The concept of a unique selling proposition, or USP, was first proposed in the 1940s by marketing researcher Rosser Reeves.  The term describes the reason leading marketing campaigns achieved superior results from competitive campaigns.  These days, the term USP has been used to describe why one business is uniquely superior to its competitors.  In other words, USP describes the desirable characteristic of a product or service that can only be acquired from that particular company.  For example, the following slogans described how these companies gained superiority and market dominance through their USP.

Federal Express: When it has to be there, absolutely, positively, overnight.

Domino’s Pizza: Fresh, hot pizza delivered to your door within 30 minutes, or it’s free.

M&Ms: Melt in your mouth, not in your hands.

These examples indicate how a USP can be created and used effectively.  Each of these slogans highlight a recognized industry problem that is solved by the particular product.  For FedEx, the problem was reliable, overnight delivery of packages.  For Domino’s the problem in the industry was cold, unappetizing pizza delivered long after it had been ordered.  M&Ms solved the problem of chocolate covered fingers.

To effectively create your own USP, the first place to look is at the way your industry currently operates and see if you can identify a standard practice that creates an annoyance factor for customers.  These annoyance factors are often difficult to spot, because they occur in areas that have been assumed to be unimportant and are taken for granted by almost everybody in the industry.  For example, in the health care industry, a visit to a local GP is often set for a specific time, but most patients have to wait around long after the appointed time until the doctor is ready to see them.  Very few doctors seem to worry about this poor service factor and take it for granted that customers will put up with it.  After all, that’s just the way it is.  Go down the road to the next GP and you will find it’s just the same.

Well, what if an efficient, customer focused doctor decided that a competitive advantage could be gained by dropping some of the service elements that caused the normal delays, so that appointments could be kept on time, guaranteed or there would be no charge, without sacrificing the important medical service factors?  There would be a stampede of busy, time constrained people to their door.  They would not satisfy every patient in the market, but that’s not the point.  Their USP would be “on time appointments.”  They would quickly dominate the market niche of people who needed to receive speedy, timely medical service.

This type of approach has worked in many market areas.  For example, One Hour Photo Developing, 24 Hour Dry Cleaning, 60 Minute Courier service.  Developing a USP is not about coming up with a totally unique product, although that would be good.  It is more about differentiation of a specific element of service which no one else offers to a significant market segment.  When you can achieve superiority in one element that is highly valued by that market segment, you can name your own price.  This marketing strategy is about maximising profits rather than share of the market.  You may even alienate a section of the general market with you USP, but still be better off.  If your USP is crafted properly, you will dominate that market segment your offering targets, because they have a particular problem that only you have decided to solve.

How to Develop Your USP

Conduct a market research exercise to determine what customers are dissatisfied with in the way your industry serves them.  These surveys can easily be done online these days, at low cost.  When you have sufficient feedback, analyze the answers to your survey and see if a common factor emerges.  In most cases, this won’t be difficult to identify.  You may find more than one.  Then determine how you could do things differently to solve the problem and work out a strategy that can easily be implemented to enable you to communicate that you have a unique approach that means people with this problem will find your solution very appealing.

A great book to read is Blue Ocean Strategy, by W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne, for more ideas on how to develop a winning USP.