Winning Strategies: How to Maximize Your USP

The Unique Selling Proposition (USP) is a marketing concept that was first proposed as a theory to explain a pattern among successful advertising campaigns of the early 1940s. It states that such campaigns made unique propositions to the customer and that this convinced them to switch brands. The term was invented by Rosser Reeves of Ted Bates & Company. Today the same concept applies to almost all industries, their services, and their products.

This concept explains why many customers buy from your print shop versus your competitors’ shops. Whether you realize it or not, some customers first bought from you based on some perception that they had. Was it simply that they thought you were the least expensive? Perhaps it was they thought you were the most reliable? Or was it that you could produce their job quickly?

The perceived difference between your shop and your competitor’s is usually just a battle for the mind. Customers’ minds are limited, they like simple differences and they hate confusion.


Uncovering Your USP

Where do you start in figuring out your USP? First, you need to survey your competition. This not only includes your immediate competitors, but also the Internet printers, and perhaps your clients’ ability to do the work themselves. What do your competitors do better than you do and, more importantly, what do your competitors envy about your business?

How then do you position your strengths against your competitors’ weaknesses? Try to identify a few possible selling propositions. Do you have more services and products? Do you turnaround jobs quicker? Do you deliver on time? Is your customer service superb? Is your website designed to make it easy to place orders? Do you specialize in any particular service or niche market?

Keep in mind that the difference is about showing the customer that they’re going to be served with the right product or service – the one that makes their job easier or faster, increases their sales, or is less painful or more hassle-free. It’s easy for you to talk about how your shop is better and different. It’s another thing when you can show a customer a concrete example of how being better and different applies to their needs and sensibilities. Three great ways are:

• Samples of jobs that you have printed that are either similar to what they want produced or that received good feedback from your clients.

• Testimonials from existing clients about how you helped them meet their deadlines, kept them on budget, or made their company look good on paper.

• Case studies of projects you have done for existing clients, including the ROI or number of responses.


Real World Marketing

I will give you a personal example of creating a compelling USP. A few years ago, I bought a sign shop in the Hilton Head, SC, area. While I am basically an absentee owner, I am responsible for the marketing.

Within a couple of months, I surveyed the competition. What I found out was that most of them produced products as well as we did, pricing was similar, and we all sold basically the same products and services. None of the competitors were visible in the marketplace and they relied on word of mouth, location, yellow pages, and repeat business.

The major difference that I saw was reliability. Most of our competitors were not overly responsive in preparing estimates or getting signs done quickly. At first, I thought it might just be the “Southern” mentality of being a lot slower in expectations than what I was used to when I owned my printing company in New Jersey. I also thought that perhaps the clients in this area really didn’t expect their work to be done quickly. I talked to several businesspeople in the Hilton Head area and came to the conclusion that they did expect timely estimates and then timely production of their signs.

I decided that our USP was going to be producing signs fast. We came up with the slogan “Great Signs in Less Time.” Since all of our competitors produced “great signs” our differentiator was doing it in less time. We initially used it on our signage and our printed materials. Then we recorded radio commercials that featured our two key employees. These commercials replaced ads that were done by the radio station (cute jingles and professional voices). By using real people with our new USP’s compelling message, we saw a noticeable increase in results. Sales for the first quarter were up 42% over 2010. We actually picked up three major new clients from a competitor. All three told us that our competitor was not getting back to them on a regular basis and the consequence was a delay in getting their signage produced.


Define & Deliver

The key is understanding that your USP is just a marketing technique – you have to back it up with great customer service and sales support. Good marketing just “sets the plate” for your sales reps and CSR’s to be able to convert inquiries from prospects into new projects and new clients.

There are many different ways you can show your customers how you’re better and different. Keep in mind that you’re not just trying to get their immediate business – you want them as a client. While the difference is subtle, never forget that it has a major impact on how you approach the sales process and the effect that your customer feels.

What is your USP? If you don’t know then I would suggest that you ask your employees and your top clients. You might be surprised by their answers. If the responses are not similar then you need to find one USP that separates your business from the rest of the pack.


Mitch Evans is president of Mitch Evans Consulting, which is specifically targeted to meet the consulting needs of the quick and small commercial printing industry. His areas of expertise are in strategic planning, valuation, mergers and acquisition, financial planning, new technology, and “1-2-1” coaching. Evans regularly speaks to printing associations and groups on these and related subjects. Contact him at 561-351-6950 or