Branding is about finding a way to stand out. That means it’s about differentiation; working out what makes your business distinct and highlighting that as the reason why prospective clients should choose you over your competitors.
This is why in branding, it’s important to work out your USP — your unique selling proposition. This probably isn’t news to you. Like every business owner, you’ve probably caught on quickly that you need something to draw people’s attention.
Discovering exactly what that something is, though, is often a little trickier.
Why you need a USP for your service-based business
If you’re a photographer or graphic designer or in another type of service where you produce visible work as part of your job, then you’d probably have a portfolio or examples of your work that you can show to prospective clients. They can look at the work, compare what they see between different businesses, and it will probably form a big part of their choice of who to hire.
But what if you’re a bookkeeper or a VA or something like that? There are a lot of service-based businesses that don’t really have something they can show to demonstrate the quality of their work. From the prospective client’s point of view, this makes it difficult to compare their options, and it’s really on you to make it easier for them to make distinctions.
You’ve got to provide a reason to see your business as a great choice — whatever “great” might mean to your clients. And it might mean you have amazing customer service, or super fast turnover time, or a promise about the quality of your work.
Whatever it is, you need a USP so that your target market can see what makes your business special and why it’s the ideal choice for them.
Don’t be “the best”
Everyone wants to be the best. The fight to be the best is crammed with competition and they’re battling for a really quite ambiguous prize. After all, what does “the best” mean, exactly?
Instead, you just want to be different. You want to stand out and be known for something. Maybe your business is the one that can deliver in a single business day. Or it’s the one that truly understands how to solve a very specific problem. Or it’s the one that always supports other local businesses.
Now, I picked out “the best” just as an example. The main point here is that you can’t be vague when it comes to communicating a USP. It needs to be something definitive. You need it to be simple to explain and for it to be something that doesn’t also describe every other business in your industry. (Remember, the “U” stands for “unique”.)
Understand your clients and what they value
Here’s one way to choose a USP: be very selective about the niche you serve. Take it to the point of intentionally excluding people who fall outside of the group of people you want to serve. Obviously the effectiveness of this method can vary a lot depending on whether the niche you’re picking is still large enough to support your business. But being very selective tells your ideal clients, “Hey! I am the perfect choice for you.”
Being so selective means you can be completely focused on solving the specific problems of a very targeted group of people. You’re able to be very precise with your solutions and can tailor the nature of your services to suit your clients exact needs. You’re more likely to be seen as a specialist and the optimal choice for clients who fall into the niche.
Related post: How defining your core customer will boost your business
Look beyond your services
I think one of the reasons people in the service space struggle with the idea of a USP is that they’re too focused on the services they provide. Maybe you’ve found yourself thinking, “There’s nothing unique about what I do. I offer the very same services that a tonne of businesses also offer.”
If you do, then just forget the services for a second. Believe it or not, there’s a lot more about your business than simply what you do. Take a look at the foundational elements of your brand:
- your purpose — The reason why you run your business. This should be unique to your business.
- your core values — The promises you make about how you’ll conduct your business. Having common values is a big factor for many clients deciding who to hire.
- your brand personality — Maybe there are unique personality quirks that make your business stand out, simply by being different from the norm in your industry. (Click here to take my brand personality quiz.)
There’s also you. I mean, you can’t get any more unique than that, can you? Other businesses might have the same types of services that you provide. But they sure don’t have you and the connections you’ve built with your clients.
Build your personal brand
A lot of service-based businesses rely on word-of-mouth. That kind of thing happens as a result of a good relationship between you and the people who use your services. What it means is that your reputation — or personal brand — is a crucial part of what makes your business attractive. Why not leverage that as a USP? Sell yourself as the ideal provider of the service you offer.
This can be especially effective for small businesses, where the business owner is the one working closely with their clients. If you can create a likeable personal brand where your clients recommend you to other prospects, then you’re able to establish a good sense of trustability. You’ll be viewed as a safe and reliable choice, and this can be an extremely compelling way to attract new clients.
Here are some ways to highlight yourself as a key appeal to working with your business:
- collect testimonials and display them on your website
- use social media to share more of you and your story
- share case studies or examples of how you work with your clients
- contribute thoughts and new information on topics relevant to your industry
Make your USP a central part of your business’s brand
Regardless of what your USP is (whether it’s you, or a special way you offer your services, or your niche, or anything else), it needs to be at the centre of your brand and what you stand for as a business.
I don’t think your USP should be some kind of gimmick that you try out for a bit and then toss aside for the next idea. Since building a brand comes right down to what sets your business apart, then it makes sense to make your USP the key to it all. While the marketing tactics you use to put your business out there will change over time, your brand should really remain more steadfast. Not to say that it can never change, but it should really be a very stable thing.
What that means, is that your USP will remain a central part of the way you run your business and communicating it to your ideal clients will be a major influence on how you build your brand.
Here are some questions you can ask yourself when you’re settling on your USP:
- What do you want to be known for?
- Which of your clients’ problems do you solve?
- What encourages your clients to return to your business again and again?
- What are your strengths?
- How are you different than your competitors?
There are actually very few truely one-of-a-kind businesses out there. Instead, there are a lot of businesses who offer very similar services. But you’ve got to understand that that doesn’t mean you can’t compete or that there isn’t room left for you and your business.
It’s your role to find something that makes your business stand out from the competition and be viewed as a distinct choice. Your USP gives your prospective clients a compelling reason to choose your business.
Make sure you can define what your USP is and that it is present throughout your branding!
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