Main USP issues in small business. How to find them and fix.
This is a translation of article published at Rusability.ru.

Any business has to have a Unique Selling Proposition (USP) to answer the question "Why should my clients to deal with me, not with my competitor?". The answer to this question is crucial not only for the business owner, but also to all the participants of business process - potential customers, employees, partners, suppliers.

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 an USP. I will also give my recommendations on how to avoid these mistakes and fixt their consequenses.

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

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

PROPOSITION (the word "SELLING" will be considered later). Your uniqueness should bring additional value to the client. You can't just come up with a unique piece for the sake of its uniqueness. For example, in your restaurant all the waiters are red haired. Is this unique? Yes, it is. Is it of any value to the customer? No, it is not. As a short-term news feed, this could be interesting. But USP is always about some deep long-term value.

SELLING. Your uniqueness should help you sell and make profit. Therefore/ it should be refocused from product's properties to clients' benefits. It should be spelled out in all your promotional materials. Do not force TA guess for your USP. It should be obvious and supported by facts and deeds.

To summarize: the 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 UTP related mistakes of small business:

1. Lack of understanding of the target audience. As a result the target audience is not interested in the USP.

Any business starts with its target audience. These are the people who will 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 - the brand of the product or its functional characteristics?
You need to understand the decisive factors specific to your target audience. Build your USP on these factors.

Here is an example of target audience misscomunication:

Some beauty parlour focuses on a woman "from instagram" who "loves to live a dream life" and spends a lot of time looking after herself. The salon suggests a 15-minute head massage after the haircut service, a paraffin bath after the manicure service, and a beautician will do a light make-up after all the procedures.

But, in fact, 80% of parlour's visitors are busy women with children who want to see a children's room there, a convenient parking slot for strollers and to spend in the parlour as little time as possible.

Here, the USP of the parlor does not intersect with its target audience's interests.

Most likely, the parlour does not bring its USP to the desired target audience. And their clients might be mainly those living nearby.

More examples:

A restaurant trying to attract an audience 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 coarse, but such a USP suits young families with children better. While offices would like the night time cleaning service more.

What to do:

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

Option 2: If your current sales are not satisfactory or you are sure in your USP, then you can change the promotion strategy and find new communication channels that will lead you to the right target audience.

2. Substitution of a USP with basic parameters

There are things that we expect as a default option of any business.

  • High quality
  • Professional staff
  • Different ways of payment
  • Delivery of products bought online
  • Freshness of products and cleanliness for restaurants and cafes
  • Lack of allergens in products for kids
  • Presence of parking lots for shopping centres
  • A certificate at the end of training courses
  • Hand cream after manicure
These things cannot be presented as a USP, because they are not unique.

"Only professionals work in our travel agency." Do your competitors say: "Half of our employees are professionals, but those two are yesterday's graduates with bought diplomas"?

Or - "We use only fresh products in our restaurant." Do the competitors use half rotten products?

Your USP is what you have IN ADDITION to the basic attributes.

What to do:

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 base your advertising communication on it.

If you are a newbie, ask yourself: "Why would I buy from myself rather than from my competitors?" Just do not underestimate the competitors - it is most likely that most of them do their work very well and produce a good product - otherwise they would not be there on the market.

3. Everything for everyoneсе

Usually this mistake is driven by the desire to reach the widest possible audience and make as much money 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 toyou. This may work. But only 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, product, or your partners.

What to do:

Option 1: Narrow the variety of products to the one which you believe can make you the leader. Focus on bringing this product to perfection. This will make your clients think of you as of an expert in this type of products.

Examples:
  • Pet photographer
  • Sandwich cafe
  • Universal 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. The end of this story is known to everyone, I guess.

There is the 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 modestly 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 in this pizzeria - which is attractive to locals no less than to tourists. The point is, that in Da Michele they cook only two kinds of pizza - Margarita and Marinara. But these two are delicious.
Option 2: Narrow the target audience until you become the best for this narrowly defined circle of customers. Your clients would think then that you know how to satisfy such picky people as they are.

Examples:

  • Maternity Store
  • Taxi and courier services for the elderly
  • Online Biker Shop

4. 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 your trading promise.

Finally, trying to match all the three you are running risks of getting broke.

What to do:

Define 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 better than your competitors 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.

Examples:

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.

5. «Backstage» USP that will never become a value for your clients

Sometimes an entrepreneur wants to show how much labor 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 the customer? Nothing, at worst. Feeling of a more expensive product at best.

