In this article we’ll be looking at how to find and exploit the unique selling points of your product or service.
It should help you identify what you should create to stand out from your competitors and appeal to your customers. This will allow you to minimise time spent on unnecessary features and ensure you are building something people really want.
What is it that makes your product different from the competition? Why are your customers’ going to love them? Identifying these points at an early stage will help you build a prototype focused on the features that your target market will actually want.
What is your advantage – your unique selling point?
Your first step is to think carefully about what your competitive advantage is. That is, what is it about your business that makes people buy from you and not a competitor. What sets your business apart and gives you an edge competitively?
Your unique selling proposition will form part of your eventual business pitch and should be really easy to understand. Having easy to understand value points will help you sell your idea to investors eventually too, not just to customers.
Now, you may never have to formally ‘pitch’ your business to an investor, but a pitch is much more than this. It’s an encapsulation of what your business is and a pithy explanation of why it will be a success. It will also form part of your executive summary when you come to make a full business plan.
How to identify your competitive edge
We need to begin with lots of questions:
- Does the business have a unique ‘spin’ that makes it attractive to an unusual or normally hard to attract target market?
- Does the business use quality materials, procedures or experience to set itself apart?
- Are you providing a similar experience to the competition but cheaper or faster?
- Are you entering a new market where customers don’t have any prior exposure to a product like yours? There is nothing quite like it!
For some of you, it might be easy to identify what your USP is.
Sometimes, coming up with a unique selling point can be tricky. So to find your ‘edge’ let’s break it down into steps. First, let’s look at some broad categories around market positioning that you identified last week. We are looking broadly at price, quality and target audience here.
Ask these questions:
- Are you the only premium option?
- Are you the only budget option?
- Do you solve a problem your competitors struggle with?
- Are you the only option to service a particular segment of the market specifically?
If you are the only option in one of the above categories then great! You need to make this the primary focus in designing your prototype (and eventually your brand too!).
If your business isn’t trying to be revolutionary but is following an established path then you may not see the business as being ‘unique’. If it’s not clear that you are the only option for any of these broad strategies then what else sets you apart?
We need to dig a little deeper in the next step.
Let’s look at the premium option – how is your premium product better than other premium products?
- Better customer service
- Quicker delivery options
- Better packaging
- Larger variety of materials/colours/shapes
- Thinner/smaller/lighter/more powerful
- Better quality materials
- Easier to understand
- Better buying experience
- Better product guarantee
- Better company ethos
- Ethically sourced materials
Your business may be very similar to its competitors, but what are the things that will make customers choose your business over the competition?
At Brixx, our competitors are complicated spreadsheets and other generally more expensive products that are difficult to use and targeted at financial experts. For startups and business owners they offer frustrating experiences.
By contrast, our financial forecasting software focuses on ease of use and smooth user experience. It’s the problem we solve and our USP. The features and messages we’ve designed focus on demonstrating that our software makes forecasting, something normally quite complicated, far more accessible to anyone no matter their background. At an affordable price too!
We’re continuously assessing this idea because what you think your USP is might not be what your customers think it is. We’ve received a lot of positive feedback from our customers that validates this position and justifies that we are focusing on the right points. You’ll need to do the same as you go through this process.
If you are still struggling to identify your USP then it’s time to go back to your customer and competitor research!
In Week 3 we spent time gathering detailed information on competitors. If they are marketing their business well then their messages should tell you what their selling point is very clear. Pay attention to their slogans and their big titles at the top of their website pages. What are they focusing on? What do they think is important in your industry?
Do I need multiple USPs?
It’s great to have multiple USPs. However, to start with you really need to focus on the most important one to narrow in on.
To do this, consider the following:
- Which is the easiest USP to understand?
- Which USP is most different from your competitors?
- Which USP will have the largest impact on customers buying decisions?
Score each of the USPs you’ve identified above for these qualities. Which is THE most important selling point for your idea?
Does my target market want the features I’m designing?
This is THE big question.
We started answering this in week 3 market research. In these two articles, we talked about understanding customer needs, conducting questionnaires, making customer personas etc.
