritz-Carlton hotel recently [and who hasn’t right?] the chances are you will have had a pretty good experience. One of the reasons will have been the staff.

The hotel chain is known for having some of the best employees in the hospitality industry and this is because of their culture. Where some hotels will talk about their facilities, their restaurant or how comfortable their beds are, Ritz-Carlton focus on their staff and customers in one very clever combined USP and mission statement:

‘We are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen’

This sentence implies a standard of behaviour and a level of respect between staff and customers that runs through the organisation and creates a culture of interpersonal luxury.

Single estate and single origin chocolate – what’s that?
My final example of a great story and USP comes from Mast Brothers Chocolate in America. The Mast Brothers, who run the company, look as though they come from the 18th century. They travel by wooden sailboat to foreign lands to hand pick the cacao beans they use in their chocolate and bring them back, by sailboat, to turn them into amazing chocolate.

Their proposition is that they are craftsmen from a time before mass production, when craftsmen took time and trouble to make the best possible products. Does that stand out? Ironically it does today. Is it unique? Well, plenty of companies sell their products as made by craftsmen but how many go to the trouble of transporting raw materials by sailing boat? Does it make the chocolate taste any better? I’m not sure, but given the story I’m tempted to find out. It has my attention.

They invite you to their Brooklyn based factory on the homepage of their website clearly wishing to convey their traditions, craftsmanship and the care they take above and beyond other chocolate makers. They also talk about single origin chocolate.

How to find your own USP

This isn’t easy to answer and relies on your standing back and looking at your business from an objective angle, an angle the customers will look at it from. What do they really want? Why do they really buy? Why do you use co. A over co. B yourself? Can you define what it is? It can be a small thing, but when you spend money small things are big things…and a lot of small things make an enormous difference.

Marketing that doesn’t influence a decision is a waste. Next time you do some marketing ask yourself what are you trying to make the reader/listener think and what do I really want them to think and know about me/my company? Do these match up?


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260 weeks ago, by Simon
Must admit I struggle here. For the life of me I can't pin what makes us better than anyone else in just one strapline or similar. Believe me, we've spent time over many a pint trying to do exactly that! :)
260 weeks ago, by Jackie
I ask all new clients 20 'discovery' questions before I write for them. Your question is number 4.

Only once has someone been able to answer it without hesitation.

The easiest copywriting is for people who can answer it at all.
260 weeks ago, by Tim
Simon, after having a quick read of your LinkedIn profile I am surprised to learn of your battle to define your uniqueness. You've written a book on a subject and your talks sound exciting. I like the sound of what you do so can't help but think about what could make you stand out even further now.
260 weeks ago, by Tim
Jackie, so what was that one person's answer, do you recall roughly what they said? Had they spent time on the answer or was it quite simple and obvious for them?

You may well agree with me that it's extremely surprising how many relatively successful companies do not have any clear USPs in place?

I have 55 discovery questions. It would be good to compare maybe? We might be able to improve both of our prospects' responses.
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