Things like that can help form an emotional connection with the brand or just entertain the reader. 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 factor is important for your target audience.

What to do:

If your specific production process is reflected in the result, extract the result and make an USP out of it.

Example:

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

If you just found some "interesting facts" - use them as content for your social networks, BUT not for USP. You'd better start creating your USP from scratch.

6. Incomplete USP

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

"Our couriers ride mopeds" instead of "Delivering pizza in half an hour"

"We have 20 cashiers" instead of "The maximum time in line is 3 minutes"

"Down jackets from wool of a mountain goat" instead of "Down jackets will keep you warm at -22 °F"

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

What to do:

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 yourself 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 is working around the clock.
- So what?
- So, your request will be addressed within 15 minutes at any time of the day.

This is already a good USP. But you'd better continue asking:

- So what?
- So, your online store will always be up and running.

If you asked, "So what?" more than 5 times, and did not reach the value your product can present to the client - most likely, the characteristic you selected does not provide tangible value. You have to try another one.
7. Using superlatives in the absence of supporting evidence

A superlative degree ("the most," "the highest quality," "number 1," "the only") can cause a reaction of rejection and distrust. It is twice dangerous to use it without reason, without any evidence. Three times as dangerous - if you use it with immeasurable characteristics.

  • The best restaurant
  • The most fashionable collection of clothes
  • The most friendly staff

Does it sound credible?

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

What to do:

Give an evidence. The trick is that it should be listed right away.

Examples:

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 because your smartphone is heavier.

By the way, if you are not the very first, big, etc. - this does not mean that you cannot be better in something. For example, a company is new to the market, but it is flexible and motivated to work.

When AVIS car rental services started with USP stating that they are the number 2 in the market.

Their famous tagline was: "We Try Harder" (when you're not the biggest one, you kind of have to try harder)
8. Making USP based on price

My professional belief is that this is the initially losing option. The price cannot be unique in principle, just because anyone can announce the same price at any time.

Unique quality of the product, on the contrary, is difficult to replicate, sometimes it is impossible, especially when it comes to services.

Playing price wars and trying to keep the "lowest price" is an exhausting process that neither brings any value to the client nor profit to the entrepreneur, making both sides feel miserable.

This does not mean that you should not think of price positioning. Of course you should. But it does not have to distinguish you, but rather to characterize you. It may even happen that you work in the lowest price niche indeed.

But do not make USP out of this.

Also, please, forget the expression "best price". Any price looks to be the best for a particular customer at the moment of purchase.

9. Substitution of USP with advertising slogans

This mistake is made even by professional marketers and advertising agencies. If you google about USP (here, I would strongly recommend filtering the information you find), you can see examples of slogans that are issued as successful USPs.

For example, look at this billboard, the slogan says " We'll pay you back if you don't like our pizza". While their USP might be "the most delicious pizza" (since they are giving guarantees like that).
The promotion will end; guarantees will no longer be offered. But pizza will still remain the tastiest (in the perfect world). A USP will remain unchanged.

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 an advertising slogan is designed for making sales here and now.

USP is stable, advertising slogans can change.

A tagline is your temporary advantage and USP is permanent.

USP can have a long and simple wording. 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."

A USP is the tip of the iceberg, under which lies the value of the product and business.

An advertising slogan is a sucking in funnel that leads to the sale.

10. No USP - neither in words nor in the product itself

In fact, 80% of cases in my practice face this problem.

Typically, small business owners are experts in some area, but they usually have a slight idea of marketing. They know well 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

Some do it better, some do it worse - yet, there are hundreds of people in one city producing approximately the same product, and there are thousands around the country.
The rule: "Put the right spirit into your job, and people will seek you out" works until the first competitor, who also puts the right spirit in their job. Therefore, you should define your uniqueness first. When it is found, start talking loudly about it. Then, support it with the right spirit.

What to do:

Outline your target audience and find out what criteria are important to them when choosing a product similar to yours. Examine the strengths and weaknesses of your competitors. Determine what you can do in the area where your competitors do nothing. Perhaps, you already practice it, but do not focus on it.

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 girl who wanted to promote her educational services. She herself had an amazing education and a diploma of a famous university, plus she was a member of a closed club of experts from around the world. And, you know, she did not focus on this just because she took it for granted. We used these facts and built here a very strong USP.

Each person is unique. A person who has managed to open his own business is a strong and bright personality. Your USP can certainly be found, or you can create it. This process requires some investment of time and possibly may require some material resources. But these are the investments that will pay off for sure!
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