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What's Your USP?

Do consumers take a "So what?" attitude to your promotions and advertising? Maybe that's because you're not providing them with the right details - a distinction that Frank Fiore calls a unique selling position (USP).
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Many years ago, a company called Federal Express came up with a new concept—delivering packages overnight. Until then, if you wanted to ship a small package across the country, you had to ship it on the airline's schedule. It might take up to several days to have your package delivered—and then it had to be picked up!

FedEx saw an opportunity here. All they had to do was convince the public that they could deliver packages in a speedier fashion. But they needed a slogan that would say that their package delivery service was better than those of the airlines. And they needed to say it in one simple phrase.

After much thought, they decided that what differentiated them from their competitors was that they owned their own planes. This meant that customers could ship and receive products on the customer's schedule, and not the schedule of the airlines or buses. So what was the unique selling position that FedEx chose? We have our own planes.

It didn't fly with the public.

People didn't get it. "So you have your own planes," they said. "What does that mean to me?"

FedEx went back to the drawing board and came up with this: "When you absolutely, positively have to have it overnight." That worked. The public responded, and the rest is commerce history. Consumers didn't care if FedEx had their own planes. They didn't care if their packages were delivered by Pony Express. The benefit to the consumer was that the package was delivered overnight, right to the recipient's door.

There's a lesson here—one that you can use when creating your own unique selling position (USP). You need to always remember WIIFM: "What's in it for me?" This is what a customer is looking for when he or she buys. Phrase your USP in those terms, and you'll go a long way in creating an effective and successful unique selling position.

Another good example is Domino's Pizza. How do you differentiate one pizza service from another? Domino's separated itself from the competition by promising to deliver your pizza in record time: "30 minutes or less—or it's free!"

Differentiating Yourself from Your Competition

Ask a random sample of business owners to tell you what makes them different from their competition, and you'll get a blank stare, or perhaps a response like one of these:

  • "My prices are the lowest."

  • "I guarantee satisfaction."

  • "My products are high quality."

  • "I give great customer service."

But none of these responses is a USP. Many businesses can claim the same things. A business must know what they offer a customer besides general statements and why they think a shopper should buy from them. That is, what makes the business unique in the market and in the eyes of a potential customer.

So why create a unique selling position? Let's put it this way. A USP does this for you:

  • Gives a your company a unique advantage over your competition.

  • Gives consumers a distinct reason to buy from your company.

  • Portrays in the consumer's mind a compelling image of what your business will do for them that others can't.

Advantage, reason, and image are what your goal should be in creating a unique selling position. Your USP creates the framework and lays the foundation for your compelling offer.

And here's another reason. A good USP also keeps your business pointed in the right direction.

One of the things that made both FedEx and Domino's a success was a measurable and beneficial USP. They're measurable (overnight and 30 minutes, respectively) and have a unique benefit (FedEx delivers to the recipient's door; Domino's promises it's free if not delivered on time).

A good USP is specific, measurable, and conveys a customer benefit. So how do you create a good USP?

Do this. Using a pad and pencil, ask yourself the following questions and answer them as simply as you can. You're not creating a corporate mission statement here, so keep your responses simple.

  1. Why is my business special?

  2. Why would someone buy from me instead of my competition?

  3. What can my business provide to a consumer that no one else can?

  4. What's a benefit to the consumer that I can deliver on?

Keep your answers specific and measurable, and show a benefit to the buyer. If you're confused by what you offer your customers—they will be, too.

Here are some additional aspects to consider when fleshing out a unique selling position. They're called the four P's: pricing, positioning, packaging, and promotion.


If you're going to compete on price, don't just say you're the lowest—say why. For instance, perhaps you can sell at such a low price because of your ability to source product from the closeout industry, buying products at pennies on the dollar. Play up this uniqueness in your USP.


The Marines are looking for a few good men—not all men, just a few, and only good ones. This is a great positioning statement, which makes their "business" unique and differentiates them among the armed forces. Look for a similar positioning with your business. Perhaps your focus is gender-based. Perhaps it's age-based. Sell to a unique segment of the population—not to all of it.


Take a common product that others sell and repackage it in a new way. For instance, take the iMac. It's just a PC, but look at the packaging. Not only did it sell, but it sold at a premium price! It also had positioning statements: Get on the Internet in 20 minutes! and Think Different!


Look at the promotional possibilities of your product or service. Can you tie your product or service with a season or holiday where you can benefit from the promotional activities and mindshare of consumers that already exist at that time of year? Targeting your promotional message at the right time is the key to acceptance. So sit down and make a list of the popular seasonal events—including religious and cultural events other than those with a Euro-Christian focus, such as the Jewish and Asian religious holidays and ethnic holidays like Kwanzaa.

Above all else, remember that your USP is not about you nor is it , it's not about your business—it's about your customer.

One final thought: Whatever you promise in your unique selling position—be sure you deliver on it. Don't make the mistake of adopting a USP that you can't fulfill. This means making sure that everyone in your entire organization knows and understands your USP and can act on it!

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