You sell something that people (at least theoretically) want to buy. No matter what shape or form of the things you sell is – whether it’s services, digital products or physical items, the same rule of commerce applies: what you’re really selling is a solution to a problem.
Maybe you’ve already heard the “benefits, not features” mantra: your clients don’t really want to hear about how awesome your service or product is, they just want to know how it can help them solve their problem.
Your unique value proposition is a statement of how your business solves the customer’s problem in a unique way – what differentiates your business from thousands of others in the world who are attempting to do the same.
You can have one general unique value proposition for your company, and you also need more specific ones for each service or product you sell. (Actually, every single thing you put out there including the free content could benefit from it, but that’s a lot of work so let’s stick to those that make the biggest impact.)
Ideally, your unique value proposition is a short sentence that can be distilled to a tagline, but you can also expand on it a bit to create an “elevator pitch” or a short introduction you give to people you meet in person. You need to reiterate your unique value proposition (or UVP) on multiple places on your website: your homepage, your services pages, as well as your About page, because these are the places your clients look at when trying to determine whether you’re the right person to help them.
Formulating a good UVP that doesn’t sound too contrived, cliché or full of meaningless buzzwords is hard. Often you won’t get it right the first time you try to do it, but it evolves over time, as you get clearer on what differentiates you from everyone else.
I’ll offer some tips on how you can shorten that path as much as possible, and create a UVP that clearly communicates the value you offer to your clients, so that more of them recognize you as the right choice.
Your unique value proposition is a promise of client’s transformation
Through your UVP, you’re promising the client that after they’ve experienced working with you, they’ll become a person they want to be. Products and services change us – they equip us with the skills, abilities or resources that we need in order to have a different perception of ourselves.
A hungry person buys a sandwich at a stall and is no longer hungry. For most people, this change may be enough (those whose only goal is to fill their stomach with the least money spent). Another hungry person buys an organic vegan tofu tortilla wrap and is not only full, but feels good about their impact on the environment and their health.
Buying a fast food meal seems like a trivial transaction, and yet there’s a lot of identity stuff wrapped into it (pun not intended, but always glad when it happens).
It’s no different with other services. If you ask yourself the question why someone would want to buy what you sell, and you keep asking the question why that is, eventually you’ll get to the real value people are getting from your work.
Let’s see an example how this might work: copywriting services.
Why would someone want my services? Because our website copy is bad.
Why is that? It doesn’t convert our website visitors into buyers.
And why do you want that? Because I want to make more money, duh.
We’ve found the main reason: the transformation the client wants is to earn more money. (Not writing per se.)
Let’s check another example: wedding photography.
Why would someone want to buy that? Because we want a memento of our big day.
Why is that? Because we’ll never be this young and beautiful again, and we want to remember how lovely, happy and in love we were when we’re old, wrinkled and weary.
And why is that? Because memories are priceless.
The main value that clients get is not photography, it’s memories. (That, and to see themselves as breathtakingly gorgeous, because you’ll pick the most flattering lighting and angle.)
It’s not about the features
The technical specifics of your offer and your method don’t matter to the clients as much as you’d think. If you could get the same results with cardboard and duct tape, they’d buy it. Clients care about the transformation. They need your help to become a better version of themselves.
Here’s what Tara Gentile says about it:
Value is transformation. If the transformation isn’t clear, neither is the value of what you’re offering. “Life coaching” isn’t value. “Website design” isn’t value. “Jewelry” isn’t value.
Value is telling someone how their idea of themselves, their environment, their relationships, their skills, or their behavior will change as a result of using your product. Value is making it clear that there’s a Before and an After and making that story come alive on the page, on the call, or in the conversation.
Make note of the difference between the “before” and the “after” state:
- What does your business achieve for your clients?
- How are your clients transformed through the process of working with you?
- What do they have now that they didn’t have before?
- What are they able to do now, that they weren’t able to do before?
- What do they feel like now, that they weren’t able to feel before?
