What’s your USP?

When you’re building a website, it’s easy to get distracted by the technology. Which WordPress theme or framework will you choose? Will the site have video? How will it connect to social media? What about responsive or mobile design?

All of this is fascinating, even fun. But what sometimes gets lost is the most basic question of all: Why does this site exist?

I’ve spent years making sites for clients, mostly small businesses and non-profit organizations. And it still amazes me how many clients haven’t thought through the basics: Who is my audience? What do they need and expect from my business? And how can my site give my audience what they need? Until you answer those questions, a website project is just playing with pixels.

Who are you and why are you here?

A crucial part of this process is figuring out what they call in marketing-speak your “Unique Selling Proposition‚” or USP. At its most basic, this simply means how you differentiate yourself from all the other similar businesses, services or products out there.

What makes you unique? What makes you better? How do you set yourself apart from all the other people who do what you do?

(If your first thought reading that was, “No one does what I do,” then you’re halfway there.)

Why is the USP important? Think about it this way: if you can’t differentiate yourself from the hundreds or thousands of choices out there, how do you expect your customer to do it?

The USP is the antithesis of every cookie-cutter industry site you’ve ever seen. An example I often use is real estate. Just about every real estate site looks the same: a bunch of small images of properties, some sort of complex search box, a ton of links, and a boatload of meaningless jargon like “ACME Realty takes a different approach to real estate – one that is based on personal touches and positive results.”

Really? That’s helpful. Because thank goodness ACME isn’t one of those firms that ignores me and gets me bad results.

Getting from there to here

To counteract this tide of sameness, you need to develop your Unique Selling Proposition, and then make sure that all your communications – not just your website – promote that USP clearly and forcefully.

Coming up with your USP means examining your business in detail. You might start with a freeform brainstorming session, going over these main content areas:

Audience: Who is your ideal customer? Be as specific as possible, and don’t be afraid to exclude people. (You might even think about the question: who *isn’t* my audience?)

Problem: What problem do you solve for that ideal customer? What pain are you eliminating? How is your customer better off after working with you or buying your product?

Unique: What sets you apart from others? This is the big one, of course – the “U” in USP. There are thousands of ways to differentiate yourself: service, range, experience, technique, guarantee, features, and on and on. Focus on a handful of things that really make you one of a kind – things that make a tangible difference to your audience.

Once you have several pages of brainstorming material, edit all of it down to a handful of sentences – a short paragraph bringing together your audience, the problem you solve for them, and how you solve that problem in a unique way.

Then put it aside for a while, maybe a few days. When it’s fresh, come back and do your best to edit that paragraph down to one sentence. That will take some effort.

“I am sorry this letter is so long, but I did not have time to make it short.” -Mark Twain

This doesn’t have to be perfect. It might take several attempts. That’s OK – it shows that you’re taking this seriously. Which is good, because the USP is one of the backbones of your business, online or off.

Another tip, especially if you’re finding the process difficult: ask your customers. What made them choose you? How were you different from others they have worked with? You might be surprised at some of the responses you get.

Not a magic bullet

None of this work guarantees that you will end up with a slogan or tagline that will anchor your marketing forever. But that’s not even the point. The point is to slow down, turn off the computer (I said it!) and think through your business from top to bottom, and how you want to present that to your audience. That’s the anchor that will guide your website development going forward.

I tell clients all the time: the web isn’t about technology – the technology is just there to serve a purpose. The web is really about communication. Work through your USP, and you’ll be miles ahead of the masses shouting “I just need a website!”

There’s a lot more about USPs online. If you could use some inspiration, The Sparkline has a great page with some examples of “killer” USPs from around the web.

Do you already have a USP? If not, I hope this has inspired you to create one. I’d love to hear your stories about USPs in the comments.






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