Developing your USP: A step-by-step guide


Branding and marketing: what's the difference?A unique selling proposition (USP) 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

What is your USP?

Your USP is what makes your business and its products/services different. It's what you offer that no-one else does in your market - whether that's higher quality, a lower price, a better customer experience or a new technological innovation.

If you can't identify your USP, you'll have a hard time convincing prospective customers to buy from you instead of your competitors.

Why do I need a USP?

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.

A strong USP, well communicated, will help customers to understand quickly what your business offers and why they should choose you over the competition.

How to find your USP

Finding your USP means having a good understanding of your target market, your competition, and your industry.

Understanding your target audience

Developing a USP begins with your target audience. What do you know about your target audience and why they buy items from the market you are operating in? What needs do those items meet for them? In other words, are they looking for a time saving, some expertise, a trustworthy 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 business is really good at. Make a list of your competitors and see which needs they are meeting.

Next, evaluate how well they meet those needs. Just because someone currently has a good position in a market doesn't mean that they're delivering on their promises. If you can do better, that's a strong basis for market entry.

Look at industry trends

At the same time, you need to look at those needs that aren't being met by anyone, and also think about the key trends in your 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 your USP. 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.

How to communicate 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 could undermine your USP.

A step-by-step guide to creating your USP

  • 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 especially good at, and how you want to be seen.
  • 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 really 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.