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Differentiate and Grow Rich:
The Critical Importance of a Strong USP
(Unique Selling Proposition)

By Eric Graham

“With 50 other companies selling the same products and services as you, why should I do business with you rather than one of your competitors?”

With the rapidly growing number of competitors you face as an online merchant, if you cannot answer that one question, it is only a matter of time before you go out of business.

If you can answer that question and answer it clearly, communicating it to your prospective customers in everything you do, your road to eCommerce success is paved with gold!

The answer to that most critical question is your USP or Unique Selling Proposition. If you have been in business for very long you have probably read or heard about the importance of having a strong, clear USP. However, you do not have to do much surfing online to see that very few companies are listening. Most know that they need a USP, they just don’t know how to develop one.

The process of developing your Unique Selling Proposition is fairly simple (note that I did not say easy.) There are 4 basic steps.

First, study your competition. Search online for potential competitors. Pick the top 5 to 10 and try to determine their USP. Most will not have a clear USP, for these look for some of the features or services that they stress.

Now look for the gap in their products or services. What area of the market is not being serviced?

Second, examine you own business. Sit down and brainstorm with your staff possible USP concepts. Don’t judge the ideas, just write them down. To stimulate thought and ideas ask the following questions:

  • What do we do the best?
  • What do we do better than our competition?
  • What awards have we won?
  • What have our customers said about us?
  • What praise do we often get from our customers?
  • What endorsements for celebrities or well know organizations do we have? What endorsements could we get?
  • What does our product or service do better than anyone else?
  • How is our business model different from our competition? How could it be different?
  • What market category or niche is not being served by our industry?

It is also helpful at this stage to interview and survey your current and past customers. Ask them why they bought from you rather than your competition? What are they looking for in a provider of your product or service? What is important to them when making a buying decision? What feature or benefits do they value most or would like to see added to your product or service?

To help you with brainstorming USP concepts here are a few examples and suggestions of successful Unique Selling Propositions.

I conduct intensive on-site USP workshops for my clients around the world. While the number of possible USPs is limited only by your imagination, I have found by doing these workshops that most USPs fall into one of 10 main categories.
These 10 categories are:

1. Low Price
Guaranteeing the lowest price has been used as a USP for many online merchants. Unfortunately many who have chosen this for a USP are no longer in business. Doing business online does have some cost and overhead advantages over off-line business and most online customers do expect some of this savings to be passed on in the form of discounts.

However, cutting profit margins too deeply is rarely healthy for a business or market. If your company is small, you run the risk of setting off a price war or angering the larger players in your market, who due to economies of scale, can afford to match or beat your prices short term to force you out of the market, long term.

There are of course many examples of businesses that have adopted this USP and survived or even prospered. The philosophy is low margins but high volume. The best example of successful implementation of this USP is Wal-Mart.

Wal-Mart’s USP statement is short, sweet and to the point.
Wal-Mart – “Always Low Prices. Always”

2. High Quality
The high quality USP is based on a high margin, lower volume philosophy. This USP is often found hand in hand with other USPs such as “Superior Service” and “Strongest Guarantee”.

One brand that immediately comes to mind when you think about quality is Rolex. While there are actually watches that cost more than a Rolex, the general public immediately recognizes a Rolex as a high quality timepiece.

Rolex also has a short USP statement that communicates volumes.
Rolex – “Quality Takes Time”

3. Superior Service
In today’s marketplace unless you want to position yourself simply as a “Lowest Price” commodity, you have to add value. Providing superior customer service is a wonderful way to add value as well as develop long-term customer loyalty.

Good customer service should be and is expected. What I am talking about here is the “above and beyond” type of customer service. I frequently counsel my clients to go beyond just satisfying their customers. You have to AMAZE them.

A good example of a company that has adopted “Superior Service” as their USP is Rackspace Managed Hosting. In a very crowded market of “Lowest Price” competitors, Rackspace has managed to differentiate itself very successfully by focusing on giving extra mile service. I host several of my higher traffic sites on Rackspace dedicated servers and have found their staff to be knowledgeable and helpful.

Rackspace sums up their USP statement in two words.
Rackspace – “Fanatical Support”

4. Size/Selection
Being the “biggest” in your market or providing the largest selection of items in your niche can be a powerfully effective USP.

The classic example of this is Amazon.com.
Were they the first online bookstore? While many people think that they were, there were actually several companies selling books online before Amazon.com. Are they the lowest price? Nope. While their prices on books are low, if you look around enough you can find them cheaper elsewhere online. So what made Amazon.com blow away other companies that entered the market sooner or had thousands of retail stores? Selection. For years Amazon’s USP was “Earths Biggest Bookstore.”

Even though they were not the first and today they have intense competition from all of the “brick and mortar” stores such as Barnes and Noble, Borders and B. Dalton, who have set up their own websites, Amazon.com still leads the pack in online bookselling because they clearly differentiated themselves early on by being “Earths Biggest Bookstore.” This clear USP was the reason for their rapid growth and early success.

While they have changed their current USP to be a bit diluted and broad, Amazon.com’s original USP was clear and focused.
Amazon.com – “Earths Biggest Bookstore.”

5. Convenience
The “convenience” USP is based on centering your business around your customers needs. By removing as many obstacles to ordering, receiving or using your product or service as possible, you are placing the customers convenience at the center of your business model.

