how to create a unique selling point

This article shows you how to come up with unique selling point ideas so that your business can stand out from the crowd. You will learn how to identify what customers really want, brainstorm 5 ways to become different, and get a checklist of where to use your USP to make your business stronger.

Without a unique selling point – commonly known as a USP – your business or product will be seen as a commodity. Commodities compete on price or convenience – customers will buy the cheapest or the easiest for them to get.

Introduction

Unique selling point illustration
An effective USP is more than dressing up your product to be noticed. A goat in a red sweater might be a nice brand statement, but your unique selling point must be important to your customers, not just a bit of quirk.

Any decent USP begins with the idea of empathy with your customer.

So we will take this idea of customer empathy and explore some examples. To keep it interesting, we’ll start with the most famous of all USPs and break it down so you understand why it’s so powerful. Then we’ll explore some products in a market where anybody could be forgiven for thinking that a real USP would be impossible.

You will see examples of unique selling points to provoke your thinking.

These examples are not the obvious USPs that you might see elsewhere. They are hand-selected from businesses competing in extraordinarily competitive markets.

Then we’ll move onto a few more examples to fire your imagination before summarising with a process to make a unique selling point for your own products and services. Crafting an effective unique selling point means that you can charge more, sell more and build a stronger business.

Use these ideas for inspiration to make your business better than your competitors.

Why Bother with a Unique Selling Point?

Your USP gives you an edge. 

A good USP allows you to charge a premium price – people who appreciate the difference you bring will pay more because you’re special.

The perfect strong unique selling proposition should be your hard-to-copy weapon, that you brandish when prospective customers are considering where to shop, that will also protect your existing customer base from competitors sniffing around to try and steal them away from you.

Sounds great, doesn’t it? So what’s involved in creating a USP that will attract more customers and make a difference for you?

What Customers Really Want: The Empathy Method To Better Unique Selling Point Ideas

In practice, lots of businesses get stuck trying to think of a good USP.

There’s that whole game of “we’re not really very different at all. But we are super-friendly”. But the trouble is that every business thinks they’re super-friendly. And the customers will assume that you’ll be friendly before they buy, too. It’s not going to be enough to persuade new customers to select you instead of your competitors.

So a good starting point to come up with a better USP for your own business is to study perhaps the best example of all, the Dominos USP. It is powerful because it speaks so directly to several customer needs, and then wraps it with a money-back guarantee to really drive it home…

Fresh, hot pizza delivered in 30 minutes or less, guaranteed”

The original Dominos Pizza guarantee – allegedly dropped due to problems caused by drivers speeding to deliver on time.

This unique selling proposition is so good because it really does cover every angle of what the customer wants to buy…

  • Fresh – made to order, rather than something that’s been reheated or sitting for hours going soggy
  • Hot – really important when you’re ordering food to be delivered – we’ve all been disappointed by lukewarm food
  • Fast delivery – I’ve waited over an hour for food delivery – the idea of a pizza in 30 minutes is super attractive
  • Money-back guarantee – means that I can trust them to deliver to their word

As you can see, this USP has a combination of multiple ‘hot-button’ based key selling points that together really hit the spot for the fast-food pizza-loving customer.

This empathy for the customer’s needs is essential to create a good USP. To create your own USP, you need to try to empathise with what the customer really wants. Dominos did it brilliantly. They were not the only pizza delivery service in town when they came up with this, yet they have become the biggest global pizza outfit by building their business to deliver against these core customer needs.

It’s worth just reiterating that point – the idea of speaking to a direct customer need..

Your USP has to matter to your customer. It’s not fluff and it’s not a slogan. It’s not a logo or hollow words. It’s not a promise of ‘great service’. It’s something important to your customer, because only something important will sway their thinking to make them buy from you.

To do this I thought a great way would be to look at a really tough industry and find some USP ideas from businesses that have managed to make themselves unique in a difficult market. That way, you don’t have any excuses for not finding a way to make your business unique…

Marketing that works well is like a machine for getting new customers. If you are looking for ideas to grow your business, download my free book with 101 ideas to get more customers, sales and profit. Get 101 Ways To Get More Customers, Sales and Profit by clicking here.

