Optimization glossary

Unique selling point

What is a unique selling point?

A unique selling point (USP), also called a unique selling proposition, is the essence of what makes your product or service better than competitors. In online marketing, communicating your USP clearly and quickly is one of the keys to getting potential customers to convert on your site.

Why are unique selling points important?

A unique selling point defines your company’s unique position in the marketplace, getting at the heart of your business: the value you offer and the problem you solve. A strong USP clearly articulates a specific benefit – one that other competitors don’t offer – that makes you stand out.

If all the products appear to be the same, your prospective customers won’t know which one is right for them. Being clear about your unique selling proposition helps them differentiate between the variety of choices available to them. It is a crucial part of effective selling, otherwise all your marketing efforts will go unnoticed and blend in, especially online with so many options.

A USP can also serve an important role internally, as it forces you to consider your company’s mission and its very reason for being. A successful business often determines which of their key competitive differentiators are clear.

As a business owner, you need to consider and communicate who your business is for, what drives you to offer the services you offer, and how you want to make impact in the target market.

Your USP is your key differentiator and the reason your customer will buy from you and an important part of your marketing strategy for attracting new customers.

Examples or good unique selling points

Toms Shoes is a shoe manufacturer. Again, there is nothing especially unique about that. But Toms Shoes’ unique selling point is that for every pair of shoes a customer purchases, the company donates a pair to a child in need. Toms Shoes helps put shoes on needy children’s feet; this is a strong unique selling proposition.

Nike is yet another company known for selling shoes. Yet they are differentiated from Toms because they focus primarily on athletic shoes with prominent sponsorships with star athletes. Their USP is that they provide the best quality shoes for athletes and fitness in general.

Those are just a few examples of unique selling propositions. USPs are by their nature unique to each business, but roughly fall into three major categories:

  • Quality - Superior materials or ingredients, superior craftsmanship, proprietary manufacturing methods, one of a kind

  • Price - The lowest price guaranteed, price matching, free shipping, bulk discounts, special offers

  • Services - Easy returns, personalization, great customer service or even advice and a curated selection of products and goods

For established companies, the USP can eventually become synonymous with their brand, as the company’s name is automatically associated with the unique value proposition that the brand offers.

Unique selling points differences per industry

Depending on the type of products or services your company is trying to sell, different selling points may be relevant. For example, if you’re and entrepreneur selling clothing goods as a retailer, you might find different selling points appeal to customers than if you’re a small business selling consulting services. Here are some templates you can follow:

  • For retail, typically customers are looking for unique selling points around products and services. You can add value to existing products as well, if you’re not producing them yourself.

    • Are your goods unique to your store, or is your selection hand-curated. An example of the latter could be products that are very durable or environmentally friendly, customers would seek out your store for that guarantee.

    • Do you offer any services other retails don’t, like payment plans or free returns

    • If you’re reselling goods, can your goods be personalized or made unique

  • For Manufacturing and Wholesale companies, it can be hard to find a competitive advantage when most companies compete on price. It’s important to be entrepreneurial and offer compelling usps to set your company apart.

    • Are you offering faster shipping or securities (like insurance)

    • Special bulk or tiered pricing for purchasing commitments

    • Do you have stock of products that are hard to come by otherwise, like local distribution or EOL (end of life) products

  • Services might find different reasons appeal to customers all together. It can be hard to adapt your business model to feature more unique selling points, but that’s all the more reason to focus on them to set yourself apart from the pack.

    • Focus on high-quality services, maybe your company can differentiate itself in quality of services delivered

    • Address common pain points customers might be dealing with, for example a travel agency might add car rentals on top of their flight and hotel offerings to save customers a step when planning a trip

Why the selling points need to be ‘unique’

In the age of the e-commerce business, apps and social media, everything and everyone is accessible online. The same resources you have at your disposal, your competitor has at their disposal too. You have to stand out from the crowd. If you’ve ever heard the principle ‘purple cow’ before, that’s a great analogy for this situation.

As marketing guru Seth Godin once described in his aptly titled book “Purple Cow: transform your business by being remarkable”, you’d never notice a normal cow as you’re driving past an open field. But an purple cow, that would be remarkable. It’d stand out from the other cows.

You need to solve customer needs in the same way. Customers online will come across many businesses that offer similar, if not the exact same, set of products and services you do. You might figure your offering to be unique already, but if you fail to address your marketing messages specifically at your ideal customer in a compelling way, you’ll blend in with all the other cows.

Something you shouldn’t forget is that unique selling points may become commoditized and less unique over time. Probably the best example of this for e-commerce businesses and retailers is free shipping. A purple cow at first, but now that everyone is offering it, that cow starts to look less purple by the minute. The best way to prevent blending in, is to reevaluate your USPs every once in a whole, talk to your ideal customers directly and figure out if you’re still addressing all their pain points.

How to communicate your unique selling point

There are many ways a company can communicate their USP to their customers and prospects. A few commonly employed methods include:

  • Advertising - Traditional media advertising and brand marketing campaigns can be a good way for a new business to get their brand in front of their target audience and communicate their USP.

  • Social Media - Social media is a large driver of brand awareness for many companies. Having a strong presence on social networks and working with social media influencers can be a way for companies to communicate their USP.

  • Content Marketing - Creating interesting or viral content that also talks about how and why a company is different from the competition can be a good way to communicate USPs.

  • Digital Marketing - For an online store or digital business, the USP is often presented as the tagline of a webpage or as a bulleted list on a product page.

  • Search Marketing - Improving a website's SEO and ranking for key terms in search engines such as Google can be a good way for a company to generate visibility and communicate their USPs.

How to test your USP with A/B testing

If you are uncertain about what drives your customers to buy from you, then A/B testing your company’s USP on landing pages can help. By testing different USPs against each other, you can determine the messages that resonate best with your target audience by measuring a specific conversion goal such as a product purchase.

Let’s say that you sell Lutz marbles, a rare collectible type of marble. You are not sure whether people are more compelled to buy them for the ‘goldstone’ in the marbles or their age (they are more than 100 years old).

Should your unique selling point be the goldstone or their age?

You could find the answer to this question by setting up an A/B test for your landing page where you test two different headlines:

  • Variation A: Precious & Rare ‘Goldstone’ Marbles for Sale

  • Variation B: Precious & Rare 100-Year Old Marbles for Sale

(By the way, the USP on a landing page isn’t always just the headline; it usually consists of some combination of a headline, subheadline and a bulleted list of benefits).

Using a service like Optimizely Web Experimentation, you can track marble purchases as your conversion goal and see which USP gets a higher percentage of conversions.