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Find Your Unique Selling Point

By: Eric Giltner, Senior Area Manager
Grand Forks Area Office - North Dakota District Office

All too often, the services and products offered by many small businesses are thrown together much like the hot dish served by grandmother. If we can do it, let’s offer the service.  If we can get the product from the vendor, let’s put it on the shelf. The result is the business ends up with no real identity that allows for a strong connection to its customers. On the flip side, some businesses model themselves off of their competition and leave the consumer with a rather generic list of choices. As an example, a recent review of the yellow page ads for motels in a North Dakota city showed a similar pattern in the message conveyed to the consumer: comfortable rooms, pool, meeting rooms, corporate rates, spa, plug-ins, etc. Not a single motel stood out with a Unique Selling Point (USP).

To find this USP for your business, it is important to identify where your offering is more valuable and a better solution for your customer’s problem than your competitor’s offering. Once a USP is identified, a business needs to support it with its product/service offerings, distribution scheme, and communication or advertising strategies. For example, if a hair salon wishes to establish an USP as a high-end provider of beauty and cosmetology services, it should then seek a location (distribution scheme) in an area befitting this higher level of service. A location in a secondary, run-down strip mall between a pawn shop and a tattoo parlor just won’t support the selected USP.

The process of creating a marketable USP starts with a review of the product/service attributes offered by your business. What makes your product/service unique?  Does it solve a problem, fill a market niche overlooked by your competitors, or are you the quick response provider? Perhaps your offering enhances another product or has simplicity of use not offered by your competition. Many businesses build a USP around the level of service offered beyond the sale. In the case of the salon example given above, the attractiveness and austerity of the location will support a strategy as a high-end service provider.

Some businesses build their USP by asking “Why would someone be attracted to our product or services?” USP building blocks for this question could include any of the following: the product/service is locally produced, the firm has a pricing advantage over the competition, the firm offers several purchase options, the competition has a poor reputation, or the guarantee of availability.

Other considerations to be given in identifying a USP include the safety and health advantages of the offering, the prestige and visibility of the product when in use, or the product is custom made for individual needs and uses. A business could also use the characteristic of the purchase process to identify a USP. For example, if the product is a long-term, one-time purchase item such as a hot tub, a business could market itself as a destination worth finding to ensure the long-term satisfaction of the consumer. Businesses offering products or services driven by impulse purchasing need to build a USP focused on the availability and visibility of its locations.

Once a business can identify a unique selling point, it needs to develop a message or tag line to communicate this advantage to its customers. For example, Burger King used the “Have It Your Way” USP for many years to compete with and differentiate itself from McDonald’s. Care should be given to ensure all of the aspects of the business can support the USP. Burger King would have suffered greatly if it did not have a service design to allow its customers to 'have it their way' in a timely manner.

In summation, a business should be able to support the claim suggested by its chosen USP, provide a compatible product or service offering, communicate this USP through proper advertising strategies, and have a distribution scheme that fits the chosen message.

Eric GiltnerEric Giltner is a Senior Area Manager for the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA). In this role, Eric trains and connects entrepreneurs and small business owners with the services they need to confidently start, grow, and expand their businesses. He frequently speaks at small business events across North Dakota and presents online webinars. Eric writes about small business topics for the SBA's North Dakota District Office newsletter, Dakota Business, and often shares business tips Thursday mornings on KNOX radio. As Senior Area Manager, Eric also works with SBA resource partners, chambers, economic developers, and lenders to support entrepreneurship in North Dakota. Prior to joining SBA in 1998, Eric served as assistant to the dean of the UND College of Business and Public Administration. He received his B.S. Degree in Geological Engineering and his Master's Degree in Business Administration from the University of North Dakota. Eric can be reached at