Copywriting for the Web – Unique Selling Propositions (USPs)

Thu, Apr 23, 2009


What is it?

A Unique Selling Proposition (or sometimes “Unique Selling Point” — henceforth “USP”) is a marketing concept originating in the 1940s with Ted Bates & Company, who were at the time conducting research on successful advertising campaigns. The pattern they found amongst campaigns that produced a high usage pull and excellent market penetration formed the basis for their theory of the USP.

Simply, a USP is a statement (or collection of statements) about a product or service that very clearly answers the question, “Why should I do business with you, instead of with your competition?” It’s a proclamation of the unique advantages and benefits you bring to your customers , and should always be stated in those terms.

Advantages could include factors like a broad range of product selection, superior customer service, highest quality, best prices, and so on.

Why does my business need a USP?

USPs clearly differentiate your business in the eyes of your current and potential customers or clients. USPs focus your team on delivering the promise of the USP, which helps to improve your business’s internal performance.

It is also a fact that if you’re unique, you’re almost guaranteed to outperform your competition – if you’re the only business offering what you sell, how can they compete against?

In contrast, the odds are really against you if you decide to offer goods or services no different from the rest of your competitors, as potential customers can nearly always get what you have to offer more cheaply and with comparable or better service somewhere else.

What do USPs need to be effective?

Your USP must make a proposition to the consumer. Not just pretty words, empty rhetoric, or vague assertions. Your USP must say: “Buy your product or service here, and you will get this specific benefit.”

For example, Domino’s Pizza came up with this great (at the time) USP: “You get fresh, hot pizza delivered to your door in 30 minutes or less — or it’s free.”

You see? Their USP makes a specific promise (FRESH, HOT pizza DELIVERED IN 30 MINUTES OR LESS) and offers a specific (implicit) benefit (IF WE DON’T KEEP OUR PROMISE THE PIZZA IS FREE.)

Your USP must also be one that the competition either cannot, or does not, offer. It must be unique!

The proposition must be so strong that it can convince your competitor’s customers to switch over to your product. It must get your customers and prospects talking about it.

It mustn’t be easily imitated or copied.

And beware of feeling like your USP has to be expressed in 25 words or less. It’s fine–and in many cases preferable–for a USP to be a detailed set of performance standards or specific promises.

You should be sure that your USP actually addresses a need that is important to buyers.

How do I decide what my USP is?

Top marketers recommend a 4-stage process for determining your business’s USP. These steps are:

  1. Understand the characteristics that your customers value
    Figure out (brainstorm) what features and benefits of your product service are really valued by your customers. Be sure to think outside the features that are common to all suppliers within your industry, and look at criteria that customers use to decide between them. Involve knowledgeable people in the process and include input from all levels of your organization, including, of course, your customers themselves.
  2. Rank yourself against your competitors for each criterion you identify
    Score yourself and your competitors out of ten for how they rate for each characteristic that you’ve identified. Preferentially, base your scores on objective data. If there is no data available, look to your customers for feedback.
  3. Identify where you rank
    Plot all these datapoints on a graph. From analysis of this graph you should be able to develop a simple, easily communicated statement of your USP.
    Use your USP. Be prepared to defend it!
  4. Make sure you can live up to the promise of your USP
    You must be prepared to defend  your USP against your competitors’ inevitable attempts to neutralize it: rest assured that if you have the best widgets, they’ll bring out a better one soon enough—the point is that if you’ve made an effort to establish a USP, it only makes sense to also make an effort to plan to defend it against attacks!
    In this way, your competitors will be forced to struggle to keep up, and by the time they have you will have already moved on to the next thing.


So there you have it! The guide to the Unique Selling Proposition. We hope you found it useful and applicable to your business goals.

Just one final parting piece of advice – once you’ve gone through all the steps above, developed your USP and built the business to back it up, don’t forget to make sure the market knows about it!

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11 Responses to “Copywriting for the Web – Unique Selling Propositions (USPs)”

  1. LummoX Says:

    this is a good exercise i will try it


  2. tenfour Says:

    Gah, I’m stuck. Can’t think of a single thing our company does that is unique…


  3. Justin Brooke Says:

    5 whole ebooks for free if I give you my email address! Geez does that also come with coffee and a blowjob?

    If you can dish it make sure you can take it also

    Justin Brooke’s last blog post..The Purpose Of Website Traffic


    • Mogul Says:

      @Justin Brooke

      I can definitely take it. But in order for that to happen you need to “give it” first. Was this “giving it”? Because if so: ROFLCOPTER.

      Go on a diet, ditch the dinky website, shave the bumfluff, and stop listening to shitty music. The Internets are over you.


  4. Justaintso Says:

    A technique I’ve used in the past when trying to create a unique USP is to ask for help from my clients and customers. Create a contest where the winner gets something valuable if their idea is used. Was always surprised by the creativity of some of the entries. You might get some other ideas from my blog:

    Justaintso’s last blog post..Should you use Blogger or WordPress as your free host?


  5. Melody Says:

    @tenfour, start off with why your company is in business..what was it that inspired you to provide your service or product, that may be what helps you develop your uniqueness..

    Melody’s last blog post..My Ideal Unconventional Home(s)


  6. tenfour Says:

    Hmm yeah.. I think I have something now. Thanks Melody!


  7. Money Down Says:

    Unique Selling Proposition. I should have gotten my boss reading this post!


  8. asap Says:

    This is an interesting post. I need to catch up on USP.


  9. Lynn Says:

    Keep in mind that your USP doesn’t have to actually be “unique”. Several very large corporations have successfully marketed their brands by touting features that all their competitors also had, but saying so in a way that made it SEEM that they were the only ones who did that, without coming right out and saying it. A very clever — and effective — tactic.


  10. FitJerk's Fitness Blog Says:

    “I Kick People’s Assess So They’ll Be Adored By The Masses”

    What do you think… pretty unique if I should say so myself. heh I don’t think anyone else would have the balls to copy that one.

    Good article btw. I’d also throw in the idea of an “elevator pitch” after you’ve come up with a kick-ass USP.
    .-= FitJerk’s Fitness Blog´s last blog ..Recipe: Grilled Fish & Berry Blast – FitJerk Friday’s =-.


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