A good example of the “Convenience” USP is Schwan’s. This company has been delivering frozen food items to customer’s homes for over 50 years. They have kept up with technological changes by adding the convenience of online ordering and multiple payment options.

Schwan’s USP statement sums up their commitment to customer ease and convenience.
Schwan’s – “Shopping should be easy. Cooking should be fun.”

6. Knowledgeable Advice, Recognized Authority
This USP works well for professionals and other skill or service based organizations. This USP says “I am the top in my field. You can trust my knowledge and experience.”

You have probably seen the wild infomercials for Mathew Lesko’s “Government Grants and Giveaways” book. Mr. Lesko, through his wild and crazy antics has positioned himself as a leading authority on taking advantage of government waste and special interest programs.

His USP statement makes his claim to be the leading expert in his specialty.
Matthew Lesko – “America's Leading Expert on Free Government Money.”

7. Customization/Most Options
Giving your customers more options or custom building your products to their individual specifications works well for a USP, when compared to you “mass market” competitors.

One company that made a name for itself by using customization as it’s USP is Ping Golf Clubs. Ping was the first company to custom fit golf clubs to the swing of each individual player. This was a revolutionary concept in the 1960’s. This unique approach to club building has made Ping one of the most recognized and respected names in golf.

Ping’s USP statement reflects their commitment to custom fitting their products to their customers needs.
Ping – “The leaders in custom fit, custom built golf clubs.”

8. Speed
The speed at which your product or service is delivered can be a powerful USP in today’s fast paced environment. Offering Overnight or 2nd Day Air shipping as a standard service in a niche or market that is used to standard ground shipping can give you a strong competitive advantage. It was not too long ago that the standard for shipping in mail order was 4 to 6 weeks. (Remember those days?)

Federal Express revolutionized the industry when it began guaranteeing overnight delivery of packages.

The FedEx USP statement explains exactly why to use their service.
FedEx – “When It Absolutely Has To Be There Overnight.”

9. Originality, First in Marketplace
Sometimes your product is so new and unique that the product itself is the USP. Unfortunately in today’s competitive environment this type of USP is short lived. Before too long a competitor will emerge with a knock-off or copy of your product.

However, until then promote the newness and uniqueness of your product as the USP. When the competition heats up, then switch your USP focus to being the “original” or “first”. Being the original or first mover in the market is a USP that nobody can duplicate.

An online example of this is OilOnline.com. Since they were established in 1995 dozens of other sites have popped up targeting the oil industry, however OilOnline.com has maintained it’s dominant position in this market by using its claim to being the first site to target this niche.

OilOnline.com’s USP statement emphasizes their “first mover” status in their niche.
OilOnline.com – “The Original Online Source for the Oil Industry.”

10. Strongest Guarantee
Most customers assume that a company will stand behind their product or service, but a clear, strong guarantee turns the assumed into the assured. But with the level of competition out there today, you need to make your guarantee stand out from the crowd. This is an area that you can differentiate yourself from your competition. Make your guarantee so strong that when compared to your competitions, your customer would be crazy to go elsewhere.

Craftsman tools are a prime example of this USP. Craftsman claims that, “If any Craftsman hand tool fails to provide complete satisfaction, return it for free repair or replacement. Period. The first Craftsman hand tool we sold back in 1927 is still under warranty today.” Now that’s a strong guarantee.

Like all well thought out USPs, the Craftsman USP statement leaves no doubt what their main advantage is.
Craftsman Tools – “Hand tools so tough, they're guaranteed forever.”

Third, begin to write down and crystallize your ideas. Don’t worry about length at first, just write down the key points of your USP concept. Focus on the benefits to your customer of each concept. Develop a list of 5 to 10 possible USPs.

Show this list to your staff, friends, family and current customers. Get their input and suggestions and use these suggestions and comments to narrow your USP concept down to a single main differentiating concept.

Once you have settled on the most unique and compelling feature of your product or business, begin to distill it down to one paragraph that clearly communicates and sums up why your customers should buy from you. This paragraph can be used on your website or in your marketing materials where you have more room to explain the unique benefits that you bring to your customers. However, it is still too long to be used as a tag-line or slogan.

You still need to distill your USP down to one or two focused sentences that clearly and concisely communicate the benefits of your USP to your customers. This statement should leave no question in your customers mind about what you do and how you are different than your competition.

This USP statement will become your tagline or slogan. This process will take some time and your USP statement may require several revisions before you are comfortable with the final draft.

Fourth, integrate your USP statement into everything you do. Put it on every page of your website, on your letterhead, in all of your advertising and marketing. Communicate it to your employees, managers and staff. Let it infuse into your corporate culture. Every time you talk to your customers, employees or suppliers you should mention this USP. You cannot just give lip service to your USP, you have to live it and breath it! It must become a part of you.

Every product, business or service has (or can have) a USP that makes it stand out from the competition. It is up to you to discover or create this element of uniqueness. Differentiate yourself, your business and your products from your competition and watch the sales pour in!


About the Author
Eric Graham is the owner and CEO of several successful online and offline businesses. Recognized as one of the top authorities on eCommerce and Internet Marketing, Eric is a sought after speaker and consultant. He is also the publisher of the Conversion Tips newsletter. Visit www.web-site-evaluations.com to sign up for a free subscription.

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