Amongst the many buzzwords populating the startup world, you’ve probably heard someone mention the importance of differentiation. Differentiation can come in the form of your product or service, pricing, branding, and just about any other facet of a business that you could imagine. This can become quite confusing as you try to bring your business together and prioritize what actions to take first.
Perhaps the most comprehensive statement of differentiation that a founder can focus on is their business’s Unique Selling Proposition (USP). For those who aren’t familiar with the term USP, businessdictionary.com defines it as such:
“Real or perceived benefit of a good or service that differentiates it from the competing brands and gives its buyer a logical reason to prefer it over other brands.”
It can be tempting to try and beat the competition in every vertical, even from day one. As startup builders, our natural inclination is to disrupt the industry that we enter, and compete with the giants of our industry head on. The reality of the situation is that the scale of established businesses often outweighs our potential as new entrants into the market.
Being mindful of this enables us to approach the problem of differentiating oneself from the competition more strategically. The most important question to start with is this: what can I or will I do that the competition can’t or is not paying attention to?oEven the biggest companies in the world miss opportunities in the market. As these businesses begin to scale, there is an ample amount of space to find your opportunity as a new business.
So What is a Unique Selling Proposition?
Your Unique Selling Proposition should be the point of value that your business stands on, making them more valuable than the competition. The goal here is not to cater to every aspect of the market, but instead to provide one aspect of value that surpasses the competition. This is the best way to build a brand with traction behind it, and once you’ve done so, you will be able to build additional value propositions that you can offer to your customers.
Shaving the Market Share off the Competition
Take Dollar Shave Club as a prime example. Dollar Shave Club had no easy task on their hands when they entered into the age-old razor industry. If their business was going to be successful, they’d have to employ a different approach to the market.
Their solution? Dollar Shave Club decided that they were going to cut out the supply chain that made the major competitors like Gilette and Schick so expensive, and instead delivered inexpensive, high-quality razors to the customer’s door quickly. Surely, that’s a mouthful of value to sift through to find one Unique Selling Proposition. When you refine it to the most important value add against the competition, their were high-quality razors in the marketplace already, and there were cheap razors as well. However, there was no business model that delivered both to the consumer’s door quickly and efficiently. Their USP, in this case was “Shave time. Shave money.”
A pun that referenced their product, actually happened to articulate very clearly and concisely what made their company unique amongst the competition. Dollar Shave Club didn’t go down the route of making a top of the line razor with all the bells and whistles that one could fit on a razor, like some of their premium competitors. In fact, they actually poked fun at that very idea in their viral ad above. Likewise, they didn’t make the cheapest possible razor on the market either. Instead, they charged a reasonable price for a quality razor, and saved their subscribers time by delivering the kit directly to their door.
Netflix Becomes the Better Blockbuster
For Netflix, the answer was a similar strategic shift. Netflix was spawned out of one of the major pain points of what was America’s favorite video store at the time: Blockbuster. Blockbuster’s business model was to rent out VHS tapes and later DVD’s, and they monetized this transaction by charging a fixed fee for every day the tape was rented, along with the late or lost fees.
There is a story that Netflix’s CEO, Reed Hastings, tells in regards to the genesis of the streaming giant. Hastings had rented Apollo 13 from Blockbuster, only to later lose it and be forced to pay a $40 fee to cover the missing inventory. He left the store feeling deeply dissatisfied, and on his way to the gym, he came up with the business model that would soon become Netflix.
Reed thought about his gym membership, and how much more efficient and customer conscious their model was. Members could come and go as they pleased, use the equipment, and go about their day without the anxiety of incurring additional fees. Hastings thought about how that model could be applied to the movie industry, and got to work sorting out the logistics of creating the first online-based DVD rental company.
You might be wondering what exactly Netflix’s Unique Selling Proposition was. Today, their tagline is “See what’s next.” This could allude to a variety of messages, but the one people will likely think of is “binge watching” an extensive library of content. However, Netflix was not always so forward about its messaging.
Gibson Biddle, the former VP of Product Management, explained that there was no tagline at all when he first arrived at Netflix. “But the simple idea that my marketing partners drilled home was that we were about movie enjoyment made easy.”
Instead of charging customers per movie rented and wringing every last penny out of late returns, Netflix was proactive and fair in their pricing. They used a subscription model to allow their customers to pick as many different movies to choose from as they pleased. By prioritizing customer satisfaction first and taking advantage of low shipping costs, Netflix was able to capture market share from traditional video stores. This put them ahead in more ways than one, because it also eased their transition into digital content, as other providers were still charging per movie even as content became streamable.
Clearly, it is important to communicate your brand and mission to your customers. However, this Netflix study teaches us that there is a time and a place to explicitly state your Unique Selling Proposition in the form of a tagline or marketing campaign, and then there is a time to live it through your business. As you grow, your USP might change, but when it does, your customers should be the first to know about it. Worry less about coming up with perfectly branded messaging for your loyal or soon-to-be loyal customers, and focus on making sure that they understand it passively just by virtue of using your product or service.
At Gro, we’re always eager to hear how entrepreneurs are actively disrupting the industry with their innovative USP’s. Drop a comment below to let us know how you’re changing the way your industry interacts with customers through your Unique Selling Proposition.