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What is a USP and How Do You Establish It?

What is a USP and How Do You Establish It

When I started in marketing some 30 years ago, 90% of conversations with new clients would end up being about how to find a Unique Selling Proposition. Nowadays, you hardly hear the term USP mentioned.

Mainly for 3 reasons:

  1. There are too many shiny objects to chase after today
  2. Creating a Unique Selling Proposition is just too hard
  3. We’ll come to this reason later.

Creating USPs is hard. Even the gurus struggle. I once upended a presentation being given by Jay Abraham and another famous name consultant who was trying to pass off Toyota’s advertising slogan ‘the car in front is a Toyota’ as a great example of a USP.

Like I said, even the best struggle with USP creation.

The Lost Art Of Unique Selling Proposition Creation

So let’s talk about how you can create a USP for your Business/Product/Service that, whilst everyone else is focused on shiny objects, will enable you to trigger exponential sales growth.

Other than the following brief explanation, I’m going to assume that you know what a USP is. A USP answers the question ‘Why should I do business with you rather than any other competitive option available to me (and in some instances, I might add), including doing it myself or choosing to do nothing at all?’. Sort of kills ‘the car in front is a Toyota’ dead, don’t you think?

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Anyway, you’ll recall from our previous article on ‘egoic labels’ that I’ve got a bad case of marketing OCD (obsessive customer drive).

So for a couple of years, I obsessed over creating USPs. Eventually, I ended up creating dozens of Unique Selling Proposition frameworks including The Fatal Flaw USP™, The White Knight USP™, The Contrarian USP™, and The Guillotine USP™. Today I’m going to share with you an example of The Contrarian USP™

I’d just finished a 2-hour seminar on USPs when a lumbering hulk of a man approached me and made me an offer that it sounded like I’d better not refuse. Actually, it turned out he was sort of begging for help but his door-filling presence and thick Czechoslovakian accent made everything he said sound kinda threatening.

Anyway, before I get carried away thinking I’m Steve King, here’s the plot in a paragraph. He owns a hotel. There’s a recession. Business is B-A-D. Competition is fierce amongst the thousands of hotels in this vacation resort. Prices are falling. As is occupancy. Profit is non-existent. Bills aren’t being paid. The bank wants their money back. Or the keys to the hotel. Oh yeah – and his wife is threatening to leave him because he’s such a bad-tempered S.O.B.

I soon got to experience this first hand whilst sitting in the hotel lounge discussing turnaround options with him and his wife. They were halfway through telling how impossible the situation was and about how they tried ‘everything’ they could to turn things around when he suddenly sprang to his feet and shouted goodness knows what in Czechoslovakian at the parents of a gang of kids that had been running wild through the hotel throughout our meeting.

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Not one of them spoke Czechoslovakian, but they all seemed to get the gist of what he’d said and a moment later the lounge was empty of kids and parents. The ogres’ wife apologized to me as he continued his tirade to himself.

Seems like he hates badly behaved kids I thought. (Sometimes I can be kinda quick like that – lol.)

So, I quickly ran the scenario through my mental list of USP frameworks and landed on #12: The Contrarian USP™ which was ‘NO _______ GUARANTEED!’

I wrote it on a piece of paper filling in the blank and held it up for him to read. “This is your new USP,” I said. “NO KIDS GUARANTEED! We run it as a headline – in fact, no, we’ll replace all of your copy in the ad with just these 3 words and people just like you and me will know exactly why they should choose your hotel over the other 999 in town.”

“You must be crazy” he shouted. In perfect English this time – he clearly didn’t want his feelings lost in translation.

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A week and several meetings later – including one with their accountant to figure out how much we needed to increase prices in order to dig ourselves out of the financial hole they were in – and we were on the phone to the newspaper placing the new advertisement.

The day the ad ran, the phones blew up and they were inundated with bookings. At way higher prices than all of their neighbors. Within a week they were fully booked for the rest of the season whilst vacancy signs still shouted for attention in all of their neighbor’s windows.

By the end of the season instead of handing the keys to the bank, they were depositing a very large check from the sale of the business.

Of course, there are twists and turns to this story, that for this brevity don’t make the edit. Like how they woke one morning to find reporters from a national newspaper camping on their doorstep looking to do an ‘outraged’ story on them. Or how some looney threatened to take them to the European Court of Human Rights.

But that’s the thing with Unique Selling Propositions – by definition they are UNIQUE which means you are often challenging the status quo. A USP many times means you are saying a hard ‘no’ to certain parts of the market so you can get a ‘hell yeah’ from a typically much more profitable part of the market.

And yes, that may mean some people get offended – snowflakes have been around for a while ya’ know. This brings me to the third reason people shy away from creating a meaningful USP.

You actually need to be quite brave, and sometimes, maybe even as brave as a Czechoslovakian ogre.

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