How to find them out and fix
A Unique Selling Proposition (USP) answers the question "Why should my clients to deal with me, not with my competitor?". The answer often define the success of the project from the beginning.

In my experience, only one of two small enterprneurships is trying to create its USP, and only one in five succeeds to create a proper one.

In this article, I describe the most common mistakes made when creating a USP. I'm also giving my recommendations on how to avoid these mistakes or fi them.

First, let's understand what a USP is. Let's red it word by word.

UNIQUE. It should be something your target audience (TA) will not find at your competitors. The good news is that your uniqueness is limited to your TA. If you do your business in Budapest, for example, then the existence of similar idea in Praha should not bother you. But if you plan to expand your geography in the future, you must think of your USP thoroughly from the very beginning.

SELLING. Your uniqueness should bring additional value to the client. If you are unique in something insignificant you might catch customers attention shortly however it will not convince them to buy. A USP is always about some deep long-term value for consumers.

PROPOSITION. Your uniqueness should be clear for TA therefore should be "translated" from product's properties to clients' benefits. Also, do not expect TA guess for your USP. It should be visible on your advertising materials, in point of sales and on the product itself, and supported by facts and deeds.

To summarize:
A correct USP should be unique, valuable for your target audience, worded as not a characteristic of your product, but as a benefit for the client. It should be stated in your advertising messages and have some evidence under it.

Let's now consider some common USP related mistakes:


USP doesn't match target audience.

Any business starts with its target audience. These are the people who bring their money to you. Therefore, you should know them better then just "age, sex, marital status, city of residence". You should be aware of their interests, needs, motivations, and habits.

For instance:
  • How long does it take them to decide on your product purchase?
  • Do they like go shopping or prefer make online orders?
  • Will they use your product at home or in the office?
  • What is more important to them - a brand or functionality?
You need to understand the key decisive factors specific to your target audience and then build your USP on these factors.

Examples when USP doesn't fit target audience:
A restaurant trying to attract office employees for business lunches, but instead of quick service, its ads highlight an exquisite menu.
A cafe trying to attract freelancers, but instead of high-speed Wi-Fi, laptop sockets and a spacious work area, it advertises the most professional barista in the city.

A cleaning company wants to work with offices and offers them the most environmentally friendly cleaning products. There might be office managers who care so much about their employees, of course, but such USP suits young families with children better. While offices would like the night time cleaning service more.

How to fix:

Option 1: If your current audience brings you a good profit - you can transform your positioning and underline the USP that attracts your current customers. This usually makes sense for those who understands that a wrong niche had been chosen when business has already started up. Changing the strategy is not easy, but it's better than using the wrong one.

Option 2: If you are sure that your USP is really strong but the sales are not satisfactory - probably you just don't reach you right target audience. Try to reconsider your promotion strategy and find new communication channels that will bring you the right customers.


Substitution of UNIQUE proposition with BASIC proposition

There are things that clients expect as a default option of any business:

  • High quality
  • Professional staff
  • Different ways of payment
  • Delivery of products bought online
  • Freshness of products in restaurants and cafes
  • Lack of allergens in children goods
  • Parking in shopping centres
  • A certificate at the end of training courses
  • Hand cream after manicure
These things are needed just be in line with the market. To outstand you need something more.

How to fix:

If you already have some clients, ask them why they chose you. What they tell you is how you differ from your competitors. Strengthen and develop these qualities and build your advertising communication on it.

If you are a new on the market, ask yourself: "Why would I buy from myself rather than from my competitors?" Just do not underestimate the competitors - it is quite likely that most of them do their work well and produce a good product as well as you. If you are missing the answer - read the last point of the article.


Everything for everyone

Usually this mistake is driven by the desire to reach the widest possible audience and make as much sales as possible.

"In our store each family member will find goods for home, office and outdoor activities that match their taste!"

It may look like you are trying your best to make client's life easier - they don't have to think where to buy - they just need to come to you. This may work - if you are a shopping center or, Amazon, for example. In other cases, it is a losing position because your customer is more likely to care more about your expertise.

How to fix:

Option 1: Narrow the variety of your assortment to the one product which you are strongest in. Focus on bringing this product to perfection. This will make your clients think of you as of an expert in this market niche.

  • Pet photographer
  • Sandwich cafe
  • Backpack store
In the late 90s, Steve Jobs cut 80% of Apple's projects, leaving only 4 computer models in stock, and it took him 2 years to make a profitable company out of the failing one.

There is Da Michele pizzeria in Naples where Julia Roberts ate pizza in the movie "Eat. Pray. Love." But it is not the USP of that pizzeria. They simply say that they cook the most delicious pizza in the world. And that's seems to be true. Every day, there is a queue of dozens of people - including locals. The point is, that in Da Michele they cook only two kinds of pizza - Margarita and Marinara. But these two are incredibly delicious.

Option 2: Narrow the target audience until you become the best for a small segment of people. Your clients would think that you know how to satisfy such picky people as they are.

  • Maternity Store
  • Taxi and courier services for the elderly
  • Goods for Bikers


Too many USPs

Quality is the best, price is the lowest, delivery is the fastest. Doesn't it sound suspicious? Besides, it does not allow customers to focus and remember something from you. Finally, trying to match all the promises you are risking to get bankruptcy.

