Hello? Is this thing on?
You might be used to asking that question when you present a sales pitch. Your pitch is amazing, but nobody seems to be hearing it. You’ll be relieved to know that problem is more common than you might think. The truth is, sometimes it’s hard to figure out what’s going to grab your audience’s attention. That makes it feel impossible to stand apart from your competitors.
Don’t worry, though. There’s a solution.
A Unique Selling Proposition, or USP, shows your customers what makes you better than competitors. It fulfills a desire that customers might not even know they had. Or it caters to an undiscovered niche market.
In 1941, Mars Incorporated covered chocolate candy with a hard candy shell. Now, you’re familiar with the candy, but you might not know where it got its start. Believe it or not, Mars created this candy for the military.
The purpose? To keep the chocolate from melting when soldiers carried it in tropical climates. Mars soon recognized that these “M&Ms” could be useful to everyone, not only soldiers. Then they came up with the famous slogan “Melts in your mouth, not in your hands.”
This USP was effective because it invited the consumer to consider the problem. After all, nobody likes a messy, melted chocolate bar. Their unique solution solved that problem. Think about the benefit of carrying chocolate that won’t melt — it’s enormous. The chocolate becomes portable and handy for any occasion you might have a sweet tooth.
This example shows what happens when your audience goes from particular to general. What about the opposite? Think about the many stores selling clothing with pop culture icons on them. Hot Topic is the leading brand, but they thought of a way to make their offerings unique.
They created Torrid, a plus-size store with the same kind of clothing as their original store. Many stores sell plus size clothing, that’s not unique. Torrid provided it in a goth, punk, or pop culture niche. Their tagline, “I am Torrid,” made the simple statement that fun and beauty come in all sizes.
If you want to have your M&M moment and start selling more than you ever have, check out these simple steps for finding your USP.
It’s important to know your audience before you launch your campaign. The more you know about them, the more you can determine their fears and desires. You can get this data through market research or any other number of sources. Use this information to get a clear picture of your ideal customers. Then you can develop personas to keep in mind while writing.
A basic profile will include the following:
Imagine you’re tasked with increasing banana sales in the Midwest. You’ve decided to focus on single mothers, age 18-34, with no college degree. Now it’s time to build up a profile to keep in mind when you write.
Think of a typical single mother named Tammy. She wants to feed her children something healthy, but she doesn’t have a lot of time to cook. Her goal could be to go back to school, but she’s juggling two part-time jobs.
Tammy gets most of her information from Facebook, Twitter, and Cosmopolitan Magazine. She’s owned a smartphone since she was seven years old so she has trouble reading longer content. She needs short, quick bursts of information to grab her attention and tell her what to do. There’s so much going on in her life that can’t sit and think about everything.
Empathy maps can also help you get in your audience’s head. Draw a square and divide it into four more squares. The top two squares will have “says and does” and “thinks and feels” written in them. Label the bottom two squares as “hears” and “sees.” Put “pains” and “gains” in a list on the side of the square.
Let’s use Tammy as an example for creating our empathy map.
Tammy says to herself, “I need something easy to feed my kids,” or “I can’t afford expensive snacks. She usually ignores the produce aisle in favor of the shelf-stable and packaged foods.
She thinks bananas are boring. They don’t have much flavor and her kids don’t like them. They also expire sooner. She’s overwhelmed because she has to work two jobs and take care of her kids. They’re finicky eaters
Tammy hears a lot of conflicting information. There’s a lot of parenting blogs and women’s magazines. Her mother always gives her opinion, and her children complain about healthy food.
She sees that there are many kinds of fruit to choose from. Apples, strawberries, pears, oranges, bananas. She can’t decide which ones to buy.
Her pains are that bananas have a limited shelf life. Chips and fruit snacks last a lot longer, and her kids like them better. But on the gains side, she notices that bananas don’t take a lot of effort to prepare. You can eat them alone, or add something like peanut butter.
Search engines like Google make it easy to gather information about your competition. Google your main competitor and check out their websites and reviews. Try third party sites that rate products and services. Your main competitor could be Chiquita bananas. The first pages include news articles about bad working conditions at Chiquita. This is information you could use later.
One trick is to put your company or product in the search bar with the word “versus” or “vs.” added to the end. Look at the drop-down menu of suggested searches. Typing “bananas vs.” into the search bar will give suggestions. You might see “bananas versus plantains,” “apples,” “blueberries,” “oranges,” and “strawberries.”
Read up on your competition. There’s a lot of information out there, and not only online. Dig a little deeper. Try trade publications or an investor’s prospectus.
Identify value props and USPs. Let’s have fun thinking about slogans for other fruit. There’s the famous saying “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” It’s effective because it shows cause and effect. It denotes the benefit of eating apples — it “keeps the doctor away” by improving your health. It also rhymes and sticks in your head.
Points of parity show what you have in common with others in your industry. It’s important to know where you’re coming from and how you match their offerings. There are two main aspects — category and competitive.
