What a USP Is, Why You Need One ASAP, and How to Create One for Your Service-Based Business So You Can Get More Business, Bookings & Sales [Part 1 of 3]

Photo by Ine Carriquiry on Unsplash

[This is the first installment of a 3-part series on creating a memorable USP. You can find Part Two here, and Part Three here.]

“Your USP can mean the difference between success and failure.” Corbett Barr, Fizzle.co, from The Ultimate Guide to Finding Your Unique Selling Proposition

Oh, how true that is.

I know it well, because I stupidly didn’t create a USP (and the signature messaging to go with it) for my service-based business when I first got started online, the result of which was months of wasted time, weeping into my wine on a regular basis, and working myself to a frazzle with nothing to show for it.

I came very, very close to giving up on my business entirely, a story I’ve told before.

If you want to avoid my dumb mistakes, then I urge you to take Corbett Barr’s assertion that “deciding on a USP is possibly the most important decision you can make about your business,” seriously. 

Before we get into the finer points of USPs and how creating a compelling one will help you sell more, let’s talk definitions.

I started my copywriting and marketing career way back in the dark ages, round about 2001.

Since then, I’ve seen/read/heard enough definitions for various marketing terms – USP (unique selling proposition), UVP (unique value proposition), positioning statement, Point of Difference (POD), differentiation, core marketing message, and many, many others – to make my head spin.

Many of these terms are used interchangeably.

Heck, despite my years in the marketing trenches, even I started to feel overwhelmed trying to make sense of it all while researching this article. (And I’ve got the 40-page research document to prove it.)

All of which is to say, there are marketing nerds out there who may disagree about what, exactly, a USP is, but I care not one whit about that.

The important thing to know is that you need to do something to distinguish yourself/your business online, and your USP is how you do that. Because without a compelling USP, you’ll struggle to get any kind of traction at all (been there, done that).

For our purposes here, I define a USP (unique selling proposition) as:

The collection of factors unique to you and your business that compel your ideal clients to choose you over someone else who offers a similar product or service. This will be based, in part, on the kind of clients and customers you serve, and their needs / desires related to the thing you sell.

Now, if you want an “official” definition of what a USP is, here’s one  from businessdictionary.com:

Real or perceived benefit of a good or service that differentiates it from the competing brands —and gives its buyer a logical reason to prefer it over other brands. USP is often a critical component of a promotional theme around which an advertising campaign is built.

Corbett Barr defines a USP like so:

Your unique selling proposition is what makes your business stand out. It’s what makes you different and earns you a special place in the minds of your potential customers.

I like to think of your overall USP as your reason for being. Think about it from your customer’s point of view. With tens or hundreds of potential options out there, you have to answer the question, “why should I buy from you?” ~Corbett Barr

It’s unlikely that your product or service is unique in and of itself, so figuring out what makes you different – whether this is your process, your personality, your backstory, your specialization, your target audience, or all of the above (and it’s usually some combination of all of the above) – and conveying that in your online marketing will give you a competitive edge.

Like brilliant marketer Derek Halpern, says, “It’s not about finding unique ingredients, it’s about finding a unique recipe.”  

Take me, for example. I’m a conversion-focused marketing copywriter specializing in website and email copy, which is not unique in and of itself, but the combination of the clients I serve + my experience, expertise, offerings, personality & style, approach and backstory is.

Meaningful Difference vs USP

As I’ve mentioned in previous blog posts, newsletters, and elsewhere, I prefer the term “meaningful difference,” rather than USP. This is because often people hear “unique selling proposition,” and get wigged out about the “selling” part of unique selling proposition.

If that’s you, then think of your USP as your “meaningful difference.”

What is a meaningful difference, you ask?

