A unique selling proposition (USP) is the reason people do business with you and not someone else — a winning difference that sets you apart and makes you the only real choice.
Traditional marketing advice will have you lock yourself in a cave for weeks listing all of the features of your business, translating them into benefits, then somehow finding that one compelling point that will differentiate you from everyone else you could possibly compete with.
These days, your winning difference depends more on who you’re selling to more than the features of what you’re selling.
You need to stake out a favorable position in the minds of those you’re trying to attract, even while turning the wrong people away.
If you have a firm grasp on what your ideal customer looks like, then you can do some simple exercises to discover your own winning difference.
Three five-minute exercises to find your USP
Unless you’re launching FedEx, you don’t need a USP as robust as FedEx’s.
Try each of these five-minute exercises and see if they don’t shake loose a USP that will work for your site.
Remember that content consumers don’t go to just one blog, subscribe to just one site, or buy just one product.
They want anything and everything about the topic they love.
That means the USPs for your online business ideas don’t have to beat everyone else’s out. They simply have to appeal to your target audience.
The Crossroads USP
To create a crossroads USP, take two seemingly unrelated ideas and bring them together.
The hit movie Speed was famously pitched as “Die Hard on a bus.” Clueless is Jane Austen’s Emma set in 1995 Beverly Hills.
You can create a crossroads USP by taking something well-known and presenting it to a new audience.
Maybe you’ll offer Yoga for Stockbrokers or Business Blogging for Veterinarians.
You’re looking for two roads that are different enough that you create some energy, but not so different that you can’t realistically bring the roads together.
“The Complete Guide to Flower Arrangement for NFL Players” probably won’t find an audience.
The Metaphor USP
Sometimes you can find an overarching metaphor that will snap everything into place.
For example, Duct Tape Marketing offers something you can find in lots of places — marketing advice for small businesses.
But the “duct tape” metaphor reveals a lot.
It tells you the approach is practical, effective, and not terribly fancy. It probably skews slightly toward men, but not exclusively. It can be interpreted many different ways. And it doesn’t take itself too seriously.
No one’s ever going to confuse Duct Tape Marketing with a site called Green Planet Marketing or Mama Bear Marketing.
With this approach, you can create your own USP just by using a metaphor to define the market, the approach, and the angle.
The Persona-Driven USP
If all else fails and you can manage to be reasonably interesting, your USP can simply be … you.
As Scott Stratten once tweeted: “If you are your authentic self in your business, you have no competition.”
Seth Godin, Martha Stewart, Tony Robbins, Cal Worthington (and his dog Spot), Erika Napoletano, and Gary Vaynerchuk have all created persona-driven brands.
They started with something fairly ordinary (business advice, housekeeping tips) and made it extraordinary through the force of their personality, their passion, and their individual expression.
To some degree, this is limiting — the business can’t ever get any bigger than you.
But each of those people has learned to partner and delegate in order to create companies that go far beyond a single individual. (You don’t really think Martha Stewart plants all those tulips herself, do you?)
If you’re going to create a persona-driven USP, you’ll need to keep showing up. It’s your job to stand front and center and say something interesting. You’ll provide the voice and flavor for your content.
And don’t think you have to have a “shock jock” personality for the persona-driven USP to work for you.
Darren Rowse and Chris Garrett are both soft-spoken, helpful gentlemen who created successful businesses by focusing on what they cared most about and how they could help others.
At the end of the day, the only reason you need a USP at all is to answer that question: Why you?
Why should anyone read your content? Why should anyone buy your product or retain your services? What do you have to offer that makes it worth anyone’s time and/or money?
It can be a painful question, but it doesn’t have to be one that ties you in knots for weeks on end.
Keep it simple, and keep moving forward.
The strongest USP on earth won’t help you if you don’t back it up with all the other actions that create a successful business.