When I begin working with a client, I ask questions like ‘What are your goals for the next 6-12 months?’ and ‘What products and services do you want to promote?’. These simple questions give me an overview of who they are, what they want to achieve, and how to achieve it. Then, I can build their content strategy to align with their objectives.
Most of these questions are quickly answered. But most of the time, people answer on reflex without real consideration because they’re basic things. They’re so obvious they don’t require deep thought.
Occasionally, I find a client who has never done this exercise. Who comes to me without preconceived notions of the answers. Honestly? I love clients like this. Because so often, the answers I get from the clients who think they know the answer miss the point.
There are two questions in particular that I find a shocking number of businesses don’t genuinely grasp:
- What is your Unique Selling Point?
- Who is your ideal client?
While I have built a full signature service around the importance and complexity of answering the latter, the former needs to be answered first.
And let me tell you, the odds are very high that whatever you think your USP might be is wrong.
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USP Meaning Isn’t What You Think It Is
I know, I know. You know your business better than anyone; you’ve built your entire brand around your USP. Obviously, you know what it is. But somewhere in your mind, you already know that this idea you have of your unique selling point isn’t quite hitting the mark.
Maybe you’re brand new and searching for the answer for the first time. If so, great, I’ve caught you before you’ve fallen into a quagmire of misdirected marketing efforts pushing a misapprehension. But maybe you already have an answer to this question, and you’re wondering if that answer is the reason you don’t have more clients, more leads, higher sales.
The problem is that when you first considered the question of your USP, first routed around for an answer, you very likely didn’t dig deep enough. Your USP isn’t a quick-fire answer, it needs to have meaning.
Here are a few answers I’ve got to the USP question over the years that demonstrate how fundamentally businesses misunderstand what they’re being asked:
- We offer free next-day delivery.
- We’re the only people offering this service locally.
- We stock a more comprehensive range of this product than our competitors.
- We’re cheaper than our competitors.
- We offer higher quality than our competitors.
- We only use recycled materials.
- I’m the only woman working in this niche.
- We’re the only ones to offer this product for women/men/the LGBTQ community.
At first glance, you may wonder what’s wrong with these answers. But as with most things in life, you need to dig deeper to get to the root of the issue.
Offering A Freebie
Offering free postage isn’t a unique selling point. It’s something anyone can do, and once you start doing it successfully, your competitors will almost certainly copy you. You’ve shown them it’s successful. So why wouldn’t they match it? Then where will you be?
Being A Local Business
Locality gives you a significant edge when marketing to locals, but it isn’t a USP; someone else could set up shop doing precisely the same thing, just down the road, at any given time. Also, we live in the digital age, the post-COVID age. There are very few things now that can’t be delivered – in one form or another – remotely.
Offering A Wider Selection
Again, the range of available selections doesn’t make your offering unique. Not if you’re reselling another brand’s product. Anyone could start stocking the same thing at any time. Likewise, anyone could start stocking more than you.
A Lower Price Point
You only need to look at the price matching between supermarkets to understand why a lower price point isn’t a unique offering. Prices fluctuate, and competitors will always try to match our underbid you.
Now we’re approaching something that can genuinely be considered to be unique. But, of course, higher quality alone isn’t enough to create a unique selling proposition. For one thing, quality is subjective. For another, it can also be matched – just like freebies on offer, your location, selection, or price point.
Using Recycled Or Sustainable Materials
If you’re creating a fully sustainable offering, you genuinely are getting close to a real USP. It’s like saying you’re higher quality, but in a way that isn’t as quickly matched. Yes, other businesses could switch to sustainable materials, but it’s not an easy option for many. Sourcing materials, costs, etc., can all make that challenging. Even so, it’s not genuinely unique because while it’s more challenging to match, it’s perfectly possible.
I Am Woman
Congrats, you’re a badass boss bitch in a male-dominated industry. I genuinely celebrate that achievement; it’s not an easy thing to do. But again, it’s something that other women could do. After all, you’ve just proven to them that a woman can do it. Do you think nobody will be inspired by that trailblazing and follow in your wake?
Marketing To A Gender Or Orientation
This one’s a little trickier because it can be a powerful selling point in some respects. But, as with everything else on this list, it’s not truly original because someone else can come along and do the same. In addition, you can’t control who buys your product or service (not without refusing a sale to those who don’t meet your desired demographic, and that’s a distressing double standard of discrimination).
You may only want to work with women, but some men will resonate with you and seek to work with you. In reverse, the same is true if you’re hoping only to work with men. Many straight individuals support the LGBTQ+ community and prefer buying from or working with companies that share that ethos.
And you can create a product to suit the needs of women or men all you want, but that doesn’t mean some men won’t prefer to use your product. Razors, anal condoms and the like get used by the opposite gender to that which they were marketed. Hell, even tampons get used by men to stop a nose bleed. Gender and orientation are both fluid, and both are social constructs. This isn’t where you find what’s unique about your company.
How To Find Your Real USP
So how do you find your USP? The real one, the powerful one, the one that will set you apart from everyone else and allow you to thrive?
From the examples I’ve given, you’ve hopefully noticed a trend: if it’s something that your competitors could start doing, it’s not unique to your company.
Sure, it might be right now, but if you build your brand and marketing around it and someone else starts doing it, you’re screwed.
Far better to find something genuinely unique about your product or service and craft a brand, marketing strategy, and message that reflects this truly irreplicable aspect of your company.