Is It Possible to Create a USP in a Price-Driven Commodity Market?

Your unique-selling-proposition becomes even more important when you’re competing in really tough markets.

It’s easy to get stuck on the idea that “there’s nothing I can do that’s different to my competitors”. But that’s plain wrong. There is always a way to make your business or product unique. For example, imagine selling a commodity product – something that’s been around for hundreds of years; something where nobody pays much attention to the manufacturer – cheese.

Yes, cheese is the next example. This is not about the type of cheese, but a business that wanted a unique selling point for its cheese.

How would you stand out if you just made cheese? Crazy difficult, you might think, and you’d be right. Unfortunately, there’s no USP store you can visit to just pick something special off the shelf. Creating your own USP isn’t super-easy, but winning at business never is super-easy.

A lot of people complain about how difficult it is to create a USP. They are right. This is tough work, with deep thinking that’s unlikely to be a 5-minute job. But the reward for doing it is that you will position your business to be special, different and a reason for your customers to pay you a premium price. So while it may take an hour or two to produce a good USP, it will make your business thousands more in sales over time. In terms of pay-per-hour, it’s one of the most valuable things you can do for yourself.

In fact, when planning this article, I deliberately chose the cut-throat and commodity-price dominated dairy industry.

The dairy industry is a very mature market. This makes it far harder to come up with new ideas. The competition is super-tough. So many similar businesses are trying to sell the same products to the same customers. If they can do it, anybody can do it, including you.

It’s the perfect demonstration of the power of good unique selling proposition ideas that make your ordinary product stand out from the crowd.

Cheddar cheese. Pasteurised milk. Salted and unsalted butter. This does not seem like the territory to learn about uniqueness, does it? Yet this is precisely why it offers to best opportunities to learn.

For the most part, products in this market tend to compete on price alone. A few manage to build brand names that people trust and are willing to pay more money to buy. But others played a different game – they differentiated their product with an effective unique selling point. So how could you create a decent unique selling point if you sell milk or cheese? And what can you learn to apply to your own situation?

The idea here isn’t to turn you into a cheesemaker (even though “blessed are the cheesemakers” according to Monty Python’s Life Of Brian), but to encourage you to find a better way to stand out from the crowd in your sector.

Idea #1. Product Innovation Creates a Powerful USP

The secret to a great USP is empathy, as we’ve already covered. Empathy simply means to consider things from your customer’s perspective. Once you understand the customer better, you can innovate your products to better serve them.

Understand that unique selling propositions are not just a marketing strategy, but a decision to genuinely make your product or service better in some important way for your target audience.

There can be few more challenging businesses than milk production.  The supermarkets hold the keys to the customer and negotiate to buy from you at pretty much cost price.  You only make money because of the huge volume sold.  Could a USP help you in this situation?

To start down this path, you’ve got to become very clear about who you want as a customer for your product. Then put yourself in their shoes and figure out how to provide a better product or service for them, by solving a problem or fulfilling an unmet need that they have.

Here are a few things that companies have done to set their milk apart from the crowd…

  • Flavoured milk and milkshakes
  • Lactose-free Milk for people who are intolerant
  • Filtered milk so the milk lasts longer because the microbes that cause it to go off quickly are removed.

The secret is to innovate your service or product so that you have something that satisfies one of your customers’ unmet needs.

When Cravendale innovated the production process to filter their milk, it gave them access to people prepared to pay extra for milk that lasts longer.

My family became instant fans because the milk no longer went sour so quickly. We could buy extra bottles, knowing it wouldn’t go off before using it.

This was a real benefit that was easily worth it for us. That doesn’t mean it was worth it for everybody – there are lots of price-shopping customers who would rather pay less. But Cravendale don’t targt price-shoppers – they want the premium customers.

Of course, your unique selling point won’t appeal to everybody, but if enough people have the same unmet need, you’re onto a winner.

