Startup's guide to discovering your unique selling points

This guide will give you the step-by-step process to ensure your USP positions your brand for success.

Startup's guide to discovering your unique selling points

Setting yourself apart from the competition can be challenging. In a world saturated with new products and in-your-face marketing, getting noticed can be even harder.

However, with the right strategies and a little perseverance, you can break through the clutter and succeed. The key? Discover your brand’s unique selling proposition (USP) and communicate that USP expertly.

This guide will give you the step-by-step process to ensure your USP positions your brand for success.

Building a Brand

Building a brand is a lot like building a community. Everyone must rally around a shared belief. Patrick Hanlon, an OG branding expert and author of primal branding, has developed the primal code to help you build a community connected through a brand’s shared belief system. Analysis of the primal code helps leaders consider seven brand elements that elevate a brand’s chance of being both unique and successful.

Creation Story

A pivotal first step in building your brand and recognizing your USP is the creation story. As a startup, you should be able to justly define your creation story. For consumers to connect with a brand, it helps to know what inspired the development. Why was the product or service created? Where was it created? What need does it fulfill?

The answer to any of these questions may be the USP. Keep your description short. If you want people to recognize the creation story as part of your brand, they must see it repetitiously. Therefore, your creation story must be short enough that it can be seen on everything, including the product.

More importantly, make sure the creation story is personalized. Your creation story should set you apart from every other brand with a similar product or story. The creation story must be unique enough that, when heard, it can only describe your brand. If your story has an element that showcases how you beat all odds, even better. Everyone rallies around the underdog. So, if you struggled to find success, it’s ok to be transparent. Begin fostering a community that relates to this creation story.


Another element of the primal code is developing sensory expressions that make your brand immediately recognizable.

Think of your brand as a personality. What does your brand’s personality reflect? Show this with your logo, consistent color palette, and distinctive packaging; depending on your offer, you might even have a personalized smell or scent.

Help your community identify who you are at a glance. Your icon should be unique enough that if the brand’s name is not visible, the icon alone imparts brand recognition.

The Leader

With a startup, it’s important to establish who you will proclaim as the leader. For the brand’s success, the leader should be in a visual role. Sometimes the leader is the founder. Sometimes it’s the CEO. Sometimes it’s a spokesperson. You decide.

The important thing is to establish someone that has a passion for the brand. Since your brand is a personality, make sure your leader represents that personality. Ideally, the leader should be associated exclusively with your brand. And most importantly, make sure your leader has a value system consistent with the beliefs your community buys into.

Beyond the Primal Code

While all elements of the primal code can help your brand find success, the creation story, icons, and leader are essential to identify early. Establishing these elements will help your brand stand out uniquely and set you on your journey to develop your brand’s UPS.

Discovering the USP

Thanks to your primal branding exercises, you know who you are as a brand. Now you can begin the journey to ensure your defined USP reflects your brand personality, resonates with your community, and sets you apart from competitors.

There are many product features or benefits that can become your USP. A USP is commonly pulled from one of the following categories:

  • Price
  • Quality
  • Convenience
  • Guarantee
  • Specialty
  • Selection

Now you have to decide which feature or benefit sets you apart from competitors and makes you essential to your target audience. It’s time for research.

Primary Research

Early on in the stages of development, involve your consumers in product development conversations. You can begin by asking employees or friends to test the products. After all, your employees are a major stakeholder audience.

As your consumer base grows, you can grow your research strategies. Eventually, you’ll have a larger community reach through email marketing lists or subscriptions. You never want your brand or product to become stagnant, so it’s important to build research in your funnel strategy continually.

There are several ways to execute primary research. In each instance, you must collect consumer feedback.

  • Offer free products in exchange for online reviews.
  • Invite customers to participate in focus groups.
  • Perform in-person interviews by intercepting customers where they frequent.
  • Conduct online surveys.

Your purpose with primary research is twofold. Learn about your consumer. Learn about how your consumer perceives your brand.

Understand the Customer

To learn about the customer, ask questions that help you understand who the consumer is, their values, and how to reach them.

  • Ask basic demographic questions. Age, gender, location, salary, etc. These responses offer factual insight into your core users and how to reach them. You can even use the data to further your understanding through secondary research.
  • Ask schedule questions. Learn how your brand may intersect with the user’s day/week/year by understanding their schedule.
  • Ask value-based questions. Consider what values you are imparting with your belief system and use research to test if that resonates with your consumer. For instance, consider how to test the consumer response to sustainability questions if you're a green company.
  • Find ways to simply ask about the customers’ likes as it relates to your brand.

Understand Brand Perception

Recognize both the pain points and the celebrations to learn how your brand is perceived and how your product/service is received. Ask questions to help you identify what sets you apart from similar brands.

