Competition is the natural order in business, especially for ecommerce brands where it’s not just your local competitors that you need to worry about.
Customers are overwhelmed with options, and they want to quickly understand what makes one product or brand different than another. Knowing the right way to position yourself and your products can mean the difference between standing out and blending in.
That's why it’s crucial for all entrepreneurs to understand how to both identify and communicate a unique selling proposition (USP) to help guide your branding and marketing decisions.
What is a unique selling proposition?
A unique selling proposition is the unique benefit that makes your business or product better than the competition. It’s a specific and clear benefit that makes your business stand out when compared to other businesses in your market.
Forming an opinionated and deliberate unique selling proposition (USP) helps focus your marketing strategy and influences messaging, branding, copywriting, and other marketing decisions, and influences prospective customers. At its core, a USP should quickly answer a potential customer’s most immediate question when they encounter your brand:
“What makes you different from the competition?”
Your USP plays to your strengths and should be based on what makes your brand or product uniquely valuable to your customers. Being “unique” is rarely a strong USP in itself. You have to differentiate around some aspect your target audience cares about, otherwise your messaging won't be nearly as effective.
A compelling USP should be:
- Assertive, but defensible: A specific position that forces you to make a case against competing products is more memorable than a generic stance, like “We sell high-quality products.”
- Focused on what your customers value: “Unique” won't count for much if it’s not something your target customers truly care about.
- More than a slogan: While a slogan is one way your USP can be communicated, it’s also something that you can embody in other areas of your business, from your return policy to your supply chain. You should be able to talk the talk and walk the walk.
It’s not necessarily what you sell that has to be unique, but the message you choose to focus on that your competition doesn’t.
What a unique selling proposition isn't
Specific marketing offers—like 10% off, free shipping, 24/7 customer service, or a strong return policy—are not USPs. Convincing and effective though they may be, they’re not unique on their own, nor are they positions that are easy to defend, as any of your competitors can copy them.
A unique selling proposition is a statement you choose to embody that differentiates your products and your brand from your competitors.
A USP is also not just the header copy on your homepage. It’s a position your small business takes as a whole that can be incorporated into your products, your brand, the experience you provide, and any other touch point your customers have with your business.
The best way to understand what makes a powerful USP is through examples. So here are 10 unique selling proposition examples that get it right, and what you can learn from each successful business.
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10 examples of unique selling propositions done right
One of the first things you notice about Saddleback Leather’s site is its famous tagline: “They’ll fight over it when you’re dead.”
It’s a sentence that immediately conveys the unique value of Saddleback’s products to its potential customers, in its signature irreverent tone: this product is built so well it will outlive its owner. The messaging also refers directly to its 100-year warranty, which backs the promise with a guarantee that the products will last you a lifetime and then some.
Longevity, especially for high-priced, everyday carry products is definitely a unique selling point, especially when so many competitors are focused on positioning their products as status symbols, the stylish trends that you’ll want to replace next year, or a cheap solution to an expensive look. Longevity is Saddleback’s competitive advantage.
In fact, when cheap knockoffs of their products started appearing in the market, Saddleback Leather took it as an opportunity to create a clever “how it’s made” video that reinforces the quality of its own craftsmanship. Because it was clear on its USP, it took advantage of the opportunity to further entrench the company’s unique position on quality and craftsmanship.
You can buy pre-popped popcorn at your local dollar store, so “mini-popcorn” on its own isn’t much of a USP.
Instead, Pipcorn is a great case of a brand using specificity to carve out their own unique place in the market, choosing instead to focus on what makes their product a smart choice for the health-conscious or vegan consumer.
Phrases like “all natural,” “whole grain,” and “small batches'' are seen on the bag, and the brand’s site highlights other health benefits like gluten free, non-GMO, and antioxidants. Pipcorn also gets specific about how its snack food is healthy instead of just saying that it is, listing points of difference that its customers will care about.
By positioning its product around current health-conscious trends, it’s able to create a USP that would not only actively help them attract new customers, but also retail their popcorn as a premium product.
A lot of coffee shops and roasters lay claim to having the “smoothest” or “richest” cup of coffee out there. Death Wish Coffee, however, chose to cater to those who need an extra kick in their cup of joe by instead selling the “world's strongest coffee.”
