Saturate the market with your company’s memorable unique selling proposition and watch the profits roll in.

vis Rent A Car proclaimed, "We're number two. We try harder." Federal Express stated, "When it absolutely, positively has to be there." And Domino's Pizza promised, "Fresh, hot pizza in 30 minutes or less." What do all three of these slogans have in common? They are powerful statements of uniqueness that helped to propel these companies to success.

Avis knew Hertz was so much bigger that it couldn't compete head-on so they positioned themselves as the upstart company that worked harder for the customer. Federal Express based its slogan on a promise of delivery reliability. Domino's based its slogan on the knowledge that most pizza eaters don't care how much stuff is on it, but that the product is hot, fresh and delivered fast.

Each slogan is its respective company's unique selling proposition, or USP. A USP is something that differentiates you from your competitors. It's what makes people choose to do business with you over all others. It states your distinct advantage. The origin of USP comes from Rosser Reeves, an advertising agency chairman in the 1960s and author of the book, Reality in Advertising, which introduced the concept.

One of the deadliest mistakes small businesses make is not being unique. Now more than ever you must differentiate your business. There is an explosion of choices for consumers, and during slow times, the same number of small businesses will compete for a diminishing number of customers.


To be successful in small business, you don't have to be the best. You just have to be unique. Incorporating your USP into everything you do will differentiate you, distinguish you, and give you an advantage over everyone in your market. "Me too" businesses rarely survive. They usually end up in price wars because they don't have anything unique about them to establish value in the minds of their customers. And unless they have a significant cost advantage over competitors, they lose.

The more clearly you announce your USP, the more often customers choose you over your competition. You must use your USP to dominate the local market. When a consumer thinks of buying a product in your industry, your name must be the first one that pops into their mind.

For example, Domino's made a very bold guarantee that if they didn't deliver your pizza in 30 minutes, it would be free. Domino's put their USP into action. How many small businesses do you hear boasting "The Best Selection in Town" or "Service with a Smile"? These phrases are worn out, tired renditions of a "me too" business.

Rather, be specific with your USP. The Domino's promise was specific and measurable. "Buy it today and install it tonight," is also specific and measurable.


You shouldn't rush the decision on your USP. You will spend thousands of dollars on advertising and promoting your USP. Once you've made your impression and then decide to change it, you confuse your customer and it will cost you even more to start over with a different USP. If your USP is a promise or guarantee, make sure you can fulfill that promise.

How do you pick a USP? First identify needs that are going unfulfilled in either your industry or your local market. These are called performance gaps. Many businesses that base their USP on industry performance gaps are successful. Here are some examples in different small business industries:

Auto Repair

Performance Gap: Auto repair shops have a reputation of being dishonest.

Potential USP: "If it ain't broke, we won't fix it!"


Performance Gap: No one likes to go to the dentist because it's a painful experience.

Potential USP: "Sedation dentistry: The safe, pain-free way to healthy teeth."

Real Estate

Performance Gap: People are wary of letting real estate agents sell their homes because they don't believe they will try to sell them fast enough.

Potential USP: "Our 20-point power marketing plan gets your house sold in 30 days or less."


Although a USP is a statement of your uniqueness, it doesn't always have to be something that is only unique to you ... if you proclaim it first. For instance, if you were a furniture retailer and you announced your USP as, "Buy today, we'll deliver it tonight." Most competitors can do that too, but because you were the first to proclaim it, it is yours exclusively.

This is called preemptive marketing. You can preempt your competitors if you take a strong benefit—whether or not it's unique—and put your stamp on it first. All others who come after you will just be strengthening an advantage you've already placed in the minds of potential customers.

Your USP should have promises, guarantees, policies and procedures, employee evaluations and other reinforcing processes to make it come alive.

Once you've developed your USP, integrate it into everything you do. Your USP should be found somewhere in your headlines and body copy marketing materials, direct mail, and phone book advertising. Repeat it clearly and consistently. Include it in your sales presentation, put it on the walls of your business and print it on your business card. You can't overdo or wear out your USP.


The nation's most successful furniture dealer is based here in Houston. You can't turn on a radio or television without hearing the furniture store's USP, "Saves You Money!" It's everywhere. If you stopped someone on the street and said two words, "Gallery Furniture," and asked them to finish the sentence, nine out of 10 people would say, "Saves You Money!" That's an effective USP.

Related Stories