Identifying your business’s unique selling proposition and core values

How to find—and share—the special “something” that sets your business apart

Ready to share what makes your business great? Tell us here.

Estimated Reading Time: 5 minutes

Think back to when you first decided to start your own business. What motivated you to take the plunge? There's a good chance you knew you'd bring something distinctive to the market, delivering a product or experience that's decidedly unique.

That "something" is what continues to set you apart today — and it has the potential to positively transform the way people view your business. All you have to do is effectively express it to your customers.

Identifying Your Unique Selling Proposition

A unique selling proposition, or USP, is the single most significant element that separates your product or service from similar businesses in the marketplace. or USP.

Your USP is all about differentiating yourself from your competition by zeroing in on the most important benefits of your brand. Depending on your business, it can take many forms. Maybe your products are all handcrafted in Canada, while other companies produce theirs with machinery overseas. Perhaps the level of service you offer is unparallelled. If you're a photographer, your USP might be the playfulness and humour you bring to your portraits. It helps to think of your USP as your business's "claim to fame."

Define Your Core Values

Along with your USP, you'll want to identify your core values. Just like people, every business has a set of values that defines what it stands for and how it operates, influencing everything from your company culture to how your customers perceive your brand.

Zappos, for example, lives by 10 core values, which include "Deliver WOW through service" and "Be humble." Whole Foods Market's values range from selling the "highest quality natural and organic products available" to satisfying and delighting its customers. Most Zappos and Whole Foods customers already know these values well — big companies with big budgets have a marketing and PR advantage, whereas small business owners must work a little harder to get the point across. But regardless of your size, the approach remains the same. Figure out what's at the heart of your business, and describe it as succinctly as you possibly can.

Why are core values like these important? According to research on how consumers view and interact with companies that demonstrate corporate social responsibility — values like positively contributing to the community, and using environmentally friendly product packaging — the way a business conducts itself influences the consumer decision-making process. Studies show that 84 percent of consumers look for responsible products every chance they get. What's more, 57 percent say they would buy a product of lesser quality if the company selling it was more socially or environmentally responsible than other businesses. This is where small businesses have the edge. 

Play up the fact that you're a family-owned operation that uses your grandfather's tried-and-true recipes. Emphasize that your auto repair shop is a pillar of the local community, and how you uphold that distinction. Leveraging core values like these can attract new business, as well as help turn infrequent visitors into customers who are loyal for life.

Convey Your USP and Values to Your Customers

Once you've determined the USP and core values specific to your business, it's time to share them with the world. Take a cue from Zappos and Whole Foods and feature your values on your website. Make sure yours has an About Us page where you can convey those values to the future customers who are researching your business.

It's also a good idea to post both your USP and core values in your store, salon, or workshop as a friendly reminder to your employees. Your staff should share your business's beliefs and goals, and actively put them to work. Own a landscaping company that prides itself on using organic products? Let your staff know they should always tell customers your lawn fertilizers are pet-safe. Is your business involved with a local charity? Promote this fact as much as possible so customers know you're doing your part to support the community.

Finally, try to summarize your USP and values in a handful of words that can become your tagline — a catchphrase that describes your business in a way that's easy for customers to remember. "Think different" did wonders for Apple by communicating the tech company's dedication to innovation. Dollar Shave Club's "Shave Time. Shave Money" quickly explains why customers should use the company, and is impossible to forget. 

A line like "Community is at our core" or "Food. Family. Friends. Fun" could do the same for a pick-your-own fruit orchard that serves local residents. Include your own meaningful tagline on marketing materials, promotional products like water bottles and mugs, and on your business cards.

Tell Your Business Story

There's another way to stand out from the crowd, and that's with your business story. Humans are hardwired to pay attention to stories: Neurological research has found that hearing a real-life story makes the listener's brain sync up with that of the speaker.

What this means is that telling the story of your business not only helps you connect with potential customers on a deeper level, but can keep your business top of mind and generate positive word of mouth. When someone who has heard your business story tells it to another person, it's almost as if they heard it straight from you.

Your business story should include information about how your business got off the ground, what you hope to achieve, and how you're meeting your goals. Like a good book blurb or movie trailer, it should spark excitement and leave listeners wanting to know more.

How do you do that? Look to the "Five W's" so often used in journalism: who, what, where, when, and why. Mix them up in a way that guides the listener through your unique business experience. Every story will be different, so pick the approach that works best for you. You might start yours by introducing your people, passions, and background, and explaining how your business went from being an idea to a reality. Set the scene by touching on what inspired you, how you've grown, and the lessons you've learned. Reminiscing about the early days with family, friends, or staff can help you extract the most significant and memorable events. From there you can incorporate the core values that define your business today.

Don't worry if your business story isn't all sunshine and rainbows. Most businesses hit a rough patch somewhere along the way. It's all part of how your business came to be, and a key component of your brand identity.

How a Story Makes a Brand

Consider Bodega Taco Bar. On its website, the Connecticut-based restaurant starts its business story with a surprising statement: "We signed our lease with no real idea what to do (this is not as uncommon as you think) ... So off we went — eating and drinking our way across the food capital of the world — Brooklyn."

The narrative goes on to explain how Bodega's owners were inspired by other restaurants that were "breaking rules and blurring boundaries," and that they decided to do the same. "No multi-continental quests, no focus groups, no 'I grew up in San Diego' childhood memories of long lost fish taco heaven," they wrote, emphasizing the uniqueness of their startup story. "Just a realization that doing your own thing is how we roll and that everything tastes better in a tortilla."

It's easy to picture the owners relating this same story in person — and that's the beauty of a well-crafted business story. Pare it down, and it becomes the perfect elevator pitch: a 30-second summary of your business and what makes it great. Include some images, and it's ideal for your website's About Us page. Your business story may take a little time to shape, but the result will be incredibly versatile and can be shared with customers, business partners, vendors, and the media alike.

No matter what it is that makes your business different, it's vital to the way you position, promote, and talk about your brand. So, when you find that "something," embrace it. It's what got you where you are today, and it can take you even farther.

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