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Learn how to develop your business’ USP (unique selling proposition)
As a business, it’s helpful to stand out. One way to do this is by ensuring potential customers understand your USP.
Dupaco’s Tanya Moore swings through Jumble Coffee Company for a caffeine boost while visiting with owner and Dupaco business member George Nauman in Dubuque, Iowa. (T. McDermott/Dupaco photo)

As a business, it’s helpful to stand out, so customers notice you and pick you over your immediate competition. One way to do this is by ensuring potential customers understand your unique selling proposition, or USP.

In other words: What makes your product or service different and better?

You’re probably already familiar with businesses that promote they’re the cheapest, fastest or largest. But what makes your business special?

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To help develop your USP, list all the things you offer customers in these four main categories:

|1| Business USP

These USPs are based on how you run your business, the processes you use and the products and services you offer.

This might include:

  • Outstanding customer service
  • Extended warranties or guarantees
  • Ability to transact online (order, track, pay)
  • Delivery speed
  • Being an authorized supplier

It’s also possible that social and environmental parts of your business will become critical USPs. This might mean using organic or recycled materials, having clear policies on reducing wastage, sponsoring charities or efforts focused on building a more sustainable world.

|2| Product and service USP

If you’re lucky enough to have invented something new, you should automatically have some form of USP.

But chances are your business is the same or a variation in an existing industry.

To help develop product USPs, try to:

  • Access exclusive agreements with suppliers
  • Offer products or services that your competitors don’t
  • Provide a longer guarantee
  • Offer longer after-sales service
  • Amend, add, alter or improve what already exists

The ultimate product or service USP is something that only your business can deliver. It doesn’t need to be worldwide, and it doesn’t need to be new or innovative. If you’re the only bakery in town, you’re the only bakery in town.

|3| Business collaboration USP

Small businesses often work together to find customers and share resources.

A good example is a builder who uses a close personal network of other trades (plumbers, electricians and tilers) to refer work to each other.

In this case, the USP is the relationship.

As a business, can you:

  • Joint venture with other businesses to win work
  • Identify the referral channel and make direct contact
  • Join industry groups to identify decision-makers
  • Partner with buying or marketing groups

Collaboration can also include your suppliers.

If you market to them and get to understand their business, they might offer you:

  • Better terms
  • Promotional materials
  • Staff training
  • Faster delivery
  • Better returns policy
  • Early notification of specials or discounts not offered to your competitors

|4| Marketing USP

Some businesses manage to bubble to the top of mind in an industry (think Amazon, Google, Facebook, Airbnb) initially by being unique and then the dominant brand.

But you don’t need to be a global player with a massive advertising budget to be top of mind for your customers.

Marketing USPs can be:

  • A recognizable logo and brand
  • Better qualifications and experience
  • A valued customer loyalty program
  • Online ranking and traffic to your website
  • Customer word of mouth
  • Your lead generation process

Anything that drives new customers to your business and keeps them there can be a marketing USP. That includes being active in social media and building a reputation as the expert in your industry.

How many USPs should you have?

It’s helpful to have as many unique selling propositions as possible. But customers will probably only remember two or three.

To help decide which USP you should promote the most, ask prospective customers what they value and what would make them switch to your business.

Protect your USPs

If you have developed a USP, it’s worth protecting any intellectual property (IP) with copyright, patents, designs, trademarks or trade secrets.

The United States Patent and Trademark Office is a good place to get an overview of what you can and can’t protect. Seek professional advice if you plan to go down the IP path.

You can also create barriers to entry to make it harder for a business to copy your USP. These might include:

  • Owning your location
  • A long lease (to prevent others moving you on)
  • A license or contract of supply
  • Hiring brilliant and loyal employees

Developing your USP can take time. But once you have one (or many) that work, integrate the messaging into all your marketing to remind customers why you’re best at what you do.