What is a unique selling proposition (USP)?

A unique selling proposition (USP) is a feature that distinguishes a business from competitors while meeting a defined consumer need. 

Understanding Unique Selling Propositions and Defining Your USP

A unique selling proposition, also commonly known as a unique selling point, is a feature of a business or a product that distinguishes it from competitors while meeting a defined consumer need. This marketing concept can be used to differentiate a business or product from competitors, improving their viability on the market. If your business offers exclusive goods/services or offers them in a way that competitors do not, you may be able to leverage that as your USP.

Unique Selling Proposition Examples

Here are some examples of USPs that businesses can leverage to maximize their marketing efforts:

  • Affordability: Are your offerings more affordable than those of competitors? Major retailers that use economy pricing, such as Amazon or Walmart, are examples of companies that use this USP — so much so that there is an ongoing “price war” that will continue into the foreseeable future.
  • Brand authority: Do you work with high-profile clients? Have you been in business for a particularly long time (for your niche)? Both of these may give your brand some authority. McDonald’s emblazons many of its signs with the phrase “Billions and Billions Served,” signaling the many customers it has satisfied and the years the brand has endured.
  • Customer service: How satisfied are your existing customers? How effectively does your brand address customer complaints? Stellar customer service can be an effective USP. Nike uses social media to resolve customer complaints and questions, and the brand has developed a sterling reputation for its responsiveness.
  • Free add-on products/services: Do you offer customers complementary goods or services for shopping with you? A classic example of this is a complimentary breakfast when staying at a hotel.
  • High quality: Are your offerings more expertly made, reliable, or durable than competitors’? This could be your brand’s USP. Coffee brands that focus on organic or premium roasts are examples of businesses that use quality as a USP.
  • Special features: Does your business offer or do something unique? Tesla is an example of a brand that offers a product with many unique features.
  • Unique aesthetic: Does your brand offer goods with a unique and attractive look? The “Apple aesthetic” is a powerful example of how your brand aesthetic can become a USP unto itself.

While not comprehensive, this list should provide you with a good idea of how USPs satisfy consumer needs and tie the fulfillment of those needs with specific brands.

Why Your Business Needs a USP

At the heart of every purchase decision is a need. A consumer might buy a good because of its features, reliability, price, or the convenience of its availability. They may make a purchase because the product allows them to enjoy a particular experience or because it embodies a part of an aspirational lifestyle. 

There are many potential needs that brands can attempt to satisfy. Defining this need and explicating how your brand can fulfill it is central to creating a USP. Your USPs differentiate your brand from competitors. In hyper-competitive niches, it can be vital.

How Your USPs Can Impact SEO Efforts

By strategically leveraging your USP in marketing efforts, you can more easily earn backlinks and improved organic traffic. Because your USPs set you apart from the competition, they often enable you to position your brand as an authority in your niche. For instance, if you offer goods with unique features, you are the most equipped to discuss how to best leverage those features.

Your SEO efforts should be centered around your USPs and the consumer needs they fulfill. Focusing your keyword research to rank highly on SERPs related to the need fulfilled by your USP is vital. A good place to start is to consider common queries your target demographic might search for that is related to your USP. What pain points do your audience deal with? What questions do they ask when searching for solutions? Not only should your USP address these topics, but it should also be connected to the keyword targets you set for your site and your content creation efforts.

In e-commerce link building strategies, you can create content and resources related to the needs addressed by your USP. Top-funnel content should address common queries or pain points that impact your target audience. This will naturally lead to highly linkable content, which you can share on social media and use in a content link building campaign. You can then position your brand as a solution to the audience’s needs. 

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Determining Your Business’s USPs

There are some straightforward ways to determine your USPs. To begin, create a comprehensive list of the benefits and features of your products and services. 

Next, do the same for your biggest direct competitors. As we’ve noted, conducting competitive analysis is an important part of any business strategy, and it is particularly relevant when determining what sets your products or services apart from the crowd. After all, a “unique” selling proposition isn’t effective if it isn’t truly “unique.” This doesn’t necessarily mean you need some exclusive product or service to create effective marketing, but you should meet a specific need better than any of your competition.

Do you offer positives that customers can’t find anywhere else? Are those benefits or features difficult or impossible to imitate? If you can answer “yes” to both of these questions, you have an excellent starting point.

How Do You Appeal to Consumers?

Who are your target consumers? You should already have a gist of this based on your current customer base, and your target demographics will depend on your offerings and your competition. While this may be fairly obvious to many business owners, identifying the audience of niche products can be a challenge.

Next, determine which customer needs your business fulfills (reference the USP examples above for ideas). Create a list of these needs, focusing particularly on your target audience. If there are any that are central to your business model, emphasize those. 

Is there any overlap between your unique benefits or features and your customers’ high-priority needs? If so, you’ve found your selling point. Keep in mind that you should regularly evaluate your USPs. They can change with time, shifting as market trends and customer tastes do.

A Real-World Example

Let’s look at a real-world example. In late 2018, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers began a series of rotating strikes around the country. Shipping costs out of the country became more expensive, and significant delays often resulted in consumers not getting their goods in a reasonable timeframe. 

In an effort to mitigate these issues, some small business owners turned to alternative shipping companies — middlemen who would transport goods from Canada into the U.S., then ship items using the United States Postal Service. This enabled these business owners to leverage their newfound affordability and timely deliveries as their USPs. Accordingly, these became focal points in their marketing efforts. 

Conveying Your USPs in Marketing

Once you’ve determined your business’s USPs, you’re ready to begin emphasizing them in your marketing strategy. There are several guiding principles that you should keep in mind as you develop your approach.

Remember to keep your messaging simple and focused on the customer. It can be easy to get bogged down by the specifics of the features or benefits you’d like to tout, but it’s important to keep the focus on the need of your target demographic. Avoid jargon or unnecessary details. Provide enough details to indicate that you’re the best choice, but focusing on the connection between your brand and fulfilling that need is central.

Instead of delving into unnecessary specifics, position your brand as a solution to your target audience’s unfulfilled needs, then provide a clear call to action. Once you’ve found the consumer needs that your offerings fulfill, and demonstrated why you are most qualified to do so, your brand will flourish.