It’s a brilliant unique selling point idea for such an ordinary product.

If you watch the video, you’ll see they use the idea of the filtered milk being purer. I don’t know about you, but if I can get “purer”, that suggests that what I was drinking before wasn’t so good after all. That idea sticks in your mind after enough repetition and gradually starts to become the normal milk you buy.

But what’s really exciting is that with a strong unique selling point, your price is no longer directly compared to ordinary milk, the commodity stuff. 

So Cravendale carved out a whole new niche within a vast new market of “pure milk”. In the video of the Cravendale ad, they make the point about their differentiation – on the fridge door, they tell you it’s filtered so it lasts longer.  And they’re all fighting for the last glass.  How many times do we throw away the last glass of milk because it’s going off?

Clever, witty, engaging.  And yes, perhaps a little irritating.  But they’re selling a lot of filtered milk now, to an audience that had never seen it just a few years before.

Idea #2. Creative Packaging Provides Helpful USP

Packaging is a great way to make your product unique, but try to remember the empathy thing – it needs to solve a problem or satisfy a need that your customer has.

Mini Babybel cheese is a great example from the dairy industry of how to use packaging to create a little market of your own that appreciates a different approach. They make little rounds of cheese that are wrapped in wax, in complete contrast to the large blocks of cheese they compete with. These are super-convenient as part of a packed lunch or picnic and make an ordinary cheese into something special.

The packaging does it very nicely for Mini Babybel, who put a twist in their adverts by showing tiny cheesemakers putting it together…

As you start to get into the differentiation groove, you’ll find lots of interesting options.

Cheesestrings are another variation of cheese packaging, becoming another option for kids’ lunchboxes. It’s weird stuff – cheese that separates out into stringy lengths rather than being a solid chunk. But the kids love it.

It’s another great usp that came from developing something a little bit different.

Idea #3. Find Your Existing Uniqueness for Your USP

The most common advice you hear for creating a USP is to ‘find what’s different’.

It’s tough to see what’s different about your own business, though. You become snow-blind to what makes you different, because you are either over-exposed to it, or you haven’t quite figured out what’s really important to your customers. But a little introspection can produce usp ideas that you’d never think of in a million years.

A massive player in the butter segment of dairy found uniqueness in the cows milked for their butter… Anchor Butter came up with a clever angle based around the free-range idea. Whoever heard of free-range cows?

I haven’t – never thought of cows being anything but free-range, wandering in the fields eating grass.  But Anchor brilliantly captured the eco-mood and transferred the free-range idea from chickens…

I’ll bet there is something a little different about your business.

It might be something about the materials you use, the packaging you buy, the way you customise and tailor your service to each client. Somewhere, in your business, there is something you do different that’s worth shouting about. It might just be the idea you need to make a unique selling point come to life. To find it, look at your business through fresh eyes and figure out what’s a little bit different about the way you work or the service you provide.

Idea #4. A Proper Guarantee Could be Your Unique Selling Point

Sometimes people don’t buy because they’re scared they’re wasting their money. The fear of being conned out of our money is a big disincentive to buy anything new, and this fear is exactly what a guarantee is designed to overcome.

It’s important to understand what is needed for an effective guarantee. A guarantee isn’t a woolly statement that says “quality is guaranteed”, or “service is guaranteed”. A guarantee is the reversal of risk – the knowledge that if the customer isn’t happy, they will get their money back.

Surprisingly, it turns out that money-back guarantees exist in the world of dairy uniqueness. Searching for other butter advertising, I found adverts for Country Life that offered money-back guarantees if you don’t agree that their better tastes the best. This was a few years ago, but the point still stands. As a way to persuade people to try their butter, they printed 5 million packs with the offer on it.  The idea is that you’ll try the butter out because if you don’t like it, you can get your money back.

What’s the chance of you not liking a quality pat of butter?  It seems like a pretty low-risk strategy as a way to get more people to try Country Life.

One of the most powerful USPs I’ve ever come across is for a b2b pest control business in the USA.