The value you offer can be described in terms of new skills and abilities, profits, time saved, or effects on health and satisfaction. That’s what ultimately matters to people – that’s what you sell.
Take jewelry for example – on the surface it may not look like a problem-solving item. On the contrary: people don’t buy jewelry for jewelry’s sake, not even if they’re self-proclaimed jewelry collectors. The actual reasons why people might buy jewelry can be:
- a birthday gift for their partner; friend or family member (value: connection)
- an accessory that will lift their boring outfit for an important event (value: confidence)
- a luxury item that will broadcast their wealth and social status in a tasteful way (value: belonging)
- specific crystals or a picture of a saint that will remind them of the unseen forces that support them through difficult times (value: faith)
- a statement piece that will divert the attention away from their bad hairdo (value: confidence)
I could go on, but hopefully you get the picture.
If you’re wondering why people always compliment the work you do yet rarely pull out their wallets, this is why: they don’t see how your products or services are relevant for their problem. Either they don’t know they have one (or maybe they really don’t), or you haven’t done a good enough job of explaining how you can help them solve it.
Explain the value clearly, and you’ll see those wallets coming out way more often.
Now for the real challenge: making it unique
Finding the value part is relatively easy – you just need to put yourself in your client’s shoes for long enough to learn what they really care about, and highlight that. Maybe you’ve already done this, and are wondering where the hell is the good stuff? We’re getting to it.
The problem with your value proposition is that you’re certainly not the only person in the world who has figured out that good writing leads to more money, or that memories are priceless, or that jewelry brings confidence. There’s about a bajillion other copywriters, photographers and jewelry designers who have thought of the same thing.
When everybody is saying the same things, how are the clients supposed to know who is right for them? You’re in a moderately better position than you were before, but you can do even better.
The uniqueness comes from something that only you can offer – something nobody else has figured out how to do yet and articulate it. (Or at least, few people have figured it out, but nobody knows about them yet, so for all practical purposes you’re as good as being the only one.)
Some common UVPs that companies tend to use are production quality, convenience, aesthetics, reliability, exclusivity, core values, and even price. Some of these are contradictory: higher quality, reliability, exclusivity and aesthetics often make the price higher. Boosting convenience can mean scrimping on other features.
You can’t have all bases covered – you need to choose. If you have to make a choice between offering a better service or cutting corners, I always suggest the former one – premium brands inspire more loyalty and word-of-mouth marketing than commodity brands. You literally can’t afford to be cheap.
Here are some ways to find your unique twist that will make the higher price worth it for your clients.
1. Create a groundbreaking, innovative product or service
The first person to ever build a copywriting e-course cashed in on the amount that most copywriters will never earn. The first freelancer to create a monthly website conversion optimization service opened up the possibilities for every other freelancer who wanted to create a recurring revenue stream.
Being the first person who did something is noteworthy in itself. You can get free press solely based on the fact that nobody else has done it before. Even if your product or service is imperfect, there’s nothing else to compare it to, at least until the competition catches up. By the time they do catch up, you’ll already have built a loyal fanbase and a ton of organic buzz.
Your innovative thing doesn’t have to be your only product or service, or even your most profitable one. Whatever you’re selling now, keep selling it – but think of another way you can add value that will attract the attention in a saturated market.
If there’s no way you can do this, do not despair, there are other ways.
2. Narrow down your target market
Sometimes focusing on a specific under-served market is the way to become the go-to expert in that field. Even if your skills are applicable in multiple industries, choosing a niche where your unique skills come into the spotlight will, paradoxically, help you get more clients.
The reason why narrowing down works is because it makes standing out and staying memorable easier. Generalists are quickly forgotten, while experts remain top of mind whenever their field of expertise is mentioned in conversation. Those who recognize themselves in your value proposition will think: “This is perfect for me!”, and those that don’t will think of someone else who fits the niche. Even people outside of your niche can help you promote your business by recommending you to people they know.
