Competitor research is vital to the success of any business. Once you understand your competitors’ strengths, weaknesses and marketing strategies, you are armed with the ability to decide exactly how your business will fit within this competitive environment and so can begin to develop your Unique Selling Proposition (USP)
What is a USP and why is it so important?
A USP is a well-considered statement as to why your customers should purchase their goods or services from you rather than from one of your competitors. Markets are busy, competitive places and it is imperative that you have a distinctive proposition that will make you stand out from the crowd; quality products, good customer service and low prices are no longer enough. A USP is a competitive advantage because it differentiates you from the rest. It assists your prospective customers in distinguishing between the various providers of your product or service by making your business the obvious choice with whom to invest their money, time and trust. The purpose of a USP is to position your product or service against competitors in such a way that makes it hard to imitate or displace.
Developing and maintaining an Effective USP
For most businesses, developing a USP isn’t easy but it IS vital and the strength of your USP is more than likely what will determine your future success. Therefore it is worth taking the time to get it right from the outset and constantly monitor its effectiveness.
[testimonial author=”Theodore Levitt, author and professor at Harvard Business School”]Differentiation is one of the most important strategic and tactical activities in which companies must constantly engage.[/testimonial]
Your USP needs to include an implied promise of a benefit that is unique to your product or service and compelling enough for prospective customers to want to investigate your company further as their potential supplier.
Understand your target audience
First of all you need to really understand your target audience and avoid the trap of trying to be all things to all men. Who are the group of people who are most likely to be interested in your product or service and help spread the word about your business? These are the people that your USP needs to be developed for. What do they need from the marketplace in addition to the product or service that you offer; are they looking to save time, to find expert advice or is a supplier that they can trust at the top of their wish list?
What do you do well?
Once you know what your audience are looking for, you should be able to look at your company’s strengths and cross reference. Look at how well your competitors are meeting the needs of its customer base. Your USP doesn’t necessarily have to be something new; one of your competitors may well currently hold a position in the market for a particular USP, but if they are under-delivering on that USP and you feel that you can do it better, then that would be good enough grounds for market entry.
Cover all bases
Consider all the possible needs of your prospective customers. Are there any that your competitors do not yet attempt to meet? There are industries where consumer needs are constantly changing due to changes in legislation or current trends for example. Consider any changes that may be coming to your industry within the foreseeable future and evaluate any opportunity to develop your USP around these changes.
Test and refine your USP
Your research and thinking time should hopefully yield a few possible angles from which to make your stance. Once you have those possible USPs in mind, you need to develop strong statements that put each USP across to your target audience. Coming up with an image for each idea will also help bring your USP to life. Once you have prepared these statements and images, try them out on a handful of potential customers and get their feedback on the different ideas you have for the positioning of your brand.
Communicate your USP to your market
Your USP should be at the forefront of your mind with everything that you do as it needs to be the basis upon which you form your brand. It should be the driver behind the way in which the company and marketing strategy are developed. So, whether you are coming up with a name for your business, designing your website or considering the type of people to employ, your USP needs to be your focal point for inspiration.
Avoid changing your USP too regularly because the idea is to build a successful brand on the back of an effective USP. In other words, if it’s working for you then that’s great news, there’s no need to keep changing it to avoid stagnation. Remember that people become very attached to their tried and trusted brands and too much change can be destabilising.
There is a big difference between keeping a brand and its unique selling proposition fresh and completely changing it. John Lewis is a good example of this with their Christmas television adverts. Their USP is their slogan – Never knowingly undersold. This suggests to the potential customer that they don’t need to worry about price when buying from John Lewis because the comparisons have already been done, the customer can just focus on the product they are looking to buy. John Lewis has used this slogan for years but their Christmas television advert is part of a marketing strategy to keep their USP fresh. Each year these “feature length” adverts are much anticipated by viewers and have been so successful that some of the other major retailers are now following suit.
The key to the long term success of your business is having an effective USP so constantly evaluate it to make sure that it is still working and relevant and isn’t being improved upon by a competitor and use marketing to keep it fresh and interesting in the mind of the consumer.
So, how are YOU going to stand out from the crowd?
Creating your own USP
You can create your own USP in a number of ways. Some of the ideas below may help you identify the right one for your business:
1). Choose your Buyer
Targeting a specific audience is one way to develop a USP for your business. Think about your perfect customer and as mentioned earlier, avoid being all things to all men. Think about the demographics of your target audience (age, gender, income, etc) and how you can target a particular niche or solve a previously unsolved problem that ensures you as seen as the “expert” company. For example, your USP could be “Web design & development service for Solicitors based in the West Midlands”.
2). Choose what to Sell
Your USP could also reside in what it is that you are selling. Is it yourself with your knowledge, skills and experience? Or is it a product or service that is different in some way to what already exists in the market? If you use your own system or methodology to achieve better results than your competitors, then this can form your USP. For example, “we offer a tested, proven recruiting system that we follow to the letter to guarantee we find the perfect employee for your needs”.
3). Choose your Unique Angle
Is there an angle that makes you or your business unique? Are you offering a unique benefit / outcome with your product or service or a unique level of customisation, or do you offer a payment plan that isn’t being offered by any of your competitors?
You could offer:
- Unique benefit / outcome
- Unique product / service features
- Unique track record
- Unique level of quality or customer experience
- Unique packaging / presentation
- Unique business process / system / method
Strengthen your USP
Once you’ve decided on your USP, you can strengthen it further by adding a few extra elements.
Add a negative promise
As well as pointing out a positive, you can also add any negatives your customer will not experience when they choose your product or service. For example:
- NO long waiting times
- NO artificial additives
- NO expensive call charges
- NO booking fees
Or in the case of Trinity…
- NO stuffy accountants
Add a Timeframe
You can also specify a timeframe for your USP. For example, Domino’s Pizza’s famous USP promised the customer “fresh, hot pizza delivered within 30 minutes or it’s free!”
Add a Guarantee
Finally, you can give a guarantee by telling your prospective customers what you are going to do for them if you don’t deliver on your promise. You could refund their money, replace the product or offer a discount or something for free.
Now it’s your turn.
Whilst this is still fresh in your mind, get some paper and start brainstorming a few ideas using the points above. There will always be something unique about you or your business… you just need to uncover it. So take some time out now and go and discover your Unique Selling Proposition.