A unique selling proposition is fine and good. But a USP that doesn’t improve conversions is useless.
Most marketers and conversion optimizers love to sing the praises of the unique selling proposition, but they do precious little to make a critical connection — how does that USP actually improve conversions?
That’s the question that I want to answer below.
Let’s define some terms and set the stage.
My goal in this article is to explain how you can create a unique selling proposition that directly and positively impacts conversions.
But first, I need to explain what I mean by unique selling proposition.
The best way to understand the USP is to read my article on the subject. If you are short on time and interest, here’s the gist of it:
The unique selling proposition explains how your product or service is different from the competition, and why this difference makes it the best solution to the problem.
Unfortunately, many marketers give scant attention to this critical component of their marketing. They might realize that they’re supposed to have a USP and quickly create one. But they don’t sink their teeth into the substance of the USP and give it the time and attention that it deserves.
The result? Their unique selling proposition makes no difference to their conversion efforts.
What I’m championing is something far different — a careful, intentional, smart, and direct USP that makes conversions improve.
A unique selling proposition sounds ephemeral, simply because it lacks substance. For example, let’s say you sell trucks.
The truck is a thing. You can knock on it, kick it, smell it, sit in it, and move it. It’s there.
But you don’t sell a USP. You don’t smell it, sit on it, or push it around. It’s conceptual, not concrete.
This alleged weakness, however, is its very value. By being a non-entity, the USP is a mental tool. You can’t go around handing out Peterbilts or Macks, but you can go around handing out your USP.
Your USP costs nothing. It’s free. When the USP makes a successful connection in the mind of the customer, something magical happens.
By virtue of the USP, the customer now wants the concrete entity that the USP promises. So what does he do? He buys the truck.
Why did he buy the truck?
Because of the unique selling proposition.
The more powerful, forceful, direct, targeted, and omnipresent your unique selling proposition, the greater your likelihood of selling your product — i.e., improving your conversions.
So, what do you need to do?
Identify and match the correct persona.
The unique selling proposition starts with the persona. You must understand who it is you’re trying to reach.
A buyer persona, also known as a marketing persona, is a picture of the ideal customer. Unless you know whom you’re trying to reach, you’re not going to actually reach them.
Your persona could look like this:
Or your persona could look like these guys.
You might want to get this detailed with your persona.
The critical features of your persona depend on your industry and product.
As you shape your persona, these are the broad features that you need to be aware of.
Know their demographics.
Demographics are the numerical or statistical information about your persona. The age of your persona — let’s say she’s 45 — would be a demographic feature.
Demographics are one of the first things marketers pay attention to, because they are one of the easiest things to figure out:
- Life cycle (unmarried, married, married with kids, etc.)
You can find out demographic information rather easily. It comes in the form of statistics and data. Demographics can be analyzed, segmented, divided, and subdivided.
In fact, your own analytics software might give you some of the most crucial demographic information:
Demographics make up the crucial foundation of understanding a persona.
Valuable as they are, they aren’t the end all. In fact, there is a more important set of information — psychographics.
Know their psychographics.
Psychographics are much harder to figure out. Psychographics are the features of your persona that lurk beneath the surface — their interests, activities and opinions.
Demographics tell you who your customers are, but psychographics tells you what makes them tick. Psychographics drives to the heart of the matter, uncovering motivation, likes, dislikes, and lifestyle.
Psychographics are more difficult to figure out. To gain psychographic information, you can’t simply activate your analytics software. You actually have to talk to customers, survey them, and ask the tough questions.
Psychographics are essential, because they allow you to directly answer the final and most important part of a buyer persona.
Know what will motivate them to buy from you.
You don’t really understand your target audience until you know why they will buy from you.
What’s motivating them to part with their money and gain your product? It’s likely the answer is going to be really complicated, stemming from a wide variety of factors and features.
Nonetheless, it’s important for you to figure out what these things are.
Every USP starts with knowing the target audience. You haven’t written anything down yet. You’ve simply gained the information about the people who will be buying from you.
Understand the functional benefits.
Functional benefits are what your product does.
The thing about functional benefits is that it’s hard to make them radically different from anyone else’s.
Let’s take two shirts for example.
Oh, and it costs 25 bucks.
Here’s another shirt. Same basic idea — cloth, cut, collar, coverage, etc.
Oh, and it costs about 1,000 bucks.
Clearly, there’s more than just a shirt for sale.
You may not need to state the functional benefits in your USP. Why not? Because some functional benefits are obvious:
- Shampoo cleans.
- Chairs hold your butt up.
- Ice cream tastes great.
- Tires are tires.
The functional benefits are the aspects of your product that are essential to its identity. But I hate to break it to you — nobody really cares.
