The USP—Unique Selling Proposition—is said to be the secret of getting the right core message of your business. So why is it so many practices have no idea what their USP even is? By John Burfitt
If there’s one thing most marketers agree on when it comes to advising small businesses on the best way to establish a secure hold in their marketplace, it’s about knowing what their Unique Selling Proposition (USP) is. That’s because being clear in this regard forces you to think about what distinguishes your practice and makes your team stand out from your competitors in the same market.
By having a clear USP, your marketing will be stronger because a well-defined message is presented, and it helps identify a clear direction for the business. But ask some marketers who work within the veterinary field what they make of most practices’ efforts to communicate their USP, and the report card is not good. “Some people’s business ideas about what makes them unique are almost prehistoric,” says Jon Michail, group CEO of Image Group International, a corporate and personal brand advisory company.
“They still just want to do things their old, merry way. To be fair, most practices are doing this in an ad hoc way, because the person running the business hasn’t got the time to work on the business.” It’s a point, trainer Karen Gately, author of the book, The People Manager’s Toolkit, agrees with. “Of the small businesses I have worked with, 90 per cent have no idea what makes their service unique,” she says. “So many business owners really struggle with the concept of their USP, if they even know what it is in the first place.
“In most cases, it’s because they haven’t stopped to think about it and that’s concerning when they’re positioning themselves in a crowded marketplace.”
For many practice owners, their USP is the very reason they had the confidence to go out on their own and start a business in the first place. They knew they could offer something different or more specialised than everyone else in the market, and so opened up their doors.
For others, the USP could be that the business owner saw a gap in the market and knew they could fill it with the range of exclusive services they had to offer. “It’s your ‘why’—why you are doing this resonates far more strongly than just what you do,” Gately says. “Think deeply that why you are doing this is what creates the experience your clients have.”
Pinpointing your USP may require some soul-searching and brutal objectivity, says Jon Michail. “It’s about knowing the value you provide to your clients,” he says. “You’ve got to find out what makes you tick and why people are buying your service. What the personal brand of your business communicates, the returns will be congruent with what you’re putting out there.”
Much of that comes down to a sense of trust, Michail says. “Trust is the new currency of the world we live in. Expertise doesn’t give you authority anymore, but trust does. So step outside and look in and decide why people trust your business, and then make that the core of every message you put out there.”
“[Your USP] is about knowing the value you provide to your clients. You’ve got to find out what makes you tick and why people are buying your service.”—Jon Michail, Group CEO, Image Group International
Taking an objective view of your business—and not only the way it operates but how it appeals to the market—can prove a crucial step in focusing in on the business’s USP, says Caroline Ucherek of CJU Medical Marketing.
“Take a look at your business from the outside in, just as a customer would, and then ask yourself, ‘Why would anyone bring their animals here?’” she says. “Very often people get too close to their own product and services and don’t actually see what it is they are offering that is different to others in the same field.
“You need to look at every element of your practice and see what it is that is different about what you’re doing compared to the one up the road and the one on the other side of the town.”
Embarking on a period of research to find out what other players in your same field are doing is important to determine the USP, Ucherek adds. “It’s just as important to know what the other players are saying about themselves. Before you can really understand what’s unique about you, gain a thorough understanding of what your competitors are doing. Then you have a benchmark to compare yourself against.
“It might only be then that you realise that offering a 24-hour emergency service is your USP, when you assumed everyone else did it, too. Or delivering the client’s dog back home after a procedure is something you’ve been doing for years but no-one else does. It might also be that one of your team has done a number of research papers in nose and throat health of cats, and that’s something pretty unique to shout about.”
Once the USP is determined and defined, it needs to be the foundation message of all communications the practice engages in, claims business performance practitioner Darleen Barton. “Building a marketing plan around your USP is far more important than deciding on your corporate colours—this is what you want to make clear in every message your practice makes.
“This is the time you need to look at the clear message being issued through your website, as well as through your social media platforms,” Barton says. “It might also be in the way you communicate with clients by telephone, email and when they’re in the practice. That USP needs to be something that they actually experience, rather than just be told about. This is all about effective service delivery.”
Knowing the market your business is best suited to and catering to that market is paramount, says Michail. This is also an area where the small businesses can take an advantage in the way they do business.
“Small business practices can leave the big corporates for dead if they focus on and highlight their USP properly,” Michail says. “It’s about the value you are putting out there. If you’re putting energy out there about offering a caring, committed and boutique service rather than a big model that’s trying to offer everything to everyone, then you will be getting the kind of energy back that’s in accordance with the kind of business you want to run.”