Using this information we looked at the ways you can gather information about the market you are selling into. This should have helped drive your ideas and initial prototypes of your product or service.
For a smartphone app, you might have a large list of innovative functions that your app could have, far more than is practical to code in a short space of time. They all look so important, it’s difficult to cut them down!
For a physical product business, such as a fashion bag product, you might have a wide range of designs in mind. They might use different materials, different stitching techniques and have different sizes and shapes. They might all be aimed at making your product stand out from your competitors but it’s a huge range of factors to consider. Not only that but achieving something of good quality might take several iterations and prototypes.
For a service business, you might be considering the strategy of your consulting package. You might have a vast array of industry experience and advice that you could monetise. How do you focus on the right area to deliver value people are willing to pay for?
A coffee shop might offer a huge variety of sandwiches alongside its coffee – they could give customers a choice of bread (a la Subway), toppings, spreads, even different varieties of ham sandwich! This brings into further considerations about the quality of ingredients they would want to include and where to source them from.
By now you should have come up with a lot of features that you think will beat your competition and win over customers.
How do we know which of these features will really work in the marketplace without just building all of them and launching my entire business? How can we tell if any of these ideas are worth pursuing in the first place? Is there a process I can follow?
Begin with benefits not features
Ok, first let’s make sure we are on the same page when we discuss features. There is a lot of variety between different industries. A key mistake people make when thinking about their idea is the difference between features and benefits.
Benefits are the kind of USPs you’ve been identifying earlier in the chapter.
- It’s faster than another solution
- It’s easier to use
- It’s more ethical
Features are the characteristics of your product or service that enable the benefit:
- It’s faster to find insurance through my website because of the comparison feature
- My app is easier to use because of the intuitive navigation and search feature
- It’s more ethical because my packaging features recyclable materials
So, you can see that whatever long list of features you’ve thought up – you must now align them clearly to the benefit they support. Since you’ve already identified the most important benefits of your business over your competitors, this should be easy!
Your feature list, in theory, should prioritise itself. Of course, in reality this is much harder. When assessing each feature, it’s really important to be honest over whether it really is key to your USP or not. Sometimes features you really like, turn out to be less important when shone under this test and that can be hard when you’ve got a vision.
Just remember that the true test will be when customers tell you what they think, and they won’t hold back! They’ll vote with their wallets. It’s helpful to have this reality check in mind to keep you honest when you’re weighing up the true importance of any one particular feature.
Assess features by their complexity and impact
After the first step, you should have narrowed your list of features down substantially. It doesn’t mean you can’t revisit these features later. It just means for now, they are lower priority.
There are further steps you can take to prioritise these features. You need to look at their complexity and their impact.
The complexity of a feature can be judged from two angles:
- Is it complex to build?
- Is it complex to explain?
Both forms of complexity should make you lower the priority of a feature if you can. Keep in mind that a feature might be easy to explain but complex to build – this means it might still be worth pursuing especially if you judge the impact to be high (we’ll get to that next).
If a feature supports your USP but is difficult to explain how it does it then it’s also worth thinking twice about its importance.
How effective is the individual feature at supporting your USP? If you are focusing on delivering a product or service quicker than the competition you might have identified several features that support this goal. They won’t all contribute to this goal equally. Work out which of these features impact this goal the most.
Once you’ve assessed the impact and complexity of your remaining features, this should further help you prioritise them. At this point, you should have a really focused list.
Turning your prioritised feature list into a prototype
For a startup, it can take a long time to discover what their target audience actually wants. Even established businesses might still be trying to figure out why their customers actually like their product!
Many startups fall into the trap of hiding away, building the best possible product they can think of before exposing it to customers months down the line. They are concerned that unless they present something of high quality that represents the best form of their business idea then it will get rejected.
However, spending too much time agonising over features before you get a prototype in front of a customer will spell disaster. Despite your fears, you must get customers in the loop early to make sure you’re making something they really want.
This blog post forms part of our series on how to start a business in 90 days. For an overview of the series and all the blog posts so far click here.