My personal shortcut for finding an effective unique selling proposition

First, I apologise to my university lecturers, but I need to help short-cut the process for finding an effective unique selling proposition (USP) for the dedicated marketing minds out there.


What we were taught sent us down the wrong path

At university I was taught I would find the USP by surveying the marketing mix. It was proposed that we would simply choose the USP from the relevant combination of product, place, promotion and price. I have learnt, and perhaps you’ll agree, that all of these factors are internally focused which means this strategy is inherently flawed.

It is not effective to table all your internally-driven features to discover your USP – the shortcut that works is actually simpler:


Start with the customer and work backwards

In my experience, when I came into a new company, especially a small to medium-size business, it was not enough to read through the old marketers notes. It was not enough to sit with the owner or CEO and discuss what they believe to be their unique selling proposition. This approach does not serve the business, the opinion that matters most comes from your highest boss: the customer.

The most thorough and effective approach to discovering your USP starts with holding a sales meeting (if you don’t have direct-sales people hold a meeting with everyone available who is customer facing). The purpose of this meeting is to go through sales pitches or customer conversations and identify which points the customers react to. I suggest that you reinvent the customer conversation because once you understand the conversation you understand how to create the conversion.

Hence the single most important question to ask is:

What is the customer’s biggest pain or fear in regards to this product or fulfilling this requirement in their life?

In most cases you can’t simply ask this question to the sales people. You have to help discover it with them. Once you’ve listened to five to 10 stories of a sale or conversation with a customer you’ll begin to see the common threads. From here, those ‘hot buttons’ or reactive nuances are the benefits worth tabling, of which there should be very few.

This proposition forms how you position.

I think most of us have discovered that it is better to focus our marketing communications to one clearly defined message. I know I’m preaching to the choir if I push this to readers of Marketing, but we can’t deny there are still many businesses out there with no USP, weak positioning and a scatter-gun approach to marketing communications.

ALSO READ: Ken Murray on getting your ideas over the line.

We can only assume this must be the logic of the concept: if we throw everything, something will stick. These haphazard features and benefits thrown everywhere make up the noise that we have to punch through on a daily basis. The best way to punch through noise is by speaking to an individual’s biggest fear or pain. By positioning our brand and subsequent communications focused on that which is most effective is the only way I know to ensure better results.


Sales: always be closing. Marketers: always be testing

If your USP comes from a deep understanding of the individual customer’s pain or fear it should be obvious in tests. Whether split test email campaigns or focus groups or any of your preferred market research analytical methods. I recommend you seek to disprove your theory and boil it down to what it truly is and who it applies to.


Here are three steps you can take to use this shortcut to finding a powerful unique selling proposition

  1. Hold a sales meeting and look for connections or common threads,
  2. do your research: understand the customer and work backwards. What is their biggest fear or pain and how can you solve it? and
  3. test and try to disprove your idea until you’ve nailed it.


Once you’ve discovered an effective USP, position your brand around it, do not scatter or weaken your communications by spreading them out. This will seem counter-intuitive to some execs, of course.

Communicating with customers costs you. Especially when that communication is not relevant and therefore, not well received.

This is how I would explain to the naysayers: It’s physics. Pressure is inversely proportional to the area. The smaller the area, the greater the pressure and impact.

I find this rings true in marketing as well. Don’t be tempted to spread your message too thin.

That is why our communications should be focused. For a more in-depth explanation on getting your ideas over the line take a look at my last article.


READ ALSO: The worst error in business strategy according to Professor Michael Porter (spoiler: it’s trying to compete on the same dimensions as your competitors)

Ken Murray
BY Ken Murray ON 2 June 2014
Ken Murray is the director of marketing for MEI Group, having now clocked over seven years of senior marketing experience specialising in the industrial sectors and B2B. 
Ken's background stems from a keen interest in pattern recognition and problem solving, which would eventually lead to an academic background in sociology (the 'why' question) to strategic marketing and business (the 'how' question). He believes success in business and marketing is about connecting the individual customer's 'why' to the business' 'how'. Next step is to operate efficiently and then you've got results, which is all he's interested in. Follow him @Kengetsitdone.