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Product Management: Unique Selling Proposition

A unique selling proposition (USP) is a clear and succinct description of how your product is both different from and better than those of your competitors. To qualify as an effective unique selling proposition, this statement must address two criteria.

  1. It should explain what sets your product apart from the rest
  2. It should explain why this unique aspect makes your product the best choice for users.

Because of the succinct nature of a unique selling proposition, you can also think of it as a product’s elevator pitch.

What is the purpose of a unique selling proposition?

A unique selling proposition serves several important strategic purposes.

A USP clearly articulates a product’s competitive advantage.

Because the barriers to entry have fallen for so many industries, businesses today find themselves facing increasing competition from more players.

This means product differentiation, and the ability to quickly communicate that differentiator through a unique selling proposition, has become more important than ever for a couple reasons. First, it helps focus the entire organization’s efforts and priorities around enhancing those aspects of the product that set it apart from the competitive landscape. Second, it helps the company clearly and succinctly articulate this competitive advantage to its market.

A USP helps the sales team.

The ability to explain to prospects in just a sentence or two what makes your product better than the rest also arms your sales force with a powerful tool in their presentations and pitches.

Rather than running through a litany of features and benefits, your reps can use the product’s USP to make an immediate and compelling argument for why a prospect would want your product rather than the other offerings on the market.

A USP gives a company a branding opportunity to own some aspect of its market.

FedEx’s unique selling proposition, “When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight,” forever associated the company with next-day package delivery.

There have since been other entrants into the market offering overnight delivery service, but FedEx remains the world leader, in large part because the company so clearly and succinctly used a USP to solidify its brand with this unique promise.

How to write a USP

Crafting a product’s unique selling proposition requires first stepping back and examining your product and company from the highest levels. You will want to consult your product’s vision statement at this stage, because it will give you a refresher on why you began developing this product in the first place.

With that in mind, a simple step-by-step approach to drafting a USP involves answering the following questions:

  1. What problems does our product solve?
  2. Who is our target user persona?
  3. What product are we selling?
  4. What does our product do better than competing products (or that competing products don’t do at all)?
  5. How can we turn these differentiators into a succinct promise to our customer?

Unique Selling Proposition (USP) Examples

To put this into more concrete terms, let’s look at a few examples of businesses that used USPs successfully to differentiate their products and corner a segment of the market.

Milk Duds: “The long-lasting candy.”

As Al Ries and Jack Trout explain in their book Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind, Milk Duds was once a small candy brand that sold primarily in movie theaters. The company wanted to expand Milk Duds’ share of the candy market and compete in stores with the more established brands.

They examined their product against those of Hershey’s, Snickers, and others, and realized that the kids who ate these other candy products could devour the entire package in seconds. Milk Duds, by contrast, were extremely chewy and took longer to eat. So the company found its unique promise to its user base: you’ll enjoy our candy far longer than any other you can buy. The company’s marketing campaign, supported by this USP, helped grow the Milk Duds brand substantially.

Other examples of successful USPs include:

  • Domino’s Pizza: You get fresh, hot pizza delivered to your door in 30 minutes or less, or it’s free.
  • TOMS Shoes: With every pair of shoes purchased, TOMS will give a new pair to a child in need.
  • Avis: We’re number two. We try harder.