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Developing your USP: A step-by-step guide

A unique selling proposition (USP)  is what makes your business stand out from the crowd and tells your customers what is special about you. So it's vital to get it right, as marketing consultant Amanda Walker explains

We're always reading about how many messages consumers are bombarded with every day. They cannot re-evaluate services and products every time they need to make a purchase. To make life easier, they tend to organise products and services into groups and position them accordingly - for instance, the safest car, the most expensive car and the best value car.

Understanding your target audience

Developing a USP begins with your target audience. What do you know about your target audience and why do they purchase items from the market you are operating in? What needs does that market meet for them? In other words, are they looking for a time saving, some expertise, a trust-worthy supplier or something else? By consulting customers, colleagues and friends you should be able to make a list of all the reasons why someone might choose to buy your product or service.

What is your competitive advantage?

You should be able to pull out one or two things that you believe your organisation is really good at. Make a list of your competitors and see which needs they are meeting. Evaluate how well they meet those needs on a scale of 1-5. Just because someone currently has a position in a market doesn't mean that they're delivering on it. If you can do it better, that's a strong basis for market entry.

Think a little broader

At the same time, you need to look at those needs that aren't being met and also think about the key trends in the industry. If you are an accountant, for instance, these trends could include changes in legislation for example. Consider current trends and those issues that will be most important in five years' time. Now see if you can extend your advantage into these areas.

Testing and refining your USP

Come up with a strong statement that conveys each USP. You could also give each idea an image to help bring the concept to life. Talk to five or ten potential customers to get their feedback on the different ways you are positioning your brand.

The results of these interviews should help you to choose the best positioning statement. You should also choose the single most compelling reason for that positioning.

Communicating your USP

Your USP should be driving the development of your company and your marketing strategy, whether you are creating a website or a logo or embarking on an online advertising campaign. Always ask yourself if your image and activity clearly communicates the benefit you are offering.

It's not advisable to change your USP too often but it is important to keep it fresh. Watch out for any shifts in trends or competitors that cause consumers to view you and your USP differently.

A step-by-step guide

  • Make a list of what you know about your target audience.
  • Make a list of all the needs that your product or service could meet – these attributes are all potential USPs for your business.
  • Screen these USPs against trends and competitors. Now remove the USPs that are already being well met by competitors. Don't forget that your USP is a unique selling proposition so you are looking for a gap in the market.
  • Match each USP against what you and your business are good at. Also think about how you want to be seen. Don't advertise yourself as always being available if you don't want to work a 60+ hour week!
  • For each USP you have identified, create a page with words and visuals to bring the idea to life.
  • Conduct short interviews with about ten people in your target market to choose the strongest USP for your business.
  • Double check that you have the right USP. Does it convey one strong benefit? Is it memorable? Is it clear who the brand is targeting from the USP? Can you deliver what it promises? Is it unique - or could a competitor claim the same thing?
  • Use this positioning to develop your business and your marketing strategy. Evaluate your activities using your USP as a benchmark.
  • Monitor trends and new competitors that could affect how customers see your USP.

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