Nigel Hollis, Executive Vice President and Chief Global Analyst, Insights Division, Kantar, defines it like so:

So what’s a meaningful difference? I think of it this way. We humans find it impossible to judge anything in isolation. We tend to compare things to very close alternatives. So a difference, a factor that distinguishes one item from another, gets our attention. And while a difference may be apparent to most people, it won’t seem important to everyone. A meaningful difference is one that is considered to be important—one that provides a brand with a meaning that is likely to have an influence on a person’s brand choice. [Bold highlighting mine]

According to Hollis:

In the absence of a meaningful difference, the cheapest brand may be regarded as the best choice. Lack of differentiation turns brands into commodities and marketing messages into white noise. But a meaningful difference can spark consumer interest and fuel demand for a brand, even when that brand carries a significant price premium. In today’s complex, confusing, and increasingly impersonal world, people cherish meaning wherever they find it, whether it’s in a brand, a memory, or a lump of rock. So to build value, give people a reason to cherish your brand. [Bold highlighting mine]

Think about that – “a meaningful difference can spark consumer interest and fuel demand for a brand, even when that brand carries a significant price premium.” [Italics mine]

Look no further than well-known brands Apple, Harley Davidson, and designer Tory Burch, to see this principle in action.

You could buy a computer, or a motorcycle, or clothes much more cheaply from plenty of other companies, but the cache attached to these three brands because of their position and differentiation in the marketplace makes their ideal customers insanely eager to pay premium prices for them.  Heck, they even line up around city blocks for hours, just for the privilege of paying premium prices, in the case of Apple.  

That’s the power of effective differentiation, AKA, meaningful difference.

[Hollis’ notion of meaningful difference is much more nuanced and in-depth than I have room to talk about here. I suggest you read his article, Not Just Different but Meaningfully Different.”]

How Your USP Informs Your Signature Marketing Message 

Ok, now we’re clear on what a unique selling proposition (USP) or meaningful difference (MD) is.

This is fantastic information to have, because a USP / MD is a key part of your signature marketing message.

And your signature marketing message is what attracts and converts your ideal clients and customers.

What is your marketing message, exactly? Is it your tagline? Your mission statement? Your company’s vision statement? The details of the product or service you provide? A combination of all the above?

The following excerpt comes from my guide, Marketing Messages That Convert: A Step-by-Step Copy Messaging Guide for Solopreneurs, Freelancers, Creative Business Builders & Other Non-Marketing Types

The way I define a marketing message is this: it’s the combination of things about you and your business — that you already possess! — that put together the right way, will help you attract and connect with your ideal clients & customers (your “ICA,” or ideal client avatar), stand out from the online crowd (instead of being a copycat version of every other person for hire out there doing what you do), and, once you’re getting consistent quality traffic to your website, help you get more business, bookings and sales.

It’s created from your ideal client profile, your unique selling proposition (USP), or what I prefer to think of as your “meaningful difference,” your expertise, and your unique backstory, among other things.

So, if it were a formula, it would look something like this:

ICA + USP + your expertise + your life experience & unique backstory + your worldview applied to your ideal client or customers’ challenges & how you will solve them = your overarching marketing message

You’ll weave this in on your website, blog posts, newsletters, social media updates, and all your marketing communications, wherever you’re in conversation with your audience.

Your signature marketing message is what compels your ideal clients and customers to choose you over all the other choices they have, it tells them why you’re exactly the right person or business to solve their problems and challenges, and it begins to tell them how you’ll do so.

Your messaging should strike an emotional cord with your ideal/desired audience, and make them feel like, “Yes, this is exactly who I want to work with. Where do I sign up?”

Here’s another way to think of it:

The hook/big idea/marketing message of your business answers the question, “Of all the other [thing you do] out there who are equally talented, skilled, and experienced, why should your ideal clients choose you?”

A marketing message that converts will entice your desired clients and customers to take some kind of conversion action, such as subscribing to your email list, signing up for a free consult, inquiring about working with you, making a purchase, or similar.

If you want to learn more about the process I recommend for finding your marketing message/s, I invite you to check out the Marketing Messages That Convert guide here.

Ok, that’s it for Part One, folks.

Coming up next week, in Part Two, I’ll be talking about 5 ways a compelling USP will help you get more business, bookings & sales, then in the final installment the following week [Part Three], I’ll share Real! Live! Examples! of USPs that have helped businesses of all kinds develop enormous brand loyalty with their target audience & stand out in their (very often) saturated niche. My hope is that you’ll look to those examples for inspiration in creating your own memorable USP and the signature marketing message that naturally goes along with it.


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