the elusive USP....

by 27 comments
I was talking with a client last week and when
I asked him what he thought his USP was... he
said that he hadn't really given it much thought.

And I just sat there, shaking my head, no longer
wondering why he wasn't doing that well online.

Heck, I remember hiring John Carlton about 10
years ago JUST to go over my USP with me, since
I knew the importance of it.

So, I'm curious... do fellow copywriters normally
help clients in depth with their USP, do you take
it and run with it yourself, work with them, etc...

I know the answers are probably all over the place,
but I was curious how other copywriters helped
their clients nail down their USP.

I used to be hardcore with finding mine... to
the point where I'd use Carlton's analogy of
a "gun to the head"

Or, if I'm chatting with clients, I'll have them
imagine that they're in Shark Tank and they
have 30 seconds to pitch the Sharks what
they do and why they're different than all
the rest.

So, how do you help clients find or
work on fine-tuning their USP?
#copywriting #elusive #usp
  • Profile picture of the author KingOfContentMarketing
    Love the Shark Tank idea. Consider that swiped, haha. When trying to explain USPs, I find that it helps to walk a client through a personal example. It seems clearer than if I use examples they don't care about.

    So, maybe she is a golfer (runner/gun owner/boater). I'll ask why she bought the golf clubs she has now. "Oh, I bought Brand A because everyone knows Brand A is better for this reason, and Brand B is better for that reason."

    I'll say, "Well right now your business is Brand Unknown because there is no reason to prefer you over a competitor."
  • Profile picture of the author Moriarty
    The biggest problem for anybody dealing in USPs is that everybody wants to be the same. Just look around you on the street - all the cars are (almost) indistinguishable. The people wear "different" clothes yet look alarmingly uniform. Trains run to timetables set months if not years ahead. All of which runs counter to any ideas of uniqueness.

    Because if you are writing about someone's business, it's only going to be any good if it describes that business truthfully. That very truth is unique - however uniform and bland the exterior may seem. There will be something in the manner of communications, aftersales or goodness knows what that makes that business stand out. They might not even like the idea of you promoting that aspect of their business - despite it being the one thing people like about them best!

    What a funny world we live in.
  • Profile picture of the author KingOfContentMarketing
    Radio spots for "The Smell Good Plumber" run steadily on LA radio. It's a unique USP and pre-handles a sales objection.
  • Profile picture of the author shawnlebrun
    Joe, speaking of radio spots... i heard one this morning on the
    way to take my son to school.

    It was a local landscaper... and his radio commercial
    led off with "tired of looking at dirty, ugly brown holes all day?"

    I was like "huh?"

    At first I thought it was a radio commercial for a proctologist...
    but soon found out it was a local landscaper.

    but he at least was trying to follow the "talk about my
    green lawn and not your grass seed" analogy.

    But talking about "avoiding dirty, ugly brown holes... " I'm not sure.
  • Profile picture of the author Moriarty
    Joe Ditzel
    "The Smell Good Plumber"
    I hope they wear aftershave ;-)
  • Profile picture of the author Mark Pescetti
    I will not start a project - until I've interviewed and coached my client.

    Truth be told...

    Most people are too close to their product or service and need someone to ask the right questions to reveal the true USP.

    It goes both ways though...

    There are also clients who are certified experts in their field and picking their brains can be an absolute pleasure.

    When I interview those type of clients, I usually end up with all kinds of information to elevate the brand, create hooks and really hone in upon the USP.


    Gone are the days of simply having people fill out a form and using that information to create the campaign.

    It takes intimate collaboration to uncover and build the USP into an unstoppable force.

    My take.

  • Profile picture of the author Steve The Copywriter
    When you have a client who is a little scared to be radically different.

    Because they feel their people expect the "same as"

    Or when all is said and done, they do more or less what everybody else does.

    You can suggest - "Yes, I'll write that in a compelling way, then I'll say, and ....

    Adding in the unique extra (you'll usually discover what it is. Or convince the client to add it).

    And the response rockets up.

  • Profile picture of the author Moriarty
    Which I think brings up another point on USP's I hear all of the time. A USP doesn't always have to be unique. It could be something several people do, but nobody talks about. If its the first time they're hearing about it, it is unique (look at the smell good plumber).
    Yup. Mind you, it's always worth starting at the bottom and working your way up. Usually I work out three USPs in case someone knocks it off. Then you blast them from a completely different angle.
  • Profile picture of the author KingOfContentMarketing
    Ran into this last year while working on some project:

    10 Examples of Killer Unique Selling Propositions on the Web

    Our old friend Saddleback Leather is listed.
  • Profile picture of the author RedShifted
    This is something I'm working on right now because noone else in my industry is doing it. All their websites say the same exact things, they're all boring, they don't really connect with the customer... and niether does mine.

    The good part is, I've decided to actually do something about it.
  • Profile picture of the author Moriarty
    Red Shifted
    This is something I'm working on right now because noone else in my industry is doing it. All their websites say the same exact things, they're all boring, they don't really connect with the customer... and niether does mine.
    Well done. Only will you be asking the questions your target traffic are asking? Because this may be why you can't find much evidence of the competition's websites. They're all doing it their way - and since they don't think like you, don't think of the same avenues to pursue. Even when you do find the odd landing page, it will be so different from yours that there won't be any competition. They have their share of the traffic, you have yours - and even if your traffic sees their site, won't like it as much as yours. They'll flock to you like homing pigeons.

