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Whatever industry you're in and whatever product or service you sell, I can almost guarantee you there will be at least 10 other companies selling whatever it is you're offering.
This doesn't mean your product or service isn't important or won't sell, so don't give up your dream! It just means you may need to work a little harder to show what makes your business stand out.
Why should customers buy from you over your competitors?
That's where something called a unique selling proposition or unique selling point comes in. In an oversaturated market, a killer unique selling proposition (USP) can be the difference between a successful business and a failing business.
Assuming you want to be on the successful side of things, let's jump into all things USP and how you can use unique selling propositions to improve your marketing strategy, bring in more customers, and create a business built to last.
We'll also go over some examples of unique selling propositions that other companies have used to set themselves apart from their competitors.
What is a unique selling proposition (USP)?
A unique selling proposition—also known as a unique selling point or USP—is the thing about your business, products, and/or services that set you apart from other businesses in your market. It's what makes customers go to you over any other business in your industry.
Common USPs can include:
- Customer service
- Market position
- Unique product designs
Granted, a good company or business should have a lot of these qualities, so just saying you have great customer service doesn't really do the trick for a USP. The key to a good unique selling proposition is it genuinely is unique AND it's something your customers value.
Best practices for creating a unique selling proposition
When you're creating your own USP, it'll usually take some thinking and research about your customer and what your company can offer them. Before we get into the details of how you really create a killer USP, let's hit a few best practices first.
- Always consider your buyer persona. As with all parts of your marketing strategy, your unique selling proposition has to center around your target customer. Make sure that whatever you choose for your unique selling proposition it's something that your customers actually want. If a restaurant's USP was "all you can eat food we found in dumpsters!" Sure, it's probably unique, but is anyone gonna want that? Nope.
- Get specific. The more you corner your specialty, the fewer competitors you'll have and the easier it’ll be to be the only one that offers that specific benefit. For example, the Gringotts Wizarding Bank could say they had a dragon guarding their bank, which is specific and not easy to compete with. However, if they just said, "our bank is extremely well protected" or even "our bank is the most secure bank there is," that won't have as much impact.
Gringotts Wizarding Bank has a hot deal. Via Wikimedia
- Follow through. Your USP cannot just be a marketing statement or a nicely worded thing to put on your website — you gotta follow through! To go back to our Gringotts example, say in this hypothetical situation Gringotts needed to market themselves and their website said "A DRAGON will guard your jewels!" but then... if they didn't have a dragon? That's a problem.
Common mistakes to avoid when creating a unique selling proposition
From the best practices, you may have guessed a few mistakes businesses can make when they create their USP. But just to make sure you don't become one of those guys, these are some common mistakes you'll want to look out for.
- Losing sight of the customer. If you lose sight of what your customer really wants, you're going to get yourself into trouble. Stick to your buyer persona like glue.
- Blending in as "THE Best". How many times have you seen store signs in their windows saying something like "We have THE BEST [insert product here] in the WORLD!" And how many times have you believed them? Exactly.
- Over-promising. Along the same lines as follow-through, if you promise a specific benefit in your marketing strategy, but don't have that benefit, you're going to have some fed-up customers who won't be coming back any time soon.
- Stealing another company's USP. The whole point of a unique selling proposition is that it's unique, so if you use a different company's USP so you both have the same one... see the problem here? You need to create a unique selling proposition that's specific to your brand and what only you can offer (there is something, I promise).
How to write your brand’s unique selling proposition
Now might be about the time where you're thinking, "cool, I need a unique selling proposition for my business, but how in the world do I actually create one?!" Good! That's exactly where you should be and we're going to cover the whole process right here so you can develop your very own kickass USP.
Ready to get started? Of course, you are!
Step 1: Know your customer's problems
Some marketers will say you should get to know your business and what you can offer first, but actually, you should do your customer first to even know what you should be offering or considering.
You'll need to hone in on your exact target market and the target customer your products or services are for, but once you've done that, the real work of seriously getting into your customers’ heads beings. In a completely non-creepy or intrusive way...
Before you do anything else on this unique selling proposition journey, ask yourself, or better yet, ask your customers:
- What urgent problems do your ideal customers have?