Check out this killer shirt! It covers your body!
Buy this shampoo. The dirt will come out of your hair!
Purchase this ice cream. You can eat it!
If you talk all about the functional benefits of your product, you’re wasting precious space in your USP. Shut up and say something else.
A tire is a tire is a tire, whether it’s from Firestone, Goodyear, Kumho, Pirelli, Uniroyal, Continental, Hankook, BFGoodrich, Michelin, Dynatrac, or Titan.
Should you know your functional benefits? Yes. Should these be obvious to the user when they are exposed to your brand, visit your website, or see your product? Yes.
When I visit Mack’s website, I want to see that they sell trucks. That should be obvious. They don’t sell dogs, even though their logo might suggest it. They sell trucks. Big trucks.
Ah, but what makes your product different? That’s another story.
State the functional differences.
Now, that you’ve got the main thing out of the way, you can concentrate on the non-main things.
A truck is a truck is a truck.
But a truck with bigger payload? Hey, now we’re talking.
This whole bigger payload thing? Now that’s pushing my buttons.
Here is where your knowledge of the user’s demographics and psychographics comes into play. These guys drive trucks, and they want to haul a lot of stuff in their trucks. A bigger payload differentiates the product from some lame competitor whose payloads might be tiny.
These are functional differentiators, and they should find their way into your unique selling proposition.
Communicate the emotional benefits.
Every human desires to be happy — satisfied, fulfilled, valued, appreciated, enjoying life, etc.
If you expect to sell anything to anyone on the planet, you must appeal to their emotions. Emotional benefits can be attached to just about anything.
Let me give you an example.
Do you want to stand for something? Do you want to be upright and just, uncompromising in the face of lies and deception? Do you want to resist false claims, and root out error? Do you long to inhale the breezes of justice wafted on the majestic strains of truth and beauty?
Okay, then buy this window cleaning solution:
Windex doesn’t automatically communicate uncompromising stands against false claims, but the unstated emotional benefit in their USP seems to suggest so:
- Don’t stand for ...
- Don’t believe … false claims
But instead ...
- Use Windex
My point is not to ridicule Windex. They’re doing a pretty darn good job.
My point is to make it clear that you can attach an emotional benefit to just about anything.
Your USP should carry forward the emotional upside of whatever it is you’re trying to sell. You’re trying to sell happiness, fulfillment, the emotional state of well-being, whatever that is.
It’s like Tony Hsieh’s book, Delivering Happiness. That’s what you do. You deliver happiness.
Every product can have an emotional benefit. Find it, discover it, and sell it.
Your unique selling proposition should have a clear and obvious emotional upside.
Assert the value of the product or service.
We’ve reached the pinnacle of the USP — its value.
A product or service’s value is its “importance, worth, or usefulness.” You don’t simply say, “It’s important! It’s worthy! It’s useful!”
You have to communicate it in subtler ways. The unique selling proposition is also called the unique value proposition (or just value proposition). It offers value to the customer. Thus, it not only solves a problem; it actually creates value.
According to Investopedia, a value proposition communicates to the strongest motivators of a purchaser. Let’s harken back for a moment to the first step in creating a USP — understanding the buyer persona.
You have to know what those strong motivations are, and then pitch your value right into their teeth.
There’s value beyond your product, beyond its functional existence, beyond its key differentiators, and beyond its emotional benefits. There is value.
It’s like Simon says, “People don’t buy what you do. They buy why you do it.”
Put it everywhere.
A USP, when it’s fully created is a statement. You should write it down, print it up, send it to everyone in a company memo, and maybe frame it on a wall somewhere.
But don’t leave it at that. This USP needs to appear everywhere. Now, it doesn’t need to be printed in its original format, but bits and pieces of it should leak out through the company's entire presence and production.
This is where the rubber of the USP meets the road of conversion optimization.
- State your USP in the homepage headline.
- State your USP in popups.
- State your USP in CTAs.
- State your USP in the checkout process.
Your USP, remember, is what motivates and drives a customer forward. It’s the essence of your company’s existence. Say it, live it, write it, type it, believe it, and put it everywhere you can.
You may never read another company’s value proposition. But you should be able to see it, feel it, and taste it in all their marketing materials.
Dollar Shave Club is famous for their masterful marketing. Their USP communicates the idea of no BS, no hassle, no expensive junk, no problem. Just give me the awesome blades. And if you want to swear, that’s fine, too.
Great USPs aren’t hard to create. Use a bit of creativity, take some time, understand your buyers, and write it down.
The true art to it comes when you push that USP out to every piece of marketing, every page of the website, and every piece of content that you produce. Make your USP, and then make it matter by placing it in all the right places.
I guarantee that you’ll see your conversion rates skyrocket.