How to fix:

Write all the criteria of your product (and related services - packaging, delivery, payment, etc.) and sort them in order of importance for your target audience. Then become the best in one of the first three criteria from your list. Leave the rest at proper level. Communicate your unique side without mentioning the rest options.

People come to McDonald's for a quick meal, and do not expect decorated dishes or stylish interior.
They come to Starbucks for the atmosphere and large portions of coffee, and do not expect waiter service or low prices.
People go to Michelin-starred restaurants to enjoy food, and they don't care of quick service or live music there.


«Backstage» USP

Sometimes an entrepreneur wants to show how much effort is invested in a product, and gets carried away to the specifics of internal processes.

"Our programmers drink 500 cups of coffee while creating your site."
"We cut cheese into pizza by hand."

What does this give to customer? Nothing, or a feeling of a more expensive product. Things like that can help to build a content for social media. But they will not affect the decision of buying from you.

The exception is social or environmental responsibility ("no animals were harmed in the production") - BUT only if this is important for your target audience.

How to fix:

If your specific production process is reflected in the result, tell the result.

Our restaurant has transparent walls in the kitchen, so you can watch your food being cooked.


Incomplete USP

A very common mistake, when characteristics of the product are voiced instead of customer benefits.

"Our couriers ride bikes" instead of "Delivering pizza in half an hour"
"We have 20 cashiers" instead of "The maximum time in line is 3 minutes"
"Coats from wool of a mountain goat" instead of "Coat will keep you warm at -20"

Philip Kotler in his book gives an example of sales man who used to say: "No one wants a drill. What they want is a hole in a wall."

How to fix:

Try out the "So what?" method. Take a characteristic of your product and then ask yourself as if you were your customer - "So what?" Ask several times - until you get to a really good USP.

For example:
- We have a team of IT specialists all around the world.
- So what?
- So, our support service works around the clock.
- So what?
- So, your request will be addressed within 15 minutes at any time of the day.


Using superlatives without supporting evidence

A superlative degree ("the most," "the highest quality," "number 1," "the only") will work on you only with strong evidences.

Does it sound credible?
  • The best restaurant
  • The most fashionable collection of clothes
  • The most friendly staff

However, when used correctly, superlatives can make your USP and advertising slogan really strong.

How to fix:

Give an evidence right away.

The leader in freight transportation in the city of N because we are the only certified partner of DHL.
The fastest delivery because our couriers riding Harleys.
The lightest puffy jackets: your smartphone is heavier.
By the way, if you are not the very first, big, etc. - this does not mean you cannot be better in something. For example, young companies are more flexible and motivated to work.

AVIS car rental service builded their USP being number 2 in the market and saying it. Their famous tagline was: "We Try Harder" (when you're not the biggest one, you have to try harder)


USP based on price

My professional belief: it is just wrong option. The price cannot be unique because anyone simply can announce the same price at any time.

Playing price wars and trying to be the cheapest is an exhausting process that neither brings any value to the client nor profit to the entrepreneur, making both sides unhappy. This does not mean that you should not think of price positioning. And you even can choose to work in the cheap segment - just don't use it as USP.


Mixing up a USP and promotion slogans

This mistake is made even by professional marketers and advertising agencies.

Here are some more tips on how to distinguish a slogan from USP:

A USP implies the main long-term difference between you and competitors while a promotion slogan is designed for making sales here and now.
USP is stable, slogans can change.
USP can have a very simple wording and even be a bit boring. Advertising slogans should be sharp and short.

For instance:
First USP of Maybelline company was: "The first modern eye cosmetic for everyday use"

Their slogan is: "Maybe she's born with it. Maybe it's Maybelline."


No USP — neither in words nor in the product

In fact, half of cases in my practice face this problem in the beginning.
Typically, small business owners know how to make a quality product, but they don't know how to make it unique, and then communicate its uniqueness to the target audience.

  • (Almost) Any barista knows how to make good coffee
  • Any seamstress can sew a dress
  • Any English teacher can teach English
The rule: "Make a good enough product, and people will seek you out" works until the first competitor, who also makes good enough product.

How to fix:

1) Oline your target audience and find out what criteria are important to them when choosing a product similar to yours
2) Examine the strengths and weaknesses of your competitors
3) Determine what you can do in the area where your competitors are weak or just ordinary
4) Maybe you already practice something outstanding but you consider it's just normal?

Conduct a survey among your best customers, and you will be able to understand what strengths you can focus your future business strategy on.

I had a project with a baby sleep consultant in Russia. She had a serious education and a diploma of the USA university, plus she was a member of a closed club of experts from around the world. And she did not underline it at all because she took it as a norm (but it's not unfortunately). We used these facts and built a strong USP which made her one of the top consultants in Russia.

Each person is unique. Those who have managed to open their own business are strong and bright personalities. Your USP certainly will be found, or you can create it. This process requires some investment of time and effort. But these are the investments that will help you to stay on the market long time.
Each person is unique. Those who have managed to open their own business are strong and bright personalities. Your USP certainly will be found, or you can create it. This process requires some investment of time and effort. But these are the investments that will help you to stay on the market long time.
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