Unique Selling Proposition or USP - The Most
Misunderstood Concept in Small Business Marketing

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Unique Selling Proposition or USP - I hear this term either misused or misunderstood by so many business owners it boggles my mind. This is the single most important term in the marketing lexicon and yet, most small business owners completely ignore it.


Marketing is the number one aspect of any business. You can have the greatest product or service, you can be absolutely brilliant at what you do, but if you haven't got a coordinated marketing effort working for you, you're going to spend a lot of sleepless nights wondering why no one is beating a path to your door.

Just recently, a business owner tried to tell me his unique selling proposition. All six of them. He told me all of his service features and said, "these are the things that make us different from our competitors."

Wrong. Product or service features aren't unique selling propositions. Benefits of your product or service aren't unique selling propositions. So now you're thinking, okay, enough with what it isn't. What is it?

What is a Unique Selling Proposition?

Your Unique Selling Proposition is the reason that anyone contemplating a purchase would be a total idiot to consider anyone else but you. Usually it's a promise or a guarantee that takes all the risk of a purchase and puts it squarely on your shoulders as the product or service provider. Or it's an offer that appears to give the customer so much value that it feels like they're practically getting the product or service for free.

Let me put it this way. Have you ever made a purchase because the first thought that popped into your head when you heard the offer was, "it's a sure thing. I can't lose!" Or, "I'd be a fool to pass that up!"


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"Big Blue" had an impressive USP...

Back in the Sixties and Seventies, before desktop PCs, IMB literally dominated the mainframe computer industry. Not because they had no competitors (they had several, including Honeywell), but because they totally focused on building a reputation of being a "can't lose" purchase.

When you bought a computer from "Big Blue", they sent an army of consultants, technicians and trainers to your office. They handled the installation. They handled the integration. They installed the software and made certain that it functioned seamlessly with your in-house technology. And then they trained your personnel to use the computer. It felt like they never left your side. If you had any questions or problems, they were there in an instant.

IBM became legendary for their service. There's an old saying that came out of that era: "No one ever got fired for hiring IBM".

If you were up for a big promotion, were you going to risk it on the guys down the street that make big promises or the guys out of Rochester, New York who were famous for making you look like a genius. It was a slam-dunk decision. And everybody knew it.

So even though they didn't have a written or even spoken Unique Selling Proposition, they had a core focus that the company and everyone in it was focused on: The client can put their feet up on the desk and relax because "Big Blue" has them covered every which way from Sunday.

What was IBM's product?

So. Can you tell me what IBM sold? Was it top-of-the-line computers? Was it great service? Was it the ability to completely automate your business?

And who was their client? Was it the company that bought their equipment? That's a solid no to all of those.

Their client was the person sitting behind the desk thinking about how they'll feel when they bring home that big promotion or pay raise for hiring Big Blue. Or it was the person in a cubicle worrying about the next personnel cuts and covering their butt by hiring Big Blue.

In other words, they sold peace of mind and security to the person who made the proposal to the top brass. And they sold the same thing to the top brass who didn't want to be holding the bag six months down the road when problems usually pop up.

"No one ever got fired for buying IBM..."

So what can you do with your business to make it look like a slam-dunk decision? What idea can you rebuild your small business around that gives the client or customer the feeling that buying from you is a "sure thing"?

Remember, it's all about perceived value. Getting something for nothing or getting so much value you'd be a fool to pass it up. Just think about those guys selling products on TV.

"But we'll give you TRIPLE that amount, plus the automatic whatsit, twelve whozits, and a whole box full of what-cha-ma-call-its for the amazingly low price of $19.95. But wait! There’s more..."

One caveat: Don't bother coming up with a Unique Selling Proposition if you don't plan to back it up 110%. And I mean back it up fanatically.

You've seen the FedEx commercials where the employee goes way above and beyond expectations to make sure the client is happy? Everyone in your company including yourself has to have that exact same attitude about your USP or it will blow up in your face. And you'll find yourself standing on a street corner with a cardboard sign in a heartbeat.

I have a free Unique Selling Proposition worksheet on my website that only readers of this newsletter have access to. It will take you through a step-by-step process to develop a potent USP for any small business.

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