Whether you’re talking to a potential customer, job candidate or cocktail dinner guest, the easiest place to start talking about your company is probably the business USP – what makes your product or service different? But it’s difficult to define a USP that doesn’t rely on industry buzzwords or hypothetical jargon.
Organisation in the same industry often have business USPs that are easily interchangeable or have been poorly communicated to customers.
Be the Business had a look at developing a business USP based on the position you have in the market, how it connects to profitability and communication.
Define a business USP based your market
A unique selling proposition (USP) defines the qualities that make a product or service more desirable than its competitors. This means thinking about your customers and why they buy products is an obvious place to start: what are the three to five things that will make them choose your business?
Jeff Kelisky joined Seedrs as CEO a year ago to help build the architecture that would allow the company to scale. Kelisky believes a business USP has five dimensions: cost, quality, choice, speed and design.
“You weigh the importance of those dimensions when understanding what customers want, and then relative to the industry, assess where there’s a gap. That’s your anchor. Either that, or you may be going head to head with the industry, which is a strategy, but it’s much more difficult and your value proposition is then not really grounded in a USP,” explained Kelisky.
What has Seedrs picked? The equity crowdfunding platform allows multiple investors to buy shares in a private company, so the Seedrs product is essentially a legal contract between an investor and a business.
Seedrs focuses on quality, according to Kelisky, who added the difference between cost and other differentiators often causes companies issues.
“Cost is key to really drive scale, but we don’t lean into it as a USP to win business. We believe quality is essential to win, but excellence in building efficiency is essential to scale. When you go from tens, to hundreds or even thousands of investments, we need to do that with ease. A typical venture capital model doesn’t work that way,” he said.
Kelisky believes a lot of companies fail because they don’t pick between being led by cost or differentiation.
On a similar note, James Crawford launched PR Agency One because he was unhappy about the way PR campaigns were measured and defined its USP around this problem.
“I was sick of shoddy reporting in the PR industry. It felt like no one had the answer to PR measurement bar a small band of expensive consultants.
“I slowly pieced together our own approach to measurement and today we have a number of measurement products that our clients benefit from,” explained Crawford.
The products now underpin the company’s offering and set it apart from the competition – “It’s quite a persuasive USP,” Crawford added.
Scoring USP attributes
Businesses can develop an internal scoring system that relates to the five key differentiators – cost, quality, choice, speed and design – to define a USP. These are included and weighted based on the company’s priorities.
This can become part of the internal language of the business, feeding into KPIs and helping explain why projects are prioritised or dropped.
“You should be able to see a correlation between the score and success,” explained Kelisky. “If your score is higher than your competition the business should earn higher than industry average profitability or be taking market share.”
It’s a difficult process for new businesses or offerings. It’s hard to know what market share and profitability really depend upon, and how to measure those factors. However, the process will evolve and self-correct over time.
Kelisky thinks it’s useful for early-stage organisations to have a simple business USP because each are new to the market and customers don’t know what they want from them yet.
USPs normally centre around a single aspect of the business’s offering. However, this should cascade into general business performance. For example, an airline might cite on-time departures. This is about customer service, but it’s also about all of the costs, such as refunds, fuel and overtime, that come from a plane being late.
Communicating USP to customers
Communicating a business USP to customers and staff requires persistence.
“Getting this message across has been a constant struggle,” said PR Agency One’s Crawford. “Some clients come to us because they have heard about our approach and that is just great. Often, they have found out about the USP from another marketing consultant, from a conference we have spoken at or a press article.”
Speaking at events, blogging, social media and marketing literature are useful. Talking about the USP in the initial consultation helps too, he added.
Seedrs struggled in its early stages. You don’t know the quality of a crowdfunding platform’s legal structure until you’ve raised money and moved on to another funding round.
Kelisky said that with persistence and sticking to your beliefs, the process gets easier. The early adopters of any new product are more willing to take risks, but in our industry as the market matures, quality, security and customer experience become paramount.
Repetition is key. Remember to talk about your USP when discussing different aspects of business development, whether it’s new products, marketing campaigns or R&D. Asking employees if they know the USP is a useful test of how well it’s been communicated.
USPs have their genesis in marketing. It defined how companies talked to consumers about their products, reportedly as far back as TV adverts from the 1940s. Today, the scope is broader and it can be helpful guide to define what your company does and measure its progress.
Ensuring you define a USB that isn’t just hypothetical jargon mean spending time considering the company’s position in the market. Think about what customers want from the product and the different attributes that define this desire, whether it’s the speed of the service, the quality of manufacturing or something else. Make sure the combination of these attribute is truly unique and be ruthless about using simple language accessible to an industry layman.
The process doesn’t stop when you’ve defined a USP. It should be used constantly internally and externally, and can provide a useful tool to measure progress. Think about how the business is performing against those attributes and compare that to gains in profitability and market share.
Most of all, be wary of USPs that include unnecessary jargon or could easily represent another company in the market.