USPs? Piece of cake…

By: Iain Scott

Date: 17 February 2010

USP is much beloved on the Dragon’s Den. Often you’ll hear Peter Jones saying: “I like that, that’s your USP.” USP, of course, stands for unique selling point (or proposition).

To explain USPs, I’ll tell you a personal story. When I started my first business more than 20 years ago, I went on a high-growth, business start-up programme. The guy who was teaching us about marketing was obsessed with USPs.

Problem was, he was trying to apply multi-national corporate thinking to my small start-up. His approach was totally inappropriate. I was going to be doing the selling myself and he wanted to construct a fake sales pitch for me that followed a big business template.

Glasgow approach

If you’ve been to one of these start-up seminars, you’ll know there’s always some bloke or woman standing there telling you how important your USP is. So how do you identify your USP?

Well, today, you’re going to get the Glasgow guide to USPs. In other words, straight forward, no messing around.

Basically, a USP is something that makes your product or service different. It enables you to charge more or sell more because it separates you from the competition. A USP allows you to you make more money as a result of the competitive edge it gives you.

How do you find your USP? There’s only one way – get people to sample your product or service and listen to what they say. In the words of Gary Vaynerchuk – you “conversate”. You talk and you listen. Listen, listen, listen.

Matter of taste

Making cakes was my first business and the guy who was running the start-up course I went on asked me what my USP was. I simply stuck a slice of cake in front of him, he had a bite and replied: “Ooh - that’s delicious”.

My chocolate cake was vastly rich. It was made of pure chocolate, raw cane sugar, good chocolate shavings on the top, no preservatives, no additives and extremely high quality. That tells you that my cake was special, aimed at the top end of the market. It didn’t look perfect, so I stressed its homemade qualities, giving it a sense of authenticity and wholesomeness, both powerful USPs.

When you’re trying to find your USP, you need to identify something that makes your product, service or business distinctive. How do you do it? As I did with my cake, you should take your product or service and shove it in front of people as much and as often as you can. Ask people what they like best about your offer. You might find that certain phrases and words will be repeated. In the case of my chocolate cake, it was, “My God, very rich!” and “Wow – really chocolaty”.

Ever heard of Kobi beef? It’s the world’s most expensive beef – I think it’s looked after by nuns or whatever. Actually, I’m kidding, it comes from the black Tajima-ushi breed of Wagyu cattle, which is raised strictly by traditional methods. It’s renowned for its flavour, tenderness and fatty, well-marbled texture. Its rarity and great care taken in its rearing are powerful USPs, as well as its flavour and succulence. Its price is another USP (“The world’s most expensive meat”).

In conclusion

Does your business/product/service need a USP? Absolutely. Whether it’s chocolate cake or Japanese beef that you’re selling, if you can come up with something that marks your product and business out as different – as special – you’ve already got an important head start.

Iain Scott, Enterprise Café

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