- What do your customers really want?
- What are your customers looking for in a solution?
- What do your customers value in a company?
- What influences your customers when they're choosing a company to buy from?
You know the saying "to truly understand someone you have to walk a mile in their shoes"? Now's the time to get walking.
Step 2: Know your business and what you can offer
You probably already know your business, but do you know your business?
Cryptic, I know, but here's what I mean: do you know your business like you know your closest friend or family member? The person that immediately came into your head right then, I bet you know what they're best at, who they get along with, their pet peeves, what they do for a living, what they like to do on the weekends, what food they eat at 2 in the morning... you get the idea.
Now, do you know your business like that? If yes, awesome! If no, still awesome!
Either way, list out every possible strength and unique characteristic about your business that you can think of. Make sure to include things like what your employees are like or if your brand has a specific personality type. Your business is now your best friend and you are hyping the shit out of it.
This is a brainstorming session, so even the things you think are irrelevant or dumb should go on there too. At this moment, you are THE best, the ONLY solution. Now explain why.
If you're having a brain fart moment, here are a few questions you can ask yourself to get you started:
- What do your customers say they like about your business?
- What problem(s) does your company solve?
- Do you offer anything for free?
- How would you explain your brand's personality?
- Who are the people that work for your company? What are they like and what's interesting about them?
- Why did you start your business?
- What's your brand story?
- Are there any numbers or statistics about your brand that stand out?
In this situation, I recommend starting with your brand, then moving onto your competitors because if you start with your competitors, it can be hard to then look at your business without feeling critical or thinking about how others have done it. You want to be unique, remember?
Step 3: Do a competitor analysis
Once you have your list for your own company, now it's time to check out the competition. Check out how they position themselves within the market. What do they advertise as their unique selling points? What things do they emphasize? Are there benefits they don't emphasize? Is that a gap worth filling?
Go through all the different brands that compete with your product or service and list out the different benefits the brands are advertising. You'll also want to include the kind of personality they focus on: are they fun and playful or do they cut straight to the facts? What values do they emphasize?
Get all this information down in a separate list from the one you made for yourself.
Step 4: List everything that makes you different
Once you have both lists, it's time to put them side-by-side and do some comparisons. Cross out items on your list that are also on the competition list. Hopefully, you'll end up with some things on your company's list that aren't on the competition list.
During this list-making process, you may also think of some other ways you stand out from the competition or gaps you could fill. This is your list of unique points, and each point here could also be an angle for marketing.
Now, we need to get the "selling" part of it in there. That's the next step; take this list of what makes you unique and pick the strongest one.
Step 5: Choose the strongest one
Remember step one that was all about your customer? Pull that information back up and match it up to your "unique points" list.
Your unique selling proposition has to have both that unique point and be something that is valuable to your customers — something that will actually sell.
Cross out anything that would be useless to the customer or that the customer wouldn't care about. For example, if you're trying to specifically cater to outdoorsy types, telling them that you also sell ping pong bats probably won't be all that useful to your customer.
On the other hand, you can do what REI does, and cater to what customers want from an outdoorsy brand. A customer can rent some REI camping gear, talk to a representative to understand what equipment is needed, attend a virtual session to get camping tips, and even book a trip to Yellowstone - on top of buying REI gear directly from the retailer.
Other ideas for delivering on your strongest point include offering discounts with related brands or recommending services that your ideal customer would be interested in.
Once you've narrowed it down, just choose one. Eventually, maybe you'll develop more USPs for different clientele or buyer personas, but let's keep it simple here.
Step 6: Sharpen your wording
Now hold your horses, you're not done yet! Sure, you know what you plan to say, but now you need to know how you're going to say it.
Start off writing a few different ways you could explain your USP to customers. It might be easiest to start with a simple framework like this:
[YOUR BRAND] offers [PRODUCT OR SERVICE] for [TARGET MARKET] to solve [MARKET PROBLEM]. Unlike [COMPETITORS], [YOUR BRAND] provides [USP].
Keep in mind, that's a starting point. Definitely do not slap that mad lib on your website and call it a day.