Here are some potential topics to address with your primary research.

  • Test if there is brand recall. Ask if they have heard of the brand name, seen the logo, or used the product/service.
  • Ask about price. You want to learn if your price point is perceived as high or low and how that influences the perception of the product’s value. You also want to know how price may differ from similar brands.
  • Inquire if they know of other similar brands/products on the market. Here you are testing their competitor knowledge without explicitly stating a competitor’s name.
  • Request ideas for product enhancements. This will open the door for you to learn more about what consumers still need. It will help you identify weaknesses in your current product and give insight into product modification opportunities.
  • Ask what they like about the brand. Within this response, you will likely find your USP.
  • If you are conducting a focus group or in-person interview, you will want to probe further to learn more about the product celebrations. Ask questions to help you understand the nuances of what is unique.
  • If you are conducting a survey or gathering ideas from product reviews, use the responses to develop a second round of primary research. Or, complete secondary research to see how your strengths may set you apart from the competitors.

Secondary Research

First, you must know everything you can about your competition. Read everything you can about competitors, from stories published in the news to product descriptions and consumer reviews. If you are going to define your USP, you have to be sure your competitor isn’t pedaling that USP, too. You must know that your USP is what differentiates you.

Second, use any data you learned in the primary research and consider how you can dig deeper into understanding your consumer audience through secondary research. Consider using census data or statistical sources to see trends and tendencies largely true about your audience. Every level of understanding you have about your target audience will help you be more effective in reaching your consumers.

Iterative Branding

As the term “iterative” suggests, iterative branding lets you continually improve your brand and strategies over time.

Each time you learn what consumers like about your product, or adversely what they don’t like, see if there’s a product update that should be made. If you update the product, then test it again.

As you promote your product, run A/B tests to see which campaigns are more effective at penetrating your audience and creating conversions. Once you know which campaign is more successful, put more resources into ramping up your marketing efforts.

Each time you iterate, or make a change, you’re one step closer to greater consumer satisfaction and higher revenue streams. As we said earlier, research is never done. And neither are product development or marketing campaign rollouts. Innovation must be an ongoing goal.

With each iteration, you can also refine your USP. Over time, your brand relevancy becomes so strong that your community cannot function without your product/service. Your goal should be to infiltrate the consumers’ lives so deeply that your brand’s presence is a natural given. Make it so your consumer cannot imagine life without your product/service.

Defining the USP

So, after all of that research, what do the results tell you? Make sure your USP articulates your value proposition (product/service primary benefit) clearly and concisely. Here are a couple of tips as you plan your USP statement.

  • Using the word “unique” usually falls on flat ears. Don’t tell the consumer it’s unique.
  • Be straightforward and to the point. State a benefit that is reflective of what the consumer wants.
  • Use assertive or confident language.
  • Don’t be generic. Explicitly state your benefits in a way that sets you apart from the competition.
  • Your USP is more than words. The benefit should be experienced by the consumer when using the product.

Your USP statement should concisely articulate a benefit that intersects what your consumer wants with what your business is doing well. A USP is not a sale or a one-time benefit. The USP is the dependable, lasting benefit that will bring your consumer back again and again. Remember, you’re creating a community with a shared belief system centralized around your product value.

Make sure what you offer is consistent, reliable, and the differentiating factor consumers seek.

Once you have defined your USP, make sure it grabs the attention of your target audience. Go back to the primary research phase. Test your USP statement on your consumers. You may need to try a few iterations to get it right.  When you find the statement that resonates, it’s time to communicate.

Communicating the USP

Like your creation story, your USP should be visible everywhere your brand is infiltrating.

  • Weave the USP into the marketing slogan or product tagline.
  • Prominently display the USP on the homepage of the website.
  • Have the USP be a keyword highlighted throughout your website for SEO.
  • Include references to the USP regularly in social media content.
  • Include the USP in all advertising.
  • Incentivize referral marketing and make sure the strategy makes your USP readily visible.
  • Build brand advocates that promote your product. (Advocates are loyal and have an inherent understanding of the USP.)
  • Let influencers communicate your USP as they promote your brand.
  • Position your brand as an expert and let brand leaders write blogs with copy that includes USP references.
  • Deliver email campaigns with a USP reference and conversion opportunities.

Really, there are endless ways to communicate. With all of the research that you have completed, you know the best way to reach your audience. With each interaction, you must be diligent in referencing your USP. It’s your job to remain relevant to the consumer.

Your Unique Brand

Whether you knew your brand’s USP early or had to go through every phase of research and multiple iterations of branding to figure it out, your result still brought you to the standout benefit your brand can own.

Your brand is unique, and you have built a community of supporters. You are ready to advertise your USP and watch your brand thrive.