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  • Writer's pictureDeJuan Wright

How to Determine Your Startup's True Unique Selling Proposition

Updated: Feb 10

With now over 80 bottled water brands in the United States alone, it’s pretty hard for founders to lead with the excuse that the reason why their products or services aren’t resonating with consumers—is due to oversaturation or product duplication in the market.

Sure, an overabundance of options for consumers in any category isn’t necessarily something that a shrewd founder would enthusiastically sign up for.

Nonetheless, regardless if your brand’s products or services are currently serving consumers in a niche category or a crowded one, there are still plenty of ways that you can position your brand to stand out from all competitors in its category. And one of the most effective ways to do that is by determining its true unique selling proposition.

The importance of a unique selling proposition

At this point, we've all either contributed to them, seen them, or, at the very least—heard about them from others who have witnessed them firsthand. What’s that I’m referring to? Those absurdly long lines at Starbucks that are filled with customers itching for their next fix of coffee and caffeine.

But have you ever taken the time to ask yourself, “Why is it that people are so willing to wait in such long lines to purchase a hot or cold beverage from Starbucks—that they could easily purchase at other coffee shops with lines that aren’t as long?”

Well, the answer to that question is that Starbucks has a unique selling proposition (USP) that is far superior to those of their competitors (which we’ll discuss later).

If you’re unfamiliar with the term, a unique selling proposition (also known as a unique selling point) is a marketing strategy that consists of pinpointing what distinguishes a particular brand or product from its competitors.

Having a great USP is important for your startup because whether your brand and its products or services belongs to a category that is oversaturated or not, if you can articulate to your audience just what it is about your brand and what it offers that uniquely makes it more valuable than all other alternatives—you will have a great chance of winning their business.

Identifying your startup’s true USP

When looking to identify your startup’s true USP, be sure to look deeper than simply the quality of your products or services; for two reasons: (1) Every other brand will claim that they have exceptional quality and service. (2) Consumers already expect products or services to be of high quality. Therefore, using quality as the thing that makes your brand unique is sort of like stating that you’re a hard worker in a job interview—very redundant.

Instead, think of a creative claim that no other brand in your category is currently making—and make it your brand or product’s proverbial calling card.

For example, contrary to popular opinion, what Starbucks is exceptionally great at isn’t selling beverages and breakfast snacks. What Starbucks is incredibly great at, is selling togetherness. Which the brand’s current mission statement impressively articulates.

Starbucks’ aforementioned mission statement is, “With every cup, with every conversation, with every community—we nurture the limitless possibility of human connection.”

If you noticed, what was not mentioned in their mission statement was how great Starbucks’ products are. That’s because the brand’s USP isn’t taste or quality—it’s togetherness and culture. And they sell a great deal of coffee and snacks as a byproduct of that USP.

No matter if your startup brand sells water, coffee, or software—there’s always a way to distinctively set it apart from the alternatives in the eyes of consumers. The key is making sure your brand’s USP is something that’ll be of significance to your target customers.

Brands with great USPs

As tempting as it may be, try to avoid making low prices your startup’s USP. Remember, when brands compete on providing the lowest prices—they’re usually competing in a race to the bottom. And as author and marketing guru Seth Godin often says, “The problem with the race to the bottom is that you might win.”

A much more successful course of action is to identify something within the sphere of your brand or its products that could provide value to your target audience—that isn’t currently being highlighted or utilized by other brands in its category or industry.

These are a few examples of brands that have done a great job of finding and articulating their USP to their audience despite being in crowded categories:

Ben & Jerry’s — Have you been down the freezer aisle of a grocery store lately? If so, you probably noticed the crazy amount of ice cream brands that shoppers now have to choose from. But none of those brands have an emotional bond with their audience like Ben & Jerry’s has. The reason for that is Ben & Jerry’s USP—which is to make the world a better place through social activism and awareness.

Bombas — If a brand could stand out selling a product that everyone has an inordinate amount of—like socks; you could certainly take solace in knowing that your startup could also stand out in its respective industry as well.

Bombas’ USP is that for every pair of socks that a customer purchases, Bombas donates a pair to those who are homeless and in need. Bombas’ USP is so distinctive—it helped the company become a billion-dollar brand (and the most successful company to ever appear on the television show Shark Tank.)

Crumbl — As the fastest-growing dessert shop in America, Crumbl is a brand known for its delicious cookies. But regardless of how good their cookies taste (and they do taste good) Crumbl has become a hit amongst customers mostly because of their USP—which is scarcity. Because of the brand’s rotating menu—which changes weekly—customers flock to Crumbl shops each week to buy cookies that they know won’t be available to purchase the week after.

Crystal Geyser — I’d be remiss if after mentioning bottled water brands being able to stand out, I didn’t provide an actual example of one that has successfully done so. Which brings us to Crystal Geyser. Crystal Geyser’s USP is that their water is exceptionally fresh because it’s bottled at the source—which they market as being from a spring on an icy mountain.

Sonic — The fast-food restaurant industry has been known to be one of the most difficult industries for a company to survive. And it gets incredibly more difficult if your brand doesn’t stand out from all others that sell similar items.

One brand that doesn’t have that problem—thanks to its USP, is Sonic. Sonic, also known as Sonic Drive-In, is in a league of its own in the way the brand serves its customers; which consists of a 60s style drive-in service that allows customers to order and be served in a designated parking area while waiting in their car.

Choosing the perfect USP

If you’d like further help with identifying the perfect USP for your startup, contact us today and we’ll be more than happy to help you select a USP that’ll help your brand stand out from others in its industry and resonate with its target audience.


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