Web Marketing Today

Successful Start-ups: 3. How to Develop a Clear Unique Selling Proposition (USP)

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

A Unique Selling Proposition is a brief, carefully thought-out statement of why customers should purchase their goods or services from you, rather than from your competitors.

The USP concept was first developed in the 1940s by Rosser Reeves for a single advertisement. But it is extremely useful to adapt the USP concept to an entire online business. Now that you understand your competitors’ strengths, weaknesses, and marketing strategies from conducting competitive research (Part 2), you are ready to state exactly and precisely how your business will fit in this competitive environment.

Veteran copywriter Bob Bly outlines three elements of a winning USP for an individual ad. I am adapting these insights into the USP for an overall business.

  1. Implied promise. Your USP must make a proposition to the consumer. You must offer a promise to your potential customer: buy from us (or, for an information site, read our content) and you’ll get this benefit.
  2. Unique. The proposition must be one that the competition either cannot, or does not, offer. Your business must be unique in order to stand out.
  3. Compelling. The proposition must be so strong that it can pull over new customers to your company. You’re looking for a compelling statement, one that will catch people’s eye. One that will entice them to look at you further to see if you really can deliver what you promise.

No one said that developing a USP is easy — but it is vital! The time you spend working it out is likely to be a key element in your future success. Now let’s look at examples:

  • My USP is that I want to make money. (That’s only a statement about you, not what a customer will get from you.)
  • We sell widgets. (Duh! Tell me something I don’t know!)
  • We sell the best widgets that money can buy. (high quality)
  • We sell the cheapest widgets anywhere (low price)
  • We support our widget customers when you have a problem (customer service)
  • Our widgets are classier/hipper/cooler/trendier than anyone else’s (snob value)
  • We sell fashionable widgets of high quality to affluent single males in their 20s to enable them attract single females.

Consider these well-known company USPs that differentiate them from their competition, capsulized in memorable tag-lines:

  • Domino’s Pizza: “You get fresh, hot pizza delivered to your door in 30 minutes or less — or it’s free.”
  • FedEx: “When your package absolutely, positively has to get there overnight”
  • M&M’s: “Melts in your mouth, not in your hand”
  • Wonder Bread: “Wonder Bread Helps Build Strong Bodies 12 Ways”

However, your USP doesn’t have to appear on your website anywhere to be useful. However, it must be crystal clear in your own mind. Your website ought to contain at least a “tagline” that contains part of your USP or a positioning statement, but to help you design a profitable business, your USP should be specific.

An Example from This Newsletter

Let me use an example from my business. The USP for Web Marketing Today is:

Web Marketing Today provides information from Internet marketing experts that empowers small to medium businesses (that don’t have an Internet marketing professional on staff) so that they can either learn do Internet marketing in-house or have enough knowledge to intelligently outsource these services.”

Perhaps it’s a bit cumbersome, but it defines my newsletter, what makes it unique, and the promise it makes to subscribers. Let me show you the elements of my USP — you’ll have your own key differentiators:

  1. Expert-written content. We don’t use journalists who reformulate someone else’s insights. All our writers and interviewees are experts in their own disciplines of Internet marketing.
  2. Small to Medium Business. Most Internet marketing information is written for enterprise level larger businesses. We are very selective about what we link to and the topics we choose so they are on target for our audience.
  3. Empower. We focus on how-to articles rather than “state of the Internet” generalities or rants about this or that problem. We feature intensely practical content. We want you to finish an article or video interview and feel: “Good, I learned something from this. Now I can do something about my problem.”
  4. Non-specialist audience. We don’t feature experts who speak to fellow experts. We assume that our readers don’t know the field well, so we take pains to explain it and to define technical terms.
  5. DIY or outsource. We want to go deep enough so that readers can either do something themselves to market their businesses, or know enough so they can find the right person to do it for them. There’s always an objective: empowering you.

A shorter form of our USP might be:

“WMT provides expert content that empowers small to medium businesses to excel at Internet Marketing.”

Similarities to a Purpose or Mission Statement

A good USP serves as a company’s guiding philosophy that helps it decide on what products or services to offer, how to present them, how to price them, how to structure a website, and everything else.

  • Without a USP you’ll be flopping around doing anything that comes to mind.
  • With a USP you’ll understand exactly what your business aims to do in the very competitive Internet environment.

A USP is similar to the 30-second “elevator speech” you might rehearse so you’ll be able to tell people clearly and succinctly what your company does in the 30 seconds you might have with a person while going up to the fifth floor.

A USP is similar to a mission statement in that it includes a purpose (which may imply a promise). Notice, however, that a USP also contains the elements that differentiate you from your competitors as well as the implicit promise of what you will give your customers should they choose to do business with you. A mission statement is often couched in terms of what a company purposes to do. A USP is couched in terms of why a customer would be a fool not purchase products or services from your company above all others.

Choke Points and Enablers

In most complex projects (such as designing an online business), there are some “choke points” that hold up the progress of other aspects of the project until they are completed. So far we’ve looked at three of these:

  1. Resea
    rch to select a profitable niche (Part 1).
  2. Competitive research to understand your competitors so you can define unique spot for your own business.
  3. Development of a Unique Selling Proposition

There’s at least one more vital choke point: developing a viable business plan — that is, a plan to make money from this business. We’ll talk about that in a subsequent article.

Once these basics are in place, however, you’ll be ready to:

  • Select a business name
  • Select a suitable domain name
  • Write the main copy for your website.
  • Give clear instructions to a graphic designer to portray your company’s values and uniqueness in visual form.
  • Develop a marketing strategy.
  • Set a pricing structure.
  • And so forth….

A lot of inexperienced business wannabes start with a domain name or a website without carefully laying the groundwork of grinding out a clear USP that will guide their decisions. Now you know why so many of these wannabes fail — and how you can improve your chances for success with the USP you’ll begin to work on this week.

In the next issue, I’ll discuss the various ways to monetize your website — and how that relates to a realistic business plan.

Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
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