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7 tips for developing your USP

More than a slogan

The ubiquitous business slogan, or tagline, is familiar to everyone. From Nike’s “Just Do It.” to the classic “got milk?” of the California Milk Processor Board, we all carry these phrases around in our heads along with commercial jingles and corporate logos. But the USP (Unique Selling Proposition), when the concept was originally developed back in the 1940s, was specifically intended to communicate a distinct and unique proposition to the consumer, a proposition so compelling that it can draw customers to your brand.

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From the EMyth perspective, the USP accomplishes this by communicating what it is about your business service or product that brings emotional gratification to the customers in your target market. The genius of the famous tagline, “got milk?” is that it speaks directly to the fact that consumers intensely disliked finding that they were out of milk. By leveraging that emotional reality, the ad agency launched a highly successful series of print and TV ads that impacted millions of consumers over the years.

But over the decades the usage and understanding of the USP has morphed somewhat. Purists in the marketing world lament that what passes for Unique Selling Propositions are often little more than clever or innocuous slogans.

Consider a USP for Bob’s Backyard Barbecues such as this: “We Build Barbecues.”  Aside from stating the obvious, the phrase says nothing that stirs the emotions or speaks to any need for gratification. And it certainly isn’t communicating anything unique in its proposition. On the other hand, Bob might come up with a USP that reads: “We Build Backyard Escapes” or “Exotic Vacations At Home.” The imagery and emotional appeal is vastly different and the power of the USP has been harnessed more effectively.

Tapping the unconscious mind of your customer

The foundation for your USP must come from a real understanding of your customer. In our coaching programs we work through the Marketing process with our clients to make sure that before a USP is developed, there's a solid understanding of the target market. Here are a couple of ways we suggest you develop that understanding..

  • Think like your customer. Step outside of your day-to-day role as the owner and think about what your customers really want from your product or service. What is it that makes them come back again and again, instead of going to your competition? It might be the quality or convenience. Perhaps it is your friendliness, exceptional customer service, or reliability. Remember that people do not patronize your business solely for price alone. Hopefully there are qualities that attract and appeal to your customer base.
  • Learn what motivates your customer’s buying decisions. You need to know what drives and motivates your customers. Having some knowledge of the demographics of your target market is essential, but just as importantly, you must learn how they tend to derive gratification in life and what their purchase preferences are. People buy products and services primarily based on their desires, not on their needs. Knowing these desires and motivations will help inform your true unique selling proposition.
  • Know the real reasons customers come to you instead of your competition. How do you do that? Ask your best source of information: your customers. This can be done in a wide variety of ways from face-to-face conversations to surveys to focus groups. Every business lends itself to certain methods of deriving this information, but the fundamental truth is that you can never know too much about your customers!

The last step here is to be as objective as possible in determining what features of your business stand out as something that sets you apart from the pack. What can you highlight that will move prospective customers to patronize your business? And how can you position everything you do in your business to embody that USP?

Bringing your unique selling proposition to life

So what should an effective USP look like? There are several schools of thought on this topic and much has changed since the concept of the Unique Selling Proposition was first developed back in the 1940s. However, most successful USPs share some common characteristics.

The real power of your USP comes from its connection to the unconscious mind. Once you have dedicated some careful thought to understanding the collective minds of your target market, you can then concentrate that understanding into how you need to position your business. The way to craft a powerful USP is to make sure it ties into the most emotionally stimulating elements of your customers’ experience with your business. So how do you capture this in a short phrase that touches on emotional gratification promised by your product or service? By following these seven guidelines:

  1. Make it short – a phrase, not a sentence.
  2. Keep it vague enough to leave room for the imagination of your reader.
  3. Try to convey a positive feeling.
  4. Give it impact and emotion.
  5. Avoid defining your business as a commodity.
  6. Focus on the promise of emotional gratification – the result or benefit – not the work or features you offer.
  7. Make it consistent with the general perception of your business and what you have learned of your customer’s gratification mode and purchase preferences.

Don’t feel that you have to be “married” to your initial efforts. Businesses often develop new USPs as they grow and evolve. And the more you learn about your customers and what constitutes your promise of emotional gratification, the clearer your understanding of what an effective Unique Selling Proposition will be. Ultimately, the real acid test is to ask yourself, “What emotion am I selling?”

Share your story

What's your USP? Got one you're proud of? Post a comment and share it with the EMyth Community.

EMyth Team

Written by EMyth Team

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