Why Your Unique Selling Proposition Shouldn’t Be So Unique After All

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If you are having a hard time finding competitors to compare your company with, chances are that you'll have a hard time finding customers as well.

“What is your USP?”

We hear this often in the entrepreneurial world, and most of us know that, if we want to beat our competitors, we need to show customers and users what makes us better than them, why they should choose our services or products. The problem comes when we mistake being different for a Unique Selling Proposition.

Go to Kickstarter right now and take a look at the top 5 campaigns in any category (or choose to see “everything” and sort through “most funded” which will show you the best campaigns). Now spend some time pressing the PageDown button on your keyboard until you start seeing the campaigns that didn’t perform well. Doing this will make you realize that the best campaigns offer something unique, either the product is something new and exciting or the company creating the product has a huge following, which we can also consider unique in this case.

When you take a look at the projects that didn’t perform well, a lot of them can also be considered unique.

There is one big difference in uniqueness, though.

The top projects are unique yet relatable.
The lowest projects (those who didn’t get the amount they aimed for or didn’t get funded at all) are either so common and unappealing or so unique that nobody can understand them.

In this article, we will focus on the latter.

When we think about a USP we think that our product has to be something totally different from what is already out there and we end up with something we don’t know how to market or, worse, nobody wants to buy. Check out the examples below:

Of course, those are exaggerations and I know your USP is nothing like those in the examples (right?). The point is: There is a huge difference between having a Unique Selling Proposition and having a unique offer that your customer has never seen before.

A simple way to know if your USP is really a USP is to know if you are the only one doing something in your market. If your company is the only one providing such a product or service and you are having a hard time getting customers, maybe your USP isn’t a USP after all. It just means that you are in a too small market segment or at an offer that nobody else wants to compete with.

To have a USP just means that your company does something different than other companies. It doesn’t mean your company is completely different than others. In fact, is better if you aren’t that different. The secret is focusing on a single factor that is important to your customer and becoming the specialist in that factor.

Take a look at the following examples of successful European startups and what their initial USP looked like:

Skype

Skype didn’t create a revolutionary method of communication. When video calls were becoming popular on MSN messenger, Skype focused on video calls and crushed MSN messenger.

N26

N26 didn’t create an innovative way to do banking. They noticed that most expats had a hard time dealing with banks in Germany due to the language and bureaucracy, and then build a bank that was very easy for anyone to get an account, do simple transactions and withdraw money.

TransferWise

TransferWise noticed the huge fees Western Union is charging and how hard it sometimes was to receive the payment from WU. The startup simplified the process, making it more efficiently by not having to deal with independent shops and doing it straight through a banking system.

HelloFresh

HelloFresh noticed that the delivery service was expanding from ready-made foods to only grocery delivery and they targeted a very specific market, DIY cooks. They deliver the ingredients customers need and in the exact amount the customers need them.

If you take a look at those examples, they aren’t very “unique” from an innovation point of view. But since we are talking about sales propositions, they are unique and they can say they dominate that proposition.

Simple ways to look at those examples are:

  • Skype is like MSN but with better videos.
  • N26 is banking but without the bureaucracy.
  • Transferwise is like Western Union but without the huge fees.
  • HelloFresh is like grocery store delivery but with the right ingredients & amount.

Therefore the ultimate question to ask yourself is: your startup is like which company/industry but with/without what?

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