How to Build Your Brand: 5 Steps for Creating a Killer Unique Selling Proposition (USP)


The year was 1962.  John F. Kennedy was President, the Soviets were meddling in Cuba, and the Avis car rental company was struggling.  For more than a decade, Avis, whose chief claim to fame was their number 2 status vs. Hertz, had posted annual revenue losses.  In 1962, Avis was on the ropes.

That’s when Avis decided to hire a new ad agency, Doyle Dane Bernbach.  Doyle Dane analyzed what prospective Avis clients cared about, things like cost, convenience and customer service, and that’s when it hit them.  For years, Avis had been running away from their number 2 position in marketing wars against Hertz.  Doyle Dane advised them instead to embrace it.  After all, when you’re number 2, the only thing you can do to become number 1 is to treat your customers better, to work harder to gain their trust.

All that was left was to turn that notion into a memorable tagline, and to push it in every one of their ads.  After batting it around for a few hours, someone in the room suggested, “When you’re only No. 2, you try harder.”

Within a year, Avis went from losing $3.2 million to earning $1.2 million.  Within 4 years, their market share against Hertz jumped from 29% to 36%.  Said differently, Avis had succeeded by hitting on a dynamite unique selling proposition.

What Is a Unique Selling Proposition?

A unique selling proposition (USP) is the way you tell your customers how you’re different from the competition.  It’s the ultimate advantage you offer that they can’t, the promise you make to deliver on that advantage, and the commitment to communicate that promise in everything you do.

It’s also a critical component of your company’s branding strategy.  As Wells Fargo notes, the right USP can move your brand to the next level, the way it did for Nike:

“A USP has driven some of the most successful brand strategies. For instance, Nike took the sale of an everyday, commoditized product–sneakers–and built a mystique around them with innovative designs of its durable and high-quality footwear. Its famous “Just Do It” slogan, and its distinctive swoosh logo differentiate its products from the competition. The Nike brand was based on a philosophy that everyone is an athlete and Nike has the footwear and apparel to help people realize their ambitions. Despite Nike’s premium prices, it became an iconic global brand.”

What Distinguishes the Best USPs?

The best USPs in marketing history all share key characteristics, whether it’s FedEx’s “When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight,” or Domino’s’ “You get fresh, hot pizza delivered to your door in 30 minutes or less or it’s free,” or M&Ms’ “The milk chocolate melts in your mouth, not in your hand.”  Those brand giants all succeeded by creating USPs that effectively communicated how they were different—and better—than their competitors.  Your business can create an equally effective USP by following these 5 steps:

1.  Identify Who You Are and What You Do Well

You can’t determine how your business stacks up against the competition without first asking why it exists.  You can begin that process by reviewing relevant documents, like your business plan (including a thorough market analysis) and your mission statement.  After reviewing these documents, you and your marketing team need to ask yourselves some key questions.  For the sake of this discussion, let’s assume you own a landscaping business:

    • What products or services do you provide? (lawn care and landscaping services)
    • Who is your target audience? (homeowners in your area with at least ½ acre of land)
    • What do you do exceptionally well? (outstanding customer service)
    • What is your primary goal in helping your customers? (customizing landscaping services to precise customer specifications)

2.  Identify a Problem Customers Consider Important

You’ll probably need to do some research to learn what your current customers care about the most.  For example, you could ask customers to complete a customer satisfaction survey.  Based on their responses, you can determine the most important problem they had which your business was able to solve for them.  In the case of the landscaping business, this could be finding a landscaping service that provided excellent customer service.

3.  Identify What’s Unique about Your Business

As you dig deeper, you might learn that customers had a problem with previous landscapers who didn’t take as much time as you did to understand exactly what changes they wanted to make on their property, resulting in wasted time and money.   They might tell you that they really appreciated that your employees were respectful and responsive to their needs, and that your company was willing to shop around to find the specific mulches, exterior lighting or pavers they asked for.

4.  Create a Compelling Tagline that Makes a Promise to Your Customers

Based on what you learned about what you do better than your competitors, and how that ability solves an important customer problem, create a concise and straightforward statement that promises to deliver that unique service.  For example, our fictional landscaper might settle on a statement like, “We’ll take the time to understand exactly what you want and bring your landscaping vision to life.

5.  Test and Implement

Before you launch your USP, it’s a good idea to test it.  For example, you could bring together key stakeholders in your business to get their input, or assemble a focus group of current and prospective customers to see how well it resonates with them.  After you’ve settled on a USP that clearly communicates how you can solve customer problems better than your competitors, you need to incorporate it into every aspect of your marketing strategy, from your website to social media posts, promotional emails and blogs.


Because you love your business, you might find it difficult to view it objectively, identifying not only what’s working for you, but also what isn’t.  Sometimes an experienced and trusted third party can provide that objectivity.

To learn more about the ways our web design, SEO, branding, graphic design, inbound marketing and social media services can help you increase sales and grow your business, give us a call at 661-702-1310!

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