Try your very best to customize it and make it sound like something your company would say. I'd recommend brainstorming 8-10 different ways to write your USP. Switch up the structure. Use different words. Try cracking a joke if that's your thing. Just make each one different.
Don't feel bad if most of them suck at first (they probably will). Writing is hard, okay? When you do find a good one, dial it in to make it as good as possible.
Step 7: Test and tweak
If you're feeling extra savvy, you may try out some A/B testing with a few different wordings and see what does best.
Designing your perfect unique selling proposition can be a continually evolving process to appeal to the ever-changing consumer and get the most sales and conversions.
Where to share your USP
Now that you have your USP, wherein the heck do you put the thing?!
The simple answer? Everywhere. Your website, ads, social media, about page, email signature, tattooed across your forehead. Your USP should be a big part of your messaging.
Your unique selling proposition can take on many different forms. You'll want to highlight the benefits of your USP in your website and ad copy. Focus on the benefits and unique selling proposition that makes your business stand out (wait to talk about the detailed features on the actual product page).
Anywhere you have communication, you want to talk about your USP, but here are some ideas for where you can share it:
- Website landing page
- Website about page
- Brand logo (if you're real clever)
- Social media bio
- Ad copy
- The occasional social media post
- Blog posts (not every single one)
- Email signature
- YouTube videos
- Email newsletters
Honestly, the potential is endless.
7 unique selling proposition examples that work
Alright, now's the fun part. Let's look at some unique selling proposition examples that have done well (and how you can imitate them).
1. Mountain Hardwear is all about the outdoors
Mountain Hardwear's unique selling proposition is all about performance apparel and equipment for outdoor athletes, primarily mountaineering and climbing. Hence the whole mountain part in the name 😉.
This USP works because while the general clothing market has stiff competition, the high-performance outdoorsy gear section is a little less competitive.
Plus, Mountain Hardwear has played to its strengths here knowing it’s a company that loves the outdoors, has the experience with performance gear, and can create a product that will benefit the outdoor athlete. The branding is all-out outdoors, from its imagery to the way it styles its clothes. Even its logo is an outdoorsy symbol.
How you can replicate this: If there's a topic within your wider industry that you're especially passionate about and know lots about, dive into that niche! Truly become an expert in that area. Then, you're not competing with every other company in the industry — just the ones in your niche.
2. REI Co-Op is a different kind of company
REI Co-Op doesn't niche down to one specific outdoorsy sport — it covers everything from hiking to cycling, from running to surfing. However, because it covers so much, it's hard to call it the expert on any of them so that's not its USP.
Instead, REI's USP is its co-operative company framework which it’s turned into a community and where all its employees and customers can become a member. To share its USP, REI doesn't just write this on its site, it created a video explaining its USP.
But REI isn’t just a retailer; the brand is also organizing activities like hikes and training to build an ecosystem. The end goal is to deliver activities and create a community, both of which are exactly what their consumers want.
So, not only is this an example of a unique selling proposition that really stands out, but it's also an example of how to share your USP effectively.
How you can replicate this: Don’t limit your USP possibilities just to your product or service offerings. It can be your company’s structure (like REI), your values (like in the next example), your personality, or other characteristics.
Plus, maybe try making a video about your USP once you’ve worked out what it is.
3. Christy Dawn is healing the earth
As fashion consumers become more conscious about the environment, more and more fashion brands are touting their sustainable practices. Christy Dawn stands out against greenwashing by weaving it into every dress they make.
The fabric of every dress comes from deadstock, rescued from the landfill, or from organic cotton grown on a regenerative farm owned by the brand itself.
Christy Dawn’s mission of ‘Honouring Mother Earth’ is their USP. The brand is clear about how they are creating beautiful fashion in a regenerative way, and they take the time to reiterate this at all points throughout the customer journey.
By investing the effort in storytelling, Christy Dawn makes it easy for fans of the brands to re-tell the story, whether they’re content creators, celebrities, or regular customers:
This fashion blogger doesn’t just talk about style, but Christy Dawn’s USP as well.
