What Is a USP Anyway?!
USP stands for “Unique Selling Proposition.” It’s a big idea, a truly unique promise that sets you apart. The textbook example is Domino Pizza’s USP: “Fresh hot pizza delivered to your door in 30 minutes or less… or it’s free”.
The USP answers the question “Why buy from you?”
It’s the very reason why a client hires you instead of other freelance creatives competing in your particular niche.
Why You Must Create a Strong USP
With a rotten USP, prospects are indifferent to your marketing and creative services. It’s nearly impossible to generate buzz about you. You are often forced to lower your price. Clients treat you as a hired hand. Basically, you are a commodity.
Get your USP wrong, and everything is an uphill challenge. Get it right, and marketing becomes easier.
Benefits of a Strong USP
- You become the obvious choice. A strong, crystal clear USP helps clients to identify you as the right designer, copywriter, etc.
- It puts you in the driver's seat, not the client. Clients will be more willing to follow your procedures when they clearly understand what they will get from you. You will deliver on your promise, provided the client does what you tell him or her to do. For example, completing the brief, paying the deposition, etc.
- Happier clients. A strong, crystal clear USP pulls in clients better tailored to your skills.
- A strong USP pulls in new clients. Clients line up. When you are someone worth talking about, referrals are plenty.
- More bang for your marketing dollars. A strong USP is a key part of marketing that works. It makes it pull in more business for less cost.
- Higher win ratio. A strong USP makes potential clients to buy from you, not the competition.
- Less prospecting. When your marketing works, there is less need for chasing prospects, cold calling, etc.
- Higher prices. A strong USP reduces the client’s perceived risk. Less risk makes a low price less important.
Three Requirements for a Strong USP
1. It Is a Bold, Crystal Clear Promise
A strong USP is a big hairy promise. It makes you gulp. If it doesn’t, it’s likely not bold enough. It cannot be trivial. To win you deals, it must differentiate you in a way that is very important to your ideal client.
It is a crystal clear statement. A strong USP doesn’t leave room for debate.
A strong USP is a promise that your competitors either cannot or doesn’t give. It promises a specific result or deliverable.
“Buy THIS product, and you get THIS specific benefit”.
The USP of a freelance copywriter could be “if my copy doesn't increase clicks at least 25%, you don't pay”.
2. It's a Unique Promise
A strong USP stems from:
- a unique brand
- a unique feature of your product or service
- or some other unique claim.
Big consumer brands differentiate themselves by building brands. Think Pepsi and Coca-Cola. It costs millions or billions and takes years. Small businesses and freelancers don’t have the means or the time for that. They need to get immediate ROI from their marketing.
When you are in a hurry to create a USP, first look for results or deliverables that only you could offer.
What if your service is basically the same as the competition?
The next best alternative is to be the first to claim a benefit or a specific feature in your particular niche. You aren’t necessarily the only creative pro offering it, but you are the first to claim it publicly.
A unique selling proposition doesn’t have to be truly unique. It just has to be unique to your ideal clients.
Example: Ian Paget, a.k.a. LogoGeek, only designs one thing. Logos. Ian has clearly picked his niche, but “logo design” alone isn’t a USP. It isn’t a unique proposition. There are plenty of talented graphic designers who claim to specialize in logo design.
Why should I hire Ian over any other logo designer? Ian is doing quite well already, but he would still benefit from an even stronger USP. Which?
In a podcast, Ian mentioned that “I only work with one logo project at a time.” The client he is currently working with gets his full attention. He never works on several projects simultaneously. I have never heard any designer claiming that position before.
Provided it is important to Ian’s clients, “undivided attention” could become a USP for him.
3. It's a Promise Strong Enough to PULL in New Clients
A strong USP gets people to buy, not just existing ones.
A USP has to be so strong that it pulls in new clients.
A strong USP is the promise your ideal clients silently beg for. Ideally, it addresses a need that keeps them awake at night.
You must test your USP out there in your particular creative niche. If your promise doesn’t bring in new paying clients, you don’t have a USP yet.
Example: Reliable PSD, a PSD to HTML & WordPress conversion service. Their Unique Selling Proposition? They claim to be “The First-Ever PSD to HTML & WordPress Conversion Service Run by Designers, for Designers.”
Reliable PSD promises their designer clients that “an ‘eagle-eyed’ designer will always review your project to ensure it’s 100% accurate. Before it ever reaches your inbox.”
Lou Levit, co-founder:
A lot of conversion services tout claims of accuracy. So what really makes us unique is that, like our customers, we also run a creative agency.”
The USP of Reliable PSD pulls in clients tired of getting back some crazy, twisted, half-baked version of their design from their web developers. Does their USP work? Like crazy! In about a year and a half, they have gone from a team of 5 to 20 with 3 offices in the U.S. & Europe. Without any outside funding.
Lou attributes 100% of their success to their USP “run by designers, for designers.”
USP for Freelance Creatives: Final Remarks
Like picking a niche, creating a strong USP defines your business. When you got a winning one, you should incorporate it into every aspect of your creative business.
USPs are an arms race. Sooner or later, competitors will catch on and catch up on any successful USP. To keep your USP strong, plan to evolve it. Look here for more examples of USP:s used by creative professionals!
By the way, haven't picked your niche yet? Check out theses 400+ examples of niches picked by fellow creative professionals!