The USP, short for “unique selling proposition,” is a term marketers use to describe the thing that makes your business different from others out there. You not only need to know what that is but also be able to communicate that to potential customers.

So how do you do this?

Doing research on your competitors is a great place to start. By seeing what others offer and how they differ from you, you can get a better sense of where you stand and how you stand out.

Competition? What Competition?

When I’m working with a new client, I always ask, “Who is your competition?” In response, I often hear, “I don’t have any competition.”

I know that this isn’t true. What they mean is that they know of no other company that does exactly what they do in exactly the same way. But that’s not what competition is. Competition can sell a product or service similar but not identical to yours. And they can sell it in a similar or different way.

The real question is, if your customer hadn’t chosen to do business with you, which company would they have likely chosen instead? There’s your answer.

Two businesswomen facing off against each other

Think you don’t have any competition? Think again.

If you’re still having trouble thinking of who your competition might be, perhaps your focus is too narrow. Let’s say you sell industrial lead acid batteries. You are not competing with Duracell, because your customers need industrial lead acid batteries and nothing else will do. In this case, your focus is narrow, because the need of your customers is narrow. They need one thing and one thing only. Your competition will be other companies that sell industrial lead acid batteries, and only other companies that sell industrial lead acid batteries.

But what if the customer’s needs aren’t so defined? Let’s say someone wants to buy something special for their dog, and you sell dog cookies. To get this person’s business, you’re not just competing with other companies that sell dog cookies. In this case, you’re also competing with companies that sell rawhides, dog bones, squeaky toys, and plush dog toys, just for starters. The customer’s need is to make their dog happy, not to buy their dog a cookie. That need can be filled in a variety of ways. So your competition comes in a variety of forms.

Researching the Competition

Many large companies have people devoted to this issue, but if you’re a small business owner, this is probably a DIY task.

Use something like the Small Business Administration’s Size Up tool, which allows you to find other similar business in the area and compare your own. You can also simply Google your location + various keywords related to your business and see who comes up on the first page or two.

Pick a company that comes up and check out their website. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What is the first impression you get? Are they relaxed and casual, formal and elegant, do they seem professional or sloppy? Would you want to do business with this company? Why or why not?
  • What product(s) or service(s) do they offer? Do they offer more or less than you do, and if so, how is it different?
  • What are their prices?
  • What do you think their USP is? Do they offer quick 24-hour turnaround on a service, or top-notch customer care, or the lowest prices in town?
  • What do you like about their company, and what do you dislike?

You might be able to find reviews online, in which case you can see what customers love about them and what they hate.

  • What do customers seem to like most about doing business with this company? Products with high quality? Convenience? Low price?
  • What complaints come up again and again? Bad customer service? Defective merchandise? Too expensive?

Do this for at least 5-10 businesses. That way you’ll have an idea of what kinds of options your customers have. Then try to look at your own website with a critical eye. How does it compare to the others you’ve seen?

Determining Your Unique Selling Proposition

Now that you’ve researched several companies, use this information to start setting yourself apart from them and promoting your own USP.

Keep in mind the 4 P’s of marketing: product, price, place, and promotion. Your USP will have something to do with one of these. Perhaps you offer a custom product that no one else offers, like gold-plated toothbrush holders encrusted with rubies. Maybe your location is what sets you apart, because you offer something in a place that never had access to it before. If your prices are the absolute, rock bottom lowest in the industry, then that’s what makes you special.

You might already have a USP and not even realize it. If you don’t have one, decide what you would like it to be. Do this by thinking about what you are able to offer and what need you’d like to fill. Did you see the same complaint crop up against your competition? Choose a USP that addresses that problem. Let’s say your competition gets bad reviews because customers can never get anyone on the phone for customer service. Your USP is that when a customer calls your company, they reach a live person to help them out.

Your USP should solve a problem or serve a need your customer has.

Keep in mind that your USP should serve the needs of the customers you’d like to have. Don’t compete on price and undercut the competition if what you really want is to work with high-end clients who pay top dollar. Don’t highlight lightning-quick turnaround if it’s not a selling point for your customers. Think about what matters to them, and give them something they’d truly value. If your USP is right for you, you will connect with the customers that are right for you.

Promoting Your USP

Now it’s time to get out there and let people know that what you do and how you do it is special. Highlight your USP on your homepage or in the services area of your website. Make it stand out in your brochures and other marketing materials. When you discuss your business with other people, make a point to say that “we are the only dry cleaners in town to offer pick-up and drop-off service” or “we are the only bakery that sells organic, vegan, gluten-free cakes.” Start spreading the word!


Need help making your marketing materials highlight your USP? Get in touch with me and I’ll help you out.

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