How you can replicate this: Invest in consumer education and content. Make the effort to educate your customers on what your USP is so that they can easily re-share and re-tell the story.
You can follow how Christy Dawn creates irresistible word-of-mouth by repeating your brand story everywhere - on interviews, in the packaging, on your checkout page - and really trumpet what’s unique about your brand. And you can encourage customers to share your story with a referral program.
4. MiaoMiao is trusted by the community
MiaoMiao offers smart glucose readers for people who want to monitor their blood glucose level carefully - like persons living with diabetes conditions. Keeping a close eye on blood glucose can be stressful, and MiaoMiao’s smart reader eliminates the hassle and uncertainty.
But rather than just tell you their USP, MiaoMiao taps on its community to show you. Visit their Facebook or Instagram, and you’ll find plenty of selfies of happy, healthy, satisfied customers posing in selfies:
Consumers may be wary about MedTech and healthcare devices, which is why MiaoMiao has chosen the right approach in getting the community involved. The brand hosts a Facebook group of 20,000 community members who share their tips and experiences for healthier living.
The brand also runs an affiliate marketing program, recruiting active community members as Global Ambassadors. This then incentivizes the Global Ambassadors to share and create content about the brand and its USP.
User-Generated Content about MiaoMiao on YouTube
How you can replicate this: If you can, make your service or product truly unique, then involve your growing community of customers into it.
Flip the scale and show off your customers for their unique qualities; let them become a part of your branding. And one great way to incentivize this is with a referral program or an affiliate program.
5. Tushy posts memes for people who poop
Many products offer solutions for, er, post-bathroom personal hygiene. Tushy positions itself as a cleaner, more ecological alternative with a bidet attachment for your toilet.
Tushy flushes away any discomfort by leaning directly into their lighthearted, friendly brand tone, and daring to talk about uncomfortable subjects. They also highlighted how toilet paper causes ecological damage, and may even cause illnesses.
How you can replicate this: Don’t be afraid to address the competition. Even up against established competition, it’s possible to position yourself as the alternative and the better option.
The key here is to focus on the unique value you bring to the consumer, rather than where you exceed your competition.
6. Hungry Bunny serves healthy, guilt-free donuts
Donuts! But...make it healthier. Or not. Just make it really, REALLY good. 😍
Hungry Bunny speaks to a market that’s looking to buy online more and more like a 100% virtual donut shop. The company takes on the $7.3 billion donut industry (or doughnut if you want to be fancy) with incredibly beautiful donuts handmade from trusted ingredients.
Hungry Bunny’s USP is a bit multi-faceted with the virtual aspect, unique and beautifully crafted products, and a wide variety of vegan, organic donuts (and gluten-free ones).
How you can replicate this: The internet has become a fantastic tool for small business owners to get their products out to a wider audience - take advantage of it! If a local audience isn’t getting you a big enough customer pot, expand it with a killer website.
7. Frank Body is ready to get you naked
Frank Body calls its customers ‘babes’, speaks in a cheeky, naughty tone, and promises you’ll be naked soon (it’s a skincare brand).
The founders of Frank Body were social media strategists who hated how other skincare brands talked down to their customers with scientific mumbo-jumbo, or with haughty luxury positioning.
Instead, ‘Frank’ talks to customers the way they wanted to be spoken to - direct, flirty, and frankly, with tongue-in-cheek and earnestness.
How you can replicate this: From your own experience as a consumer and your own identity, you’ve probably found a few gaps in the market when there was something you were looking for that just...wasn’t there. Maybe that’s even why you started a business!
As a consumer yourself, you know what works for you and what would stand out - so look for your unique selling points in the gaps in the market.
Find your brand's unique selling proposition - then go out and share it!
Your unique selling proposition will cut through the noise and help you stand out against the competition.
But if you're still looking for an edge, you might want to check out our other guides:
- Write killer product descriptions that sell
- Research your ecommerce competitors with 13 free tools
- Build brand awareness to really stand out
- Diversify your customer acquisition channels
P.S. For the freshest takes and sharpest edges of ideas to grow your ecommerce store, subscribe to our newsletter to get our latest articles and roundups.