Death Wish Coffee is an excellent example of developing a product based on a unique selling proposition that was largely left untouched in the crowded coffee market. It’s not a position that will immediately attract every kind of coffee drinker, but the product firmly appeals to a certain segment of consumers, and it’s hard to imitate.
Death Wish Coffee backs it up too. In addition to boldly declaring its USP on its site and packaging, and breaking down how its product is made, it also offers full refunds for anyone who says the coffee wasn't the boldest cup they’ve ever had.
Muse is a noteworthy example of why you need a USP even when your products are truly unique. Muse offers the first consumer tool out there that can provide real-time feedback on your brain’s activity as you meditate.
It is the first company to offer what it does, but having no direct competitors doesn't mean it has no competition at all. People have been doing just fine for centuries without its product, after all.
In this case, Muse's biggest competitor is the status quo: unaided meditation. So its USP, naturally, is around enhancing your existing practice to “get the most out of meditation.”
You can see how a lot of its copy, while focusing on different selling points, comes together under this single idea.
Throughout its content and marketing messages, it builds a case for both mediation in general and for meditation aided by its product. This is a smart example of acknowledging the norm to position yourself as a truly different solution.
Taylor Stitch is a clothing company that relies on crowdfunding in order to develop new products. While some consumers may frown upon established brands that leverage crowdfunding, that isn’t the case here because of how they make it a part of their USP.
Taylor Stitch successfully turns crowdfunding into a competitive edge: “We design new products. You crowd fund them.”
It immediately lets customers know why crowdfunding new products offers advantages to traditional self-funded or investor-funded business models. Customers are assured that:
- They’ll save 20% by preordering.
- It’s better for the environment.
- It gets these products in your hands when you’d actually use them.
These are staples of crowdfunding that have been brought to the surface and translated into value for the customer—it’s hard to argue with saving money and being more environmentally friendly, and supporting a business you believe in is a nice bonus, too.
By positioning its unconventional business model this way, they turn a potentially risky pre-order process into a compelling marketing angle.
Many temporary tattoo products are intended for kids and feature simple and silly designs. Tattly takes a different approach, offering gorgeous, intricate art for people of all ages.
These temporary tattoos are meant to be beautiful like traditional tattoos, allowing customers to express themselves without the commitment or high cost of real tattoos.
Tattly doesn’t have many direct competitors that sell similarly bold designs made from safe materials. This makes it easier for the brand to develop its USP, in theory, but it still needs to differentiate itself from the inevitable comparisons between its products and its more familiar counterparts.
By focusing on the art, it’s able to do that with its USP, which it expresses as: “Fake tattoos by real artists.”
Many design-centric brands source designs from real artists, but Tattly surfaces this fact about its business. The artists behind its designs are as much a part of what it sells as the tattoos themselves, getting prominent profiles on its site organized under a section dedicated to artists and their works.
It could have left it as a mere line of copy on its site, but instead it chose to incorporate the artists behind its products into the design of its online store, reinforcing the idea that tattoos are a form of wearable art.
7. Third Love
Women’s lingerie is a billion dollar industry, so newcomer Third Love had to find a way to make sure it was able to compete with legacy brands.
Third Love made its “We have the right fit” USP an integral part of its branding. It’s not just a key part of the messaging in its ads and the copy on its site—it even has a Fit Finder quiz that allows first-time customers to find the right fit for them.
To go even deeper on its promise, it also offers half-sizes and a “try before you buy” guarantee.
Third Love’s USP is a powerful promise. And while other brands might offer a sizing chart to help shoppers, Third Love prioritizes getting you the right fit based on your individual needs.
Of all the messages it could have focused on around style or quality, it honed in on a pain point that many women experience when shopping for bras, and chose to double down.
A lot of cosmetics companies—for both men and women—try to offer quick fixes at cheap prices, addressing symptoms instead of the root cause. Beardbrand’s USP takes the form of a product ethos that immediately sets them apart from the industry standard.
It wants to create products that “work with your body’s natural chemistry, rather than to disguise or change it.”