A few points on that list started to hit the mark: quality, sustainability, a personal attribute or belief of the CEO or founders, a social group.
The problem most business owners run into is that their USP doesn’t exist naturally. Not really. Sure there are things they can point to that are different from how everyone else does it, but as we’ve seen, everyone else could simply start doing it that way.
Unless you have a patent that makes this impossible, that’s not your USP. And even if you have patented a different thing, there are greater levels to that difference, and it is in the depth that we genuinely find the power.
For most businesses, a USP is something they need to purposefully and consciously create.
Quality can be your thing, but what can you build into your products, service, or customer journey that is truly unique? How can you bring greater value to your customers in a way others can’t? Why are you capable of offering something others can’t? What’s your story?
If sustainability is your thing, how committed are you? Have you just created your products using recycled materials, or is this a cause? Do sales support efforts to clean up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch? Have you ensured your production or service delivery is genuinely sustainable and not just paying lip service to sustainability? Do you run a green company? And – perhaps most importantly – why do you care?
Hint: the answer can’t be ‘because it gives me a USP’.
So, you’re the only woman to do this, the only man to get this far, the only gay/bisexual/trans individual to own a company like this. So what? What is the meaning behind that? Why does it matter? How does it inform and direct how you do things to ensure that your way is genuinely different and superior? Where is the story?
And what if you want to work with just men, just women, just members of the LGBTQ+ community? As long as you’re okay with the fact that some people will identify as members of your tribe when you’d rather they didn’t, this can work as a USP.
But only if it’s supported by something substantive: are you (or your founding members) personally a member of this social group?
Have you/they experienced discrimination? An inability to access a particular product or service due to being part of this group? A gap in the market is a great reason to build a product or service for a specific social group or community, but your answer to why you did it needs to be more than ‘it gives me a USP’.
It needs to be deeper and more meaningful than simply selecting a demographic to target or work with. Because anyone can target that same group or demographic, you need to do it in a way that does more than simply targets them. You need to do it in a way that genuinely supports them. You also need to be mindful while doing it that you aren’t accidentally discriminating against others yourself.
In short, to find your USP, you need to figure out two things:
- What’s your ethos? What do you believe, what do you stand for, what are you against? It can be as simple as saying you believe everyone deserves access to quality without having to pay an exorbitant price for it. Or it can be as complex as digging into social injustice and looking at how a particular group or community is denied what you are about to provide. You may have a cause, as an eco-warrior or a feminist. Or you may simply have found a newer, better way of doing something that can genuinely help or improve the lives of others and wish to share that life-changing thing.
- What’s your story? Once you’ve figured out your ethos, the more significant question is why? Why do you care? Why have you invested in this? What’s your story? How did your business come to be, and why did you shape it in the way you did?
Your USP isn’t giving away free crap, working in a particular area, or offering a more comprehensive range of stock than your competitors.
Your TRUE and only GENUINELY UNIQUE selling point is YOU.
Whether you’re an individual who started their own company, or a group of founders, you have a story. Everyone does.
You may look back right now and think, ‘I did this to make money. That’s it. That’s not a USP.’
But isn’t it?
The Power Of An Origin Story
When I started my business, I was at rock bottom. I had just extricated myself from an abusive relationship. I was recently diagnosed with bipolar disorder, which had played havoc with my mental health for years. I’d spent three years working on a PhD I knew – due to my mental health – I couldn’t finish. I’d spent a decade building a career as an archaeologist that I could no longer pursue. I was homeless, penniless, forced to move back in with my mother and start from scratch while trying to pay off thousands in debt (courtesy of my ex) and battle one of the worst mental illnesses.
Skip ahead a decade, and I’m a successful entrepreneur who has built a business and a career off the back of nothing but my writing ability.
I didn’t have a choice.
That’s the power of content marketing. It completely changed my life and took me from my mother’s box room to a high-paying profession that afforded me a successful business and a house of my own (plus, ya know, car, clothes, and a slightly ridiculous number of Kreeptures).
So why wouldn’t you want to hire me to write content for your business? Why wouldn’t you want to invest in a girl who did all that for herself? Without any startup capital or support. No team of workers. No ad budget, Just a laptop and the organic power of her wordsmithery?
That’s my USP.
I’ve been there, done it, and made myself a success.
I can make your business a success in precisely the same way.
Never underestimate the power of your origin story. Whatever it may be, when you think about it in-depth, you will find something in it that’s inspirational. That demonstrates why you’re the best option to buy from or work with.
And if it’s not quite there yet, if you’re looking at how you run things and thinking, “Well, yeah, I care about sustainability. I have kids at home, and I want their kids to be able to swim in the ocean and breathe clean air. But all I’ve done is use recycled materials in my packaging; that’s not enough.”
Great. You’re getting it. That’s not enough.
How To Market Your USP
Pledge a percentage of profits to a cause you care about. Overhaul your processes and products to ensure complete sustainability. Invest in a fleet of electric vehicles. Share your passion for sustainability with your audience, educate them on the issues, get them riled up about it, then let them figure out that they’d rather buy from you than anyone else.
Regardless of freebies, price, location, or the range on offer.
They’d rather buy from you because you care about the things they care about. You’re doing something to improve the things they want to get better. You care, and you’re proactive in supporting whatever you care about.
Tell your story.
And if your story currently sucks, turn the page. Write a better one.