Called “Bugs” Burger Bug Killers, they work with restaurants and hotels to prevent pest infestations from things like cockroaches and rodents. The 3-part guarantee that you see here is incredibly powerful, despite the fact that it’s got no dairy connection! Initially a very small business, it grew on the back of their guarantee allowing them to charge higher prices and still win business.

The last time I looked, they were doing over $30m per annum, driven in large part through the confidence that people get from this excellent guarantee.

What makes the guarantee so effective is that it deals with the hidden fears in people’s minds. “Will you get rid of all the bugs for good?”. “What if a customer sees a pest and freaks out?”. These are dealt with powerfully and with confidence.

You can find the original here

Idea #5. Provide A Niche Service

In Seth Godin’s book, Purple Cow, he talks about the value of being different.

In one example, he writes about a petrol station where an attendant comes out, fills your car with fuel and cleans your windscreen with a cloth. You sit in the comfort of your car while all of this is done for you. Another example is of a supermarket where your goods are packed and taken to your car for you. You don’t have to put the trolley back or deal with the carrying. Of course, these will both charge a premium and will appeal to a specific type of customer, not to the mass-market.

While I might be tempted by the fuel station, I’m quite happy packing and carrying my own groceries.

But this whole idea of appealing to a segment of the market rather than to the whole market is important as a concept. It’s the idea of serving a niche, rather than trying to sell to everybody. Your unique selling point ideas don’t need to appeal to everybody, just to enough to make a decent growth business out of it.

This is exactly how milkmen have survived the massive changes to shopping habits over the past 50 years.

Milk delivery is the perfect example from the dairy sector of providing higher levels of service to look after a particular type of customer. Rather old-fashioned in these days of supermarket deliveries, the milkman is a bit of a blast from the past for most of us. But for some people, the idea of having fresh milk, bread and a few essentials delivered on a daily basis, building a relationship with the person who brings it, is a valuable service. Which is why there are plenty of milkmen still delivering across the UK.

How could you change your service to look after a particular group of customers, providing them with a level of service that goes beyond the ordinary? This is a great way to come up with another unique selling point idea for your business.

Here’s A Process To Make Your USP

You may be wondering just how you can use these rather cheesy examples in your own business…

The trick is to come up with something of your own. Don’t be one of those people with their own business who say they can’t, because you can, once you decide to give it the attention it deserves. Here’s the process in outline…

  1. Empathy – know what your customer wants. Figure out what’s in your ideal customer mind. Ask them questions. Spend time chatting to them. What would make their lives easier in relation to the products and services you sell?
  2. Solve their problem – find a way to innovate or explain how your product solves their problem better than your competitors.
  3. State your USP repeatedly so that people know how you’re different.

Let’s quickly go through these ideas…

1. Empathy for your customer

  • What do they want?
  • What do they care most about?
  • What do they dislike?
  • What would they absolutely love if it was possible?
  • What keeps them awake at night?
  • What do they fear when buying your product or service?

2. Solve A Real Problem

In this article we’ve looked at 5 specific unique selling point ideas…

  1. Product innovation (filtering the milk)
  2. Packaging innovation (little wax jackets on your cheese)
  3. Use existing uniqueness (“The Free-Range Butter Company”)
  4. Guarantee to reverse the risk of buying (Best tasting butter or your money back)
  5. More personalised service (the good ol’ milkman)

3. Checklist of Where To Use Your USP

Your USP provides a strong reason for new customers to buy from you in the first place. You can use unique selling propositions in all kinds of places to reinforce your message…

  • Use your USP in all of your advertising to make sure people understand how you’re different
  • Mention it during sales calls and meetings – so that customers understand why you’re better for them
  • Demonstrate it with diagrams, case studies and testimonials
  • Give it prominence on your website and in printed materials
  • Show off your USP on social media

Marketing that works well is like a machine for getting new customers. If you are looking for ideas to grow your business, download my free book with 101 ideas to get more customers, sales and profit. Get 101 Ways To Get More Customers, Sales and Profit by clicking here.

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