It lets users know it doesn't sell harsh, drying, artificial products, and instead uses natural oils that work with the customer’s body chemistry.
This product ethos means that it only sells products that live up to this standard and pits itself against a rampant problem in the industry.
Casting the industry norm as an antagonist is a positioning strategy often used by brands that are confident about their solution to the customer’s problems.
10. Twelve Saturdays
College students can get school spirit attire pretty much anywhere. They have local options right on campus, and most big-box stores even carry local college gear. So how does Twelve Saturdays compete?
Instead of just highlighting that it has college apparel, it reminds students that there are 12 Saturdays in a football season and that its products can help them look good for each one. Football games are big social events for college students, and many want to show up with a fresh look week after week. They don’t want to wear the same outfit multiple times, or arrive in the same attire as someone else.
Twelve Saturdays bet on the idea of offering students fashionable, school spirit attire that guarantees they look good and feel good all season. It even owns the fact that its products aren’t plastered with mascots and logos, focusing on style instead, which allows it to carry fewer products and target more schools.
“Looking good” may not sound unique as far as apparel is concerned. In fact, it probably seems obvious. But pairing it with a cultural phenomenon for a specific audience’s needs makes it fresh, compelling, and different.
This is a good reminder that a USP shouldn’t be a half-measure, but a whole-hearted effort to define your brand to your customers.
How to write your own unique selling proposition
Now that we’ve looked at 10 examples of strong USPs from other businesses, you might be wondering how you can go about creating, uncovering, or refining your own unique selling proposition.
Every USP is going to be, well, unique but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a process you can follow to put yourself on the right track. Here’s how you can write your USP:
- Make a list of all the potential differentiators of your brand and what you sell. Get specific. Breakout products and compelling marketing messages rely on precision—they solve the exact right problem and communicate that benefit to customers in their own words.
- Research the competition. Who are your competitors and what are their USPs? Look for gaps where you can potentially introduce your brand differently. Products in the same category can be positioned in wildly different ways—footwear, for example, can emphasize style, comfort, or durability.
- Compare your most unique angles against your audience’s needs. Are there any customer needs that haven’t been filled? Do you see any pain points that you can appeal to that your competitors haven't?
- Compile the data. Take the information that you’ve learned and sift through it to single out your strongest USP.
- Think about viable ways to apply it across your business. Applied properly, a USP can be woven into different areas of your business, from your brand name to your return policy, to reinforce the idea to your customers.
Once you have a vague idea of what your USP is, it might help to express it as a positioning statement so you can get it down on paper:
[YOUR BRAND] offers [PRODUCT/SERVICE] for [TARGET MARKET] to [VALUE PROPOSITION].
Unlike [THE ALTERNATIVE], we [KEY DIFFERENTIATOR].
This won't be exactly what you advertise on your website, but it should help you clarify your USP, its audience, and any specific differentiators that might be worth highlighting. While it can take some time to get your USP down, it can then be used across your ads, landing pages, and even social media copy.
Unique selling propositions: Defining your competitive edge
A USP isn’t just a persuasive line of copy on your homepage. It's ultimately how you position your products or even your entire business to the rest of the world.
Your products don’t need to be wholly unique in and of themselves for you to have a strong unique selling proposition. Instead, look for a spot in the market where you can plant your flag that is relatively untouched by the competition.
There may be a dozen ways you could sell your products, but your USP is the big idea that best positions your brand according to what your customers care about and what your competitors aren’t.
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Unique selling proposition FAQ
Unique selling proposition FAQ
- Make a list of all the potential differentiators of your brand and what you sell. Research your competition.
- Compare your most unique angles against your audience’s needs.
- Compile the data.
- Take the information that you’ve learned and sift through it to single out your strongest USP.
- Experiment with a few different positioning statements based on your research.
Why do you need a unique selling proposition?
A unique selling proposition is critical for helping you stand out from your competition and really home in on your businesses strengths. Your unique selling proposition can dramatically improve your overall business strategy.
How long should a unique selling proposition be?
How long should a unique selling proposition be?
What is the difference between a value proposition and a unique selling proposition?
What is the difference between a value proposition and a unique selling proposition?