Imagine you’re selling deep-fried banana poppers. They’re popular, but then the public becomes more concerned about health issues. They might read something about saturated fats. Or you could read about the increase in peanut allergies prevalent in modern society. So you’d stop using peanut oil and find one that’s safe and low in saturated fat — like canola oil.
Arby’s sees that you’re cutting into their market and adds fruit to their menu. They might be selling strawberry poppers with jalapenos. You need to differentiate yourself from Arby’s. Let’s say you introduce tangy poppers with a balsamic vinaigrette. You could add cinnamon and sugar to your bananas before you fry them.
We also have the concept of “points of differentiation.” These are the ways your product differs from that of your competitor. We’ll discuss several types of these.
With vertical differentiation, you might emphasize quality over price, or price over quality. Consider your target audience and the competition. Imagine your company sells banana-shaped cell phones. Your banana-shaped cell phone is more expensive, but it has a better camera. Or, you might decide that you’ll sacrifice quality to offer a lower price.
With horizontal differentiation, the products are roughly the same quality and value. Consumers decide based on subjective preferences alone. Your competition offers banana-shaped phones, so you debut a variety of colors. Unique offerings like tie-dye purple, glitter rainbow, and pink marble.
Your phones aren’t any better than the others. You’ve offered different choices that some consumers prefer.
Value proposition is the main motivator for a customer to buy your product or use your service.
Remember our example about Chiquita Bananas? We Googled them and found that they’ve had some human rights issues. This creates an opportunity for us to differentiate ourselves from them. That’s when we provide a unique offering that other banana companies wouldn’t have.
It’s not about you. It’s about the customer and their pain points. Look at it from their point of view. What do they need? What problems do they have that your typical company doesn’t address? It’s about their journey, their resolution.
Consider the customer’s pain points. Think about how your product benefits them or provides a solution. There’s a difference between features and benefits. It’s easy to come up with features, but what makes your USP compelling is how your features fix their problems. The benefits of your product are what the customer cares about.
Remember what makes your product different from others in your industry. Choose one or more features that you have in common with other companies, then find a way to make it better. Make it more unique, more accessible, or higher quality.
Use strong, specific language. Don’t use passive voice or weasel words like “maybe” or “probably.” Use a thesaurus if you have trouble coming up with a stronger version of what you’re wanting to say.
Keep the headline short, then give three benefits of your company and its products. Don’t stop at writing a slogan, but that can be a part of it. Five seconds or less. Thirty seconds or less. Whatever you need depending on your medium of advertising.
This may seem overwhelming at first, but that’s why you do the work and plan ahead of time. No need to fly by the seat of your pants when planning your unique selling proposition. Careful planning will bring you the results you need.
You think you’ve got it right, but there’s one more step before you go live. Test your new campaign with a sample of your target audience. The following are methods that every company should know about.
In science, you use a control sample and a variable sample. Try one variable for each USP and compare it to a standard group and a test group. Imagine that you have a USP that begins with the headline “All-American snack food.” You could test it against “Best snack food in the U.S.”
Remember, the larger the pool of data, the more likely you are to get accurate results. Make sure each pool has similar demographics as your test audience. You want to be as specific as possible when testing a change.
Check your results and see which one led to more conversions. This could be as simple as testing a web page or going out of your way to send two different versions of a flyer in the mail. Change one variable to go back to the beginning until satisfied with the data.
Focus groups encourage a group of people to answer questions and respond to each other. Start with engagement questions and familiarize your group with your product. You may even encourage them to introduce themselves to each other. But be careful. One person could dominate the group and influence everyone else. Then you could end up with skewed results.
Explore with deeper, probing questions about how they feel. Ask a series of prepared questions and see how much you can find out from one group. Then do three or four other focus groups with new people. Online focus groups make it easier to hear everyone’s feedback, but you miss non-verbal cues.
Google has a new way to add randomness to the ads that you take out with them. Instead of having one or two ads at a time, you can have many headlines and many descriptive lines.
Artificial intelligence analyzes people’s preferences. It uses these preferences to pick the best combination of sentences to appeal to them. These targeted advertisements have more utility than your standard USP. Play around with keywords and different CTAs to see how it works out in real-time.
Write it, refine it, test it. It’s like the instructions on a shampoo bottle. Lather, rinse repeat. When your unique selling proposition is getting the results that you need, you’ll know it.
Decide on your target audience from the very beginning. Use persona maps and empathy maps to get inside the head of your typical consumer. Once you understand their problems and their needs, you’ll see how your product solves them.
Examine your competitors and look for weaknesses. Find out where they lack in their business model and brand presence. Poke holes in them and see where you can fill them in. Show how your company solves needs where others can’t.
Start with the general and make it particular and unique. A good value proposition can be the cornerstone of good copy. Choose a statement that best illustrates how your company stands out from the crowd. Then you’re ready to test it on your audience.
How do you feel about this process? Which of these methods sounds the most useful to you? Let me know in the comments below. I always enjoy hearing your feedback!
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