    Which is what uniqueness is all about, isn't it?

    Oh, and isn't it the way the web should be? It would save a lot of frustration, that's for certain.
  • Profile picture of the author Steve The Copywriter
    Hey Red,

    It was a while ago when you posted one of your promo's (wasn't your website) on the offline forum - and you made lots of improvements.

    I always meant to ask how the refined version did (don't worry if you can't remember, it was in the distant past).


    I'm sure you'll nail it on your website especially as you now have a new USP (it's always good if the "competition" can't, won't or have no earthly idea how to do the same thing).


    P.S. In case "nail it" is a UK term - it means "getting it right"
  • Profile picture of the author The Marketeer
    I agree with Rick.

    I think it's possible to help the client uncover their USP without actually referring to the acronym USP.

    It can be achieved by just going through the interview process and delving deeper with research until you identify it.

    That's also partly what they hire a copywriter for.
  • Profile picture of the author Moriarty
    Rick Duris
    I'm probably in the minority, but I believe discussing USPs with a new Client is a risk as well as waste of time.

    I dare not mutter the words.
    You're right.

    The Marketeer.
    That's also partly what they hire a copywriter for.
    Spot on.
  • Profile picture of the author Steve The Copywriter
    I agree with Rick. It tends to be us copywriters and maybe corporate clients who are stuck with the USP word.

    Best way to free ourselves and prevent any confusion with buzzwords with the majority of our clients is talk in a way that is real to them.

    'What do you do that is different, better, more valuable....?" (etc, etc)

    Another good question is - "What do your customers say they appreciate most about you?" (this answer often leads onto the path of uniqueness).

  • Profile picture of the author shawnlebrun
    Yeah, I technically won't come out and ask a client "what's your USP"
    cause honestly.... many of my clients really didn't know what that meant.

    But I do want to know what THEY think makes them better/different/unique, etc...

    Often times, just from being in biz for 12 years and having a lot of success in
    many different markets, I can kinda tell if someone is WAY off base with their USP.

    So, i'll just find ways to help them sharpen their USP... whether or not they
    take my advice, I'll still weave it into their copy.

    But like Steve said, HOW you word it often makes all the difference...

    In my client survey, I have a sentence that reads something like...

    "If you were sitting down with your prospect, face to face, what would
    you say in just a sentence or two, as to why they should buy from you."

    It's pretty amazing, really, that an entire business can either succeed
    or fail, all based on a USP.
  • Profile picture of the author copyassassin
    Originally Posted by shawnlebrun View Post

    So, how do you help clients find or
    work on fine-tuning their USP?


    Simplest, easiest, quickest, and most importantly, ACCURATE WAY to fine-tune a USP is using Adwords.

    You can test the copy of the PPC ad with different USPs and track CTR, opt-ins, calls, and cash in.

    See what works, see what doesn't.

    You might also notice that within a certain business, different services have different USPs.

    For example, I do tax strategy.

    Tax Strategy for a w-2 earner vs a small business owner, vs a rental property owner is going to be different.

    Perhaps the overarching theme is the same, but each one is different.

    The problem I see with most USPs is this:

    They take the owner into account without thinking of the end user.

    A great USP is a marriage between the owner and the ideal client.

    They need to be fit to each other.

    Just because a business owners says, "I'm different because of XZY", doesn't mean that's the client cares about.

    Being in business is about solving clients problems, not the ones the owners hope to solve.

  • Profile picture of the author Steve The Copywriter
    Another thing about USP’s.

    Often there just isn't one (but as I said earlier you can usually convince the client to add something of real “value” to the product or service).


    This has been written about a gazillion times.

    So here goes - a gazillion and one.

    Claude Hopkins and the Schlitz beer ads (from his book "Scientific Advertising").

    Virtually all the beer companies "filtered" their beer the same way. To make it pure.

    But nobody knew about it.

    So Claude in his infinite wisdom told the world that Schlitz did this filtering.

    Viola - everyone saw it as a USP.

    And they became the Number 1 best seller.


    P.S. There are lots of modern day versions of this.

    Today I was in a store and bought some stuff including a packet of vegetables - there was a round hole on the packet which I had never noticed before.

    So I’m chatting to the checkout person and said “Are these vegetables OK, because there’s a hole on the packet?”

    She said, “Yes, they’re fine, it’s to help make sure they can “breathe” so they say fresher for longer”

    I never knew that was the reason - it wasn't the most astonishing fact I've ever discovered but it did suddenly become a USP.
  • Profile picture of the author sethczerepak
    Creating USPs has been the cornerstone of my copywriting business. I'm in a place right now where if people don't have one and don't want to have one, I don't work with them. Problem is the entire process is all up in my brain right now, but I'm turning it into a worksheet and thinking about offering it as a WSO.

    Not sure though, seems like a lot of people on here are more interested in magic traffic software lol (pearls before swine?)

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