3. Find a new angle
Maybe your competitors are typically serving people in a certain role (like a CEO or a marketing manager), but you can focus on helping the HR department. While most wedding professionals target the bride, you can find an angle that focuses on the groom’s priorities and desires. Maybe you can make your car wash parent-with-toddler-kids friendly.
You can make a big fuss about being a hairdresser for the geeks: buy National Geographic, Science and Wired magazine subscriptions for your salon, and entertain your clientele with intellectual conversation topics instead of celebrity gossip. (Reading the said magazines may help with that.)
In other words, do what you normally do, but with a twist. See how fast you can get people talking.
4. Find an unlikely combination
Maybe there’s really nothing new under the Sun, but a new blend or a remix can still count as original.
Years ago when I was designing jewelry, I invented a technique that was a combination of acrylic painting on canvas and wire-wrapping (this is my favorite piece). I’ve never seen anything like this before or since, and maybe I really am the first person in the world who did it. Maybe not. The point is, neither wire-wrapping nor miniature paintings were in themselves original, and plenty of people I know do one or the other – but there was not a single artist I know of that combined the two.
Take one thing you do exceptionally well. Connect it to another thing you do exceptionally well. There, you’ve got a recipe that is slightly less common than either of the things on their own.
If you’re struggling to find the second thing to combine with your core service, think back to the skills that people have complimented you for. Maybe it’s something you’re not even aware you do so well, or that you don’t think you can monetize – it could transform your boring offering into a secret weapon.
5. Highlight your personality and your core values
If nothing else works, focus on what makes your business unique above all else – you. I’ve talked before how your core values are at the foundation of your business, and that they form the basis of your brand strategy.
There may be many people in the world who do the same things you do, but they are not you. Your ideal clients like you for who you are, not just because you can help them with their problem (but yes, also that). If you form a genuine relationship with your audience, they will reward you with loyalty and do a big part of your marketing for you.
So, who are you? What’s your story? Why should your audience care?
You don’t have to offer the best quality, the cheapest price or the most widgets in order to be the first person someone will recommend to their friend. Sometimes, it pays to just be yourself.
It’s not enough to be unique – you need to explicitly state it
There’s a lot of information lying around in our heads, but if we don’t write it down and share it, it’s as good as useless.
You may know very well you’re a unique and special snowflake. Other people may not be aware of this fact, and you need to spoon-feed them, sometimes multiple times, in order for them to understand who you are.
To help you to formulate your unique value proposition, here are some questions you can answer:
- What problem are you motivated to solve for your clients?
- How are your clients’ lives improved after they’ve used your service/product?
- What is it about your core values that makes you or your business different from others? How do your values play out in how you perform your services, or how you create your products?
- How is what you do different than all the other potential solutions? What do you bring to the table that the majority of others don’t?
- What makes your offer impossible to duplicate or imitate?
- What unique perspective do you bring to your field of work?
- How do your personal and professional interests play into your offerings?
Looking back to these answers, give a compelling reason why someone would need and want exactly your solution to their problem, instead of other people’s. This is your unique value proposition.
Feel free to refine it until you come up with a sentence that sounds good. You’re not running for any awards here – the important thing is that it communicates the value you provide clearly to people who would appreciate it the most. It’s OK if your grandma wouldn’t understand it, as long as your intended audience does.
How to figure out what makes your business unique (and why it matters)
Don’t stop here – turn your UVP into a clear brand strategy
Your unique value proposition is just one part of a strong brand strategy that attracts the right people to your business – the other four elements are your core values, your brand voice, your ideal client profile and your visual brand.
My new book The Human Centered Brand offers an easy system to set up your brand strategy the right way, and gives you instruction on how to immediately apply it. With this book and the free bonus resources, you’ll be able to...
- Identify and reach your ideal clients.
- Craft your unique value proposition into a compelling tagline.
- Improve your business communication and marketing materials.
- Pick the perfect colors and fonts for your brand.
- Ensure everything you do in business is aligned with your authentic brand.