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Business management

How to find your USP in a crowded market

Walk down a typical high street and you’ll likely find four hair salons, three estate agents and two driving schools. Elsewhere around town are half-a-dozen taxi companies and 10 plumbers. How can any of them hope to stand out?

One way is to have a special attribute that’s unique to your business – your USP – and to shout about it. Your USP could be something about you and your team; it could be associated with the service you offer, such as super-fast same-day delivery or free repairs; or maybe there’s something special about the product you sell – everything is handmade in the area, for example.

A good USP can help you to get noticed and also help people to remember you for all the right reasons. “Businesses can find all sorts of creative ways to stand out,” says Dr Marie Taillard, professor of creativity marketing at ESCP Europe Business School. “Maybe they can use humour, or they can conduct their business in a community-friendly way,” she says, citing the case of a small supermarket chain near her home, which recently announced via Facebook that local residents could store frozen goods in their giant commercial freezers following a power cut. “That kind of community-centricity is going to pay off,” she says, “because people will remember what the supermarket did. Anything that makes people feel good and touches on their emotions can really help.”

Look after your customers and they will look after you

Taillard says that great customer service such as this is one of the best USPs a business can have (although it’s unlikely to be truly ‘unique’ in reality), and adds that being known for top-notch service becomes especially powerful if you can encourage your clientele to leave genuine, positive reviews about you on Yelp, Google, Foursquare and similar feedback sites. Another tip is to be an active member of your local business community. “Make sure you’re recognised by other firms in town that can drive business to you,” Taillard says.

For Jennie Lawson, founder of Mimosa Beauty salon in Chelmsford, Essex – where at least another 10 beauty parlours operate within a stone’s throw – a key to her success has been to emphasise her environmental credentials. “I wanted to create a salon that would combine my eco beliefs and values with exceptional customer service,” she says. “I wanted my clients to be able to have treatments while still protecting the planet and our oceans.”

On top of this, Lawson stands out from the crowd by producing regular video content featuring skincare advice and product information for existing customers and potential new ones. Offering up your expertise like this, says Taillard, can be a great way to build credibility and trust – as well as driving traffic to your website.

Emphasising local and instant access can be very effective for small high-street businesses. Consumers are still looking for local flavour, local sourcing and local service

Dr Marie Taillard
Professor of creativity marketing, ESCP Europe Business School

Additionally, a deep knowledge of your field can be turned into stories that newspapers, magazines, websites and radio/TV audiences may find interesting, says Sharon Bolt, founder of Get Free Publicity Today. Being a local media ‘celebrity’ could become your USP. “If you’re a solicitor, maybe you specialise in data protection, and right now there’s lots of media opportunities in the General Data Protection Regulation,” says Bolt. “Or maybe you’re experts in divorce – a field in which there are PR opportunities whenever there’s a high-profile split.”

If you have a USP, tell the world about it

Whatever your USP, there’s little point in having one if you don’t speak up about it. In the field of recruitment, for example, there were almost 900 new businesses launched in that sector alone during the first four months of 2017. Acutely aware of just how crowded the market is, Amanda Fone, founder of F1 Recruitment, found a USP in establishing herself as an expert on the most pertinent employment issues facing her clients.

“I co-created the only marcomms [marketing and communications] returnship programme – Back2businessship – and also BAME2020, which works towards getting people from BAME backgrounds into marketing and communications as a career,” she says. “No one else is doing this. Making ourselves part of the solution has raised our profile and given us a national media platform.”

Taillard offers some additional USP suggestions:

  • Be genuine: Do you have a USP related to social good, ethical issues or giving something back to the community? “A big caveat here is that it must be seen as an authentic reflection of what your business is about,” she says. “Unless there’s a track record and a sense that this is something that’s part of your DNA, it may backfire.”
  • Go the extra mile: “Anything that makes [your customer] feel: ‘We understand you, and we’ve got your back,’ could work,” says Taillard. Maybe you could make life easier for customers by being the store on your high street that accepts click-and-collect deliveries on behalf of big brands.
  • Think local: “Emphasising local and instant access can be very effective for small high street businesses,” says Taillard. “Consumers are still looking for local flavour, local sourcing and local service.”
No USP? Don’t force it

If you’re struggling to find your USP, it could be that you don’t really have one, and Bryony Thomas, founder of Watertight Marketing, says you probably shouldn’t lose too much sleep over that. She agrees that USPs can be helpful when people are studiously making direct comparisons – but says this tends not to be how most of us choose where to get our cracked phone screen repaired or when looking for a builder, for example.

“It’s more important for people to think of you when someone goes on social media and asks: ‘Does anyone know someone who does x, y or z?’” she says. “And one of the best ways to do that is to be friendly, available, easy to do business with and – importantly – known. By all means be memorable and stand out with kerb appeal if you’re on the high street, because that makes you easy to describe, but don’t try and find something that makes you different just for the sake of it.”

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