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Define your USP

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The fifth in our series of ‘Essential business tips’ covers your Unique Selling Point or Proposition (USP).  When launching your business, it’s important to have a clear idea of what you stand for, what you offer your customers and what makes you different from other providers in your field.  Here are some tips to help you define, communicate and capitalise on your USP.


  1. Define your audience

Know your audience - know what they care about, know what matters to them and what makes a difference to their lives - only that way will you understand which are the problems that are worth solving, where you can make a difference and where you can truly do something new and innovative.

Mark Johnson – Head of Digital Marketing, KTN.

Your audience is crucial when it comes to deciding what differentiates your product or service.  Who you are targeting and why?

  • Do they currently buy it elsewhere?
  • Is there a gap in the market that you are uniquely positioned to fill?
  • Is your proposition aimed at a mass market, or a smaller ‘niche’ demographic?
  • Is it aimed at businesses (B2B) or consumers (B2C)?
  • Where is your audience located geographically?
  • What media do they use and how do they access it?

Are there any new trends, and how they could affect what you have to offer?  For example, buyer behaviour may have been affected by developments in technology, or a weaker currency might have made exporting more attractive.

If your target consumers currently buy from your competitors, ask yourself why they should switch to you.  Your customer service might be superior.  Your pricing may be more competitive.  Or perhaps you are offering something else that appeals to your audience such as ethically sourced materials.


  1. Make sure you’re solving a real problem

For many technology based companies, it is critical to avoid focusing on the development of the technical solution before first getting a real in-depth understanding of the problem to be solved. Talk to customers.  Reduce their problem statements to simple jargon free language. Test the problem from different stakeholder perspectives and quantify the potential impact.

Darren Ragheb – Head of Business Development, Centre for Process Innovation.

Unless the purpose of your business is purely to entertain people, you will have to solve a real problem, or be seen to improve people’s experience or quality of life. Make sure your product or service is something people will really need or want.

If your offering is truly innovative, it might be a case of educating the market before you can create the demand.

When it comes to problem-solving, try to think as laterally as possible.  For example, if your product or service can save people time, your marketing could focus on all the things people could do with the time they’ve saved by choosing you, rather than simply telling them how amazing your solution is.

Think of your target consumer’s lifestyle.  Are they a young professional who wants to make the most of their free time?  Are they a parent trying to juggle lots of conflicting demands and still have some time to themselves?  How can you help them?

Quality and reliability are really important to people who have had bad experiences when buying from relatively unknown companies.  Is your business here to stay?  Customers care about value, continuity and provenance.

Think of marketing as a collaboration between you and your customers. As such, your USPs need to be partly about you, partly about your customers, and wholly about the ‘experience’ you offer them.  One of the UK’s leading sales and marketing experts, Grant Leboff, talks about creating CEPs – customer engagement points that engage customers on a number of levels.  He has produced a Problem Map that helps companies identify the issues they can solve for a customer and the value that can be created around them:


  1. Demonstrate unique benefits

You need to understand how and why your customer buys and uses your product. If you don’t you are making money by accident. A good example is Parker Pens. They were failing when they thought they sold pens. Once they started to behave like a gift company (why most people buy a PP) they were much more successful.

What is the real problem?  Who is feeling the pain of it enough to pay you to solve it?

Mike Pitts, Head of Urban Living & Built Environment, Innovate UK.

You may be entering a crowded marketplace, so invest time and money into showing why people should try what you’re offering, and never underestimate the power of recommendation. Get your customers to leave reviews on your website and social media pages.  Research shows how influential independent reviews are when people are making buying decisions.  The following article explains the concept of why we care what other people say.

Why not ask a couple of satisfied customers to provide a video testimonial and set up your own YouTube channel, as well as using the videos on your social media pages?

If you’re still finding it difficult to identify clear USPs, have another think about why you started your business.  Why are you passionate about it?  Why are you good at it?  That should help you to explain why you’re different from the competition.


  1. Get paying customers as soon as possible

Validation ASAP is essential to see if your business has got traction. Get out there with your product or service and make sure people actually want to buy it.

Stefano Marrone - Managing Director, Nuccobrain.

Securing early adopters will validate your product or service.  Investors love a proposition that sells, so the sooner you prove people are interested the better.

Encourage people to try or buy with innovative special offers and targeted advertising on social media. By enticing people to contact you for a discount or free trial, you can capture their details for your database as well as starting a relationship with them. Find out more about Facebook and Twitter ads here:

You could also consider test-marketing your product to a sample audience to see how successful your messages and methods really are.  You may even find your USPs are redefined by the results of your initial engagement with your target audience and their influencers.  For example, Boden – a company that launched 25 years ago with a basic offering of quirky, well-made women’s clothes – has evolved its personality to emphasise its Britishness, because this is what appealed to consumers, particularly as the internet opened up a global market.

By following these guidelines and playing to your strengths, you will not only define your USPs but gain a good understanding of your audience and how to market effectively to them.

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