Is Your Small Business Stuck in the Middle? Help set it apart with the perfect unique selling proposition

The world of commerce is a noisy, crowded bazaar. Approximately 543,000 small businesses are launched in the U.S. each month—equating to an average of roughly 12.4 every minute.1

Many of these entrepreneurs go to market with novel, sometimes brilliant, ideas. But in our modern economy, even the most innovative ventures can be overlooked without a strong unique selling proposition, or USP, that differentiates it from the masses.

What is a USP and why does it matter?

Simply put, a USP clearly states the distinct value of a business' offering and how it helps solve customers' problems in ways competitors cannot match. A thoughtfully developed USP articulates what a brand stands for; and when consistently delivered upon over time, establishes a powerful identity that customers connect with on a deeper level than they do with other generic options in the same space.

What makes a strong USP?

The most effective USPs are concise and highlight a specific positive outcome that can be validated and not easily replicated by competitors. As a rule of thumb, to maximize the success of your USP, ensure that it's:

Unique -Explains precisely how your solution is different and/or better than the competition

Clear -Can be communicated and understood in less than 10 seconds

Quantifiable -Supported by tangible evidence

Examples of highly effective USPs:

"You get fresh, hot pizza delivered to your door in 30 minutes of less, or it's free."

- Dominos

"15 minutes could save you 15% or more on car insurance."

- Geico

"When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight."

- FedEx

What makes a weak USP?

Many companies make the mistake of attempting to stand for everything and be all things to all people. They tout the best product AND the best price or customer service. The problem with this approach is that today's discerning consumers are often dubious of broad, lofty promises. If a brand can't deliver on its USP, its risks losing credibility and—consequently—sales. Oftentimes, those who attempt to be known for everything don't become known for anything.

Other common traits of ineffective USPs include:

  • A simple tagline without any mention of value delivered

  • A focus on features without any connection to benefits

  • Industry jargon that's not quickly comprehensible

How to find your perfect USP

A brand's USP should be the cornerstone of its marketing strategy, and can help guide everything from sales pitches and advertising campaigns to distribution models and pricing structure. So before you launch that great new website or roll out a clever new slogan, take the time to explore the essence of your company to pinpoint the most compelling unique quality that directly addresses the needs and desires of your ideal customer.

Assess your target audience

Speaking of your ideal customer, the process of developing a strong USP begins with a thorough examination of this persona. Beyond basic demographics, do some soul-searching of your own and consult with customers, colleagues and friends to explore:

  • What problem is your ideal customer trying to solve?

    • Why do they buy your products or services?

  • How can your product or service help solve their problem?

    • What value are they paying for?

  • What factors motivate their buying decisions?

    • Price, quality, service, convenience?

  • Why do they choose your business over competitors?

    • What keeps them from buying elsewhere?

Research your competitors

Logic dictates that in order to discover what makes your business truly unique, you need to know what other companies customers are comparing it to. Identify your top five competitors and see how your business sizes up, soliciting input from others for objectivity. You can also easily learn more about competitors through their websites and social media activity.

  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of each?

  • What advantages do you have over them?

  • Do you offer some specific value that they do not?

Put pen to paper

List out all the answers to these questions. From the list, look for some gaps in the market that your business fills better than the competition. These are all potential USPs. Come up with a few options and again engage a mix of customers, colleagues and friends to find the strongest one.

Spread the word

The process doesn't end there though. For your USP to help generate tangible business results like more conversions and lower customer churn, it needs to be embedded into your company's culture—early and often. If your own people don't believe in your brand promise, chances are consumers won't either.

Those 543,000 small businesses launched every month?

The sobering reality is that, on average, about two-thirds of them survive two years; half last five years; and just one-third are still in business a decade later. Maximize your chances of long-term success by forging an inimitable identity that starts with a diligently conceived USP.

Want to discuss ways to raise the bar for your brand's communications? Talk to an RRD expert.

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  1. Forbes. 16 Surprising Statistics About Small Businesses (2013)