What is a USP? It stands for ‘Unique Selling Point’. It’s what makes you, you. Everyone has at least one, and so does every successful venture. Mine is being able to sing word for word every Meat Loaf song since 1975 🙂

There comes at times opportunities for success that will accelerate quickly and become viral in a short amount of time. These times will sound like this: ‘WOW we’re doing so well, this is amazing! I can’t believe it, we’ve accumulated a million users! Oh my goodness we’ve just sold out of our best sellers! You will never guess who I’m talking to for funding now!’. Initial successes will always drive interest and possibly buy-in and investment from influential third parties and the most important factors, consumers. That being said, there can but be two eventual outcomes from an initial peak of interest: Crash and burn or a sustainable growth pattern.

I think it’s obvious from this, the sustainable growth pattern is where you want to get to here and there are some questions to answer when developing what your strategy to do that is.

  • Why did I generate so much interest?
    • What did people really think about my product?
    • What’s the interest lifespan?
    • How can I sustain interest?
  • What is my USP?
    • How do I know what people are saying about my USP?
    • How long do people engage with my USP?
    • How do I generate long term engagement, virality and revenue from that?

Notice anything about the above? I hope you notice that interest and USP are demanding the same answers.

When starting up a business these days, it can be pretty hard to find the USP. It requires a lot of thought, research, trial and error and our most important commodity; time. A lot of companies piggy back an original idea by becoming a clone in order to gain a ‘piece of the pie’ right around the time the initial idea is about to go viral thus jumping straight into an arena where the initial work has already been done and proven. This means they can get investment and garner that all important buy-in quite easily through case study and comparison of established theories and implementations. The Samwer brothers are masters of this with their ‘clone’ incubator – Rocket Internet. Glossybox is a clone of Birchbox, Wimdu is a clone of airbnb, Zalando is a clone of Zappos, Lazada is a clone of Amazon… The list goes on and they have made a fortune from what they’ve done despite an established view in some areas of the industry akin to patent trolling.

Just to point out, you may be thinking – she can’t think that! She was the Tech Director of one of a high profile clone that emerged over the last three years when at Stylistpick! You are correct in that thinking, I was! I also don’t think that cloning is patent trolling, I think cloning is a viable way to establish competition which ultimately drives the best deal to the consumer in emerging markets. Now we’ve cleared that up, let us continue…

Your USP may be a one time only thing that the people like Rocket Internet will want to clone, or maybe your individual take on an existing USP of another company. It’s something that you do different or better than others to gain loyalty of a growing user base to ultimately drive revenue. There are of course millions of factors in making that USP a viable success, but if you don’t have the USP to begin with, you have no vehicle.

So how do you leverage your USP to succeed both now and in the long term?

Truly define your USP

Sometimes your intended USP turns out to pale in significance to something else that you offer. Stylistpick originally started as a subscription service, not unlike Shoedazzle, justfab, shoe mint etc etc and aimed to provide users with a monthly affordable subscription to ‘treat’ themselves every month with. They would get a free gift, luxury feel packaging and free delivery. The last three things were introduced to support the USP of subscription based shopping for a pure non practical shopping experience without breaking the bank every month. We wanted to induce a feeling of excitement with every new showroom every month with celebrity endorsement and the feeling of personalised styled shopping.

In brief, it turned out people were more in tune with our luxury packaging and free next day delivery for affordable shopping, i.e the ‘experience’ rather than any of the other experiences we were offering. People loved feeling looked after and treated by spending £40 on something. The subscription element wasn’t the thing that people thrived on when engaging with us. It meant going down other paths.

Models can and should be adapted to how the business grows. Your USP needs to be strong and add the most significant value to your proposition. Beware changing your model without insight… you could damage your USP significantly.

Protect your USP

Sone people will get your vision, some won’t. Some people are still valuable to you even if they only get part of it. As the visionary, it is your job to bring people along with you in your visioning and strategy implementations. In order to do this, you either need to be completely focused on the goals and/or build a team you trust who can really lead business to match the USP and set objectives. You need to be the champion of your proposition and make sure that it is at all times, a driving force behind decision making and direction.

That being said, remember other people’s insight will expand yours. It’s up to you whether you change or not, but opinion and expertise will always help you to navigate your environment.

Develop your USP for Success

There are many things that you need to even hope to succeed, innovation, motivation, dedication are vision are but some. Sometimes however, those aspects along with your product and USP will need to grow with your growth, with a changing market or with economic factors. Many companies that had a brilliant USP failed to navigate their way through the recent recession. However, properly developing your USP to remain strong can make that navigation a lot easier.

Business insight is your friend here. Metrics should provide two functions: reassure investors and teach lessons on what you’re not doing very well. Every graph can be made to go up, it’s the ones that go down that will be your road to success. What are you doing well? What are you not? How is your USP performing compared to a higher/lower performing period? These insights should drive your goals and ultimately empower you to continually adapt to what is needed to achieve your original strategy. A good exec team is essential here, one who will push back, one who will take charge and one who will partner together using their experience and skillsets to strategise their way through ever changing environments to achieve growth using their business models and USP as a focal vehicle to achieve it.

In short…

So my Meat Loaf USP perhaps isn’t going to work for me, I’ll adapt it to something that fits in more with today. Perhaps I’ll turn my hand to a more popular artist 🙂

In all seriousness, you’re USP could make or break you. Look after it….