When you’re hired by a client who’s a small business owner, chances are they haven’t differentiated their brand enough from their competitors. In this article, I cover the unique sales proposition (USP), a powerful (and central) concept not just in copywriting, but in marketing in general.

A unique sales proposition (USP) is an essential consideration for any business. In a nutshell, it’s something unique you’ve got. And it can be what distinguishes your business from the competition.

There are a few ways to consider how to differentiate your client’s business. The most obvious are the USP, positioning, and the niche (specialization). So say a new client, Adam, has just finished setting up his jewelry business and his site’s up and running. He shares his dashboard with you, and you see that he’s starting to get some traffic. Lots of it.

Great. But then you also notice that out of the 400 visitors, only three have made a purchase. Three out of 400.

In this case, the data can be pretty straightforward: If people are clicking through, that means loads of people are interested in whatever your client has to offer–externally. As in, think external presence. Think paid ads and ranking keywords.

In other words, your client’s problem is internal. And for a copywriter’s diagnosis, the first item on the list is the unique sales proposition. First, believe it or not, find out first if your client’s business even has one.

The First Question You Must Ask Yourself

Why exactly should Internet users purchase jewelry from Adam? Why not from some other vendor? Or even a reputable and established name brand?

In other words, what makes Adam’s business unique?

This is where his unique sales proposition comes in. It’s his selling point. And you’re going to make it his one-line central sales message.

Let’s continue with our example. What would Adam’s unique sales proposition be? This could depend on his target audience.

So let’s say his business category is homemade jewelry and accessories. Simple keyword research on Google Trends and Keyword Planner might reveal some strong suggestions. After further analysis, something a bit more long-tailed than “Holistic jewelry” might catch your eye as worth testing.

Building your unique sales proposition

But wait. This isn’t your unique sales proposition. We’ve just gone exploring, and you’ve just identified a potential niche.

Still, a critical step.

Because it gives you an idea where to direct your unique sales proposition building efforts. This usually requires a bit of time and some competitor research. Once you’ve narrowed down Adam’s niche, it becomes easier to identify and reduce his main competitors to a manageable figure.

Once you’ve identified them, you need to visit each of their sites. Jot down what makes them special compared to Adam’s business. Does Patty’s Holistic Irish Jewelry offer free shipping for all orders? Does that include international orders? What about Holy House Jewelers? Do they get a freelance priest to bless all their jewelry before shipping them out to customers?

Obviously, this requires a serious conversation with Adam. What’s something unique he can–and is willing to–offer?

Like ASOS, he might consider providing a “free returns” guarantee. (Someone could order the product and try it out. If they don’t like it, they could simply put it in a return envelope and send it back). All the customer would have to cover is the return shipping.

(Reassure Adam if he expresses concern about too many returns. It rarely happens. For instance, many mattress sellers offer a lifetime guarantee. Yet, how many people have you ever heard of returning a used mattress?)

Your Unique Sales Proposition Provides Critical Clarity

Adam’s unique sales proposition doesn’t only set him apart from his competitors.

It also helps you clarify the most important components of what he’s selling. (And he’ll love you for it.) The bare bones of your offering.

Let’s see where we’re at with Adam.

So far, we’ve identified a niche and a potential unique sales proposition (the free returns guarantee). Guarantees are always a powerful tactic for removing barriers to purchase (in this case, doubt). Now that you have Adam’s potential unique sales proposition, we can begin to draw out his benefits.

Sell Benefits, Not Features

Many startups struggle to get their sales message out. But that’s not even the worst part. Many business owners outright neglect the importance of marketing for their business. (But that’s another story. For another post.)

So why do so many businesses just starting out fail to communicate an effective sales message?

One common reason is the simple–yet counterintuitive–fact that businesses advertise features, and expect their customers to come strolling in.

Sure, some businesses get more clientele by emphasizing their product or service’s features. But this is the exception, not the rule. (Example: Your client sells luxury sports cars. Things like horsepower are important to sports car enthusiasts. But to the average car buyer? What’s horsepower mean to your aunt Sally? Meh.)

For the average business, especially if they’re selling the invisible (selling a service), you must emphasize the benefits the customer stands to gain. As legendary salesman Zig Ziglar once said, “People don’t buy drills; they buy holes.”

Why Buy?

Let’s get back to our jewelry client example one last time.

When you ask yourself, Why do people buy jewelry? You can come up with some pretty good guesses. Anniversary gifts and engagements are obvious examples. But here comes the critical question: Why are they buying it from your client?

You can now answer this with greater confidence. Adam offers free returns.

Not only that, thanks to your awesome research, his holistic jewelry appeals to his niche target audience.

Sure, they’re buying from Adam because his jewelry makes them look good. (So be sure his site displays plenty of photos of ideal buyers wearing them on his site.).

Also for his audience, you might advise Adam to post blog articles about the healing properties of certain stones. After all, this increases their value from Adam’s customers’ viewpoint, while boosting his own authority on the subject. This in turn increases trust and reinforces Adam’s sales message.

Most of all, because his jewelry makes his customers feel good, it’s in line with their sense of self and reinforces the image of themselves they want to present to others.

Now how’s that for what a unique sales proposition can do for your clients’ business?

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