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Examples of Great (and Terrible) Unique Selling Propositions

In this post, you’ll find a series of unique selling proposition examples, both good and bad, to model your own USP after. If you haven’t seen my previous post on this topic, I recommend you read it first.

I advocate creating and selling products in active, evergreen markets, so that you can build something once and sell it for many years to come. That also means that you’ll be up against competing products and businesses. We aren’t trying to create something completely new and revolutionary (which requires great creativity and comes with a high risk of failure), but to build on concepts that we already know to work. If you can understand a market and you know how to craft a good USP, you’ll be leaps and bounds ahead of most entrepreneurs.

Please note that the examples below make no statement about the quality (or the success) of the actual products or websites in question. You can have a successful business with a rubbish USP (see “first to market” in the USP post). The USP is one (important) component of many, in a business. If you get it right, it makes things easier. There may be examples below of businesses that have a great USP, but fall short in other aspects and vice versa.

Video Example


Good examples shown in the video: Backblaze, SpiderOak and Bitcasa.

Invoicing/Billing Examples

InvoiceDude

invoicedude

The Invoice Dude website wastes  a lot of valuable real estate by being repetitive and overly descriptive in the headline and sub-headings.

With “Online Billing and Invoicing Software” as the heading, half of the following line is redundant. Since the heading is so generic, we’ll use the sub-heading as the representation of the product’s USP:

“Invoice Dude is an online billing software specially designed for small and medium businesses”

Unique Desirable Short Specific X-Factor
InvoiceDude no no yes no no

The description is reasonably short, but that’s the only thing it has going for it. As mentioned above “online billing software” is far too descriptive. It does nothing to separate this product from myriads of competing products and because of that, it should not take up so much valuable space on the homepage.

The biggest issue with this message is that it tries to appeal to too many people. From the two sub-heading lines, we learn that the product is for “individuals”, “small businesses” and “medium businesses”. That encompasses probably 99% of all businesses in the world.

To make it worse, the claims are not backed up. “Thousands of individuals and businesses” like Invoice Dude, but we have to go looking all the way down in the footer to find a single testimonial. The product is “specially designed for small and medium businesses”, but it’s not clear how or why Invoice Dude is supposedly better for my business than a plethora of other invoicing products.

Digging a bit deeper, it seems that one factor that sets this product apart from others is that the hosted version is free, without limitations, forever. Only the self-hosted version comes with a fee. This could be a very strong selling point, but it’s severely under-advertised.

More Invoicing Software Examples

  • Invoicera – “Online Billing and Invoicing Solution”
  • FreshBooks – “Say Hello to Cloud Accounting”
  • Zoho Books – “Online Accounting Software/Accounting Made Easy”
  • InaInvoices – “Cloud Based Invoicing Software/Save time and money…”

Highly generic and replaceable messages all around, as you can see. With further digging, some of the above solutions do have USPs that set them apart, but they all do a very poor job of communicating them to new visitors, within the first few seconds (or even minutes, in some cases).

BillFaster

BillFaster
BillFaster has its USP right in the name: it’s all about speed. The core message, that this is a billing software with which you get your desired results very quickly, is repeated throughout the copy on the homepage and in many of the feature descriptions.

We can use the subheading as a representation of the product’s USP and run it through our checklist:

“Professional invoices in 7 seconds.”

Unique Desirable Short Specific X-Factor
BillFaster yes yes yes yes no

The statement is clearly very short and very desirable (no one wants to spend more time than absolutely necessary, with billing software).

So far so good, but is the message also unique? Using speed as a USP is tricky, because speed is potentially an empty benefit – a claim everyone makes and a benefit no one would ever advertise the opposite of. BillFaster handles this perfectly, by adding a lot of specificity to the copy.

If the statement was “Fast Online Billing Software”, it would be generic and forgettable. But the statements made on the site are much more specific than that:

  • “Invoices in 7 seconds.”
  • “Up and running in 30 seconds, no training required.”
  • “Reduce time spent on bookkeeping by 80%”

These are powerful, unique and attention-grabbing statements. They turn what could have been a bland and generic USP into a killer value statement that gives BillFaster a clear edge over the competition.

The only thing that’s missing is the X-Factor: the statements are not particularly catchy and they don’t leave you feeling like you’ve just witnessed something special. However, especially for something like billing software, this may just not be necessary at all.

Helpdesk Examples

HappyFox

happyfox
HappyFox is a helpdesk solution and as such, it is placed in a very competitive market. While it’s clear that there is some focus on customer happiness, the actual primary message on the page is quite confusing. Why are your customers “sticky”? And do you aspire to be “shiny”?

The tagline is a bit less mysterious and serves as a better summary of what might possibly be the intended USP:

“If you keep them happy, you keep them coming back.”

Unique Desirable Short Specific X-Factor
HappyFox no yes no no no

The main issue with this example of a selling proposition is that it isn’t clear or specific enough to fulfill most of the criteria in our checklist. There is a hint of desirability in the message: we do want to make sure our customers are happy and we do want them to keep coming back.

Beyond that, the message fails to convey any details. How exactly does HappyFox make my customers happy? What systems are in place to increase return customers? Where is the proof that it works?

I picked this as an example because it’s a great illustration of how it’s much more important to have a clear message than to have a clever one.  Your website visitors should not be left thinking: “that sounds  kinda good, but what exactly am I signing up for?”

More Helpdesk Examples:

  • Tender Support – “Organizes your customer care so you can focus on delivering the best service possible.”
  • SupportBee – “The easiest way to manage customer support emails.”
  • SirPortly – “The ultimate solution. Makes handling all your customer support a breeze.”
  • ZenDesk – “Supporting customers has never been easier.”

It seems that many helpdesk services struggle with formulating a clear, concise message that sets them apart from the crowd. There’s a lot of emphasis on “easy”. This is fine, except it does nothing to separate one solution from another, since it’s a claim everyone makes. There’s also a lot of focus on features, rather than a simple, core benefit.

The best example of a strong USP in the space (that I could find) is the following:

HelpScout

helpscout
I believe that HelpScout could do a better job of placing their USP front and center, on their homepage. As with some of the video examples above, it takes a bit of digging to find what really sets this solution apart. The deciding factor can be summarized as follows:

“Invisible Helpdesk: like email for your customers, like a helpdesk for your team.”

Unique Desirable Short Specific X-Factor
HelpScout yes yes no yes yes

The “invisible helpdesk” claim is brilliant for many reasons. First, it’s short and catchy. Once you have watched the video and read some of the copy on the homepage, you’ll be left with this one idea, one concept that neatly summarizes it all and that idea is: it’s an invisible helpdesk.

What it translates to is that you have a solution that you can manage like a helpdesk with your support team, but that looks like normal email communication to your customers. This raises an important question: do my customers want a helpdesk? Or do they just want help? Do they want ticket numbers, account registrations, automated replies etc. or do they just want a friendly email from a member of my team?

This doesn’t only set HelpScout apart from the competition, it makes you consider that there might be something fundamentally wrong with every other solution out there. That’s a beautiful thing and it’s a great example of an “X-Factor” in a USP.

Mind-Mapping Examples

NovaMind

novamind
NovaMind is one among a seemingly endless collection of mind mapping programs and I’ve picked it out as a particularly bad example. The homepage features a very extensive image slider. Image sliders have repeatedly been shown to be quite ineffective as is, but the way they are used here is hilariously bad: each slide contains a generic stock photo, along with a generic line of text like “life planning”, “meetings” or “knowledge management”. I honestly couldn’t come up with anything more bland than that if I tried.

The closest statement I could find, that could lend itself as a USP is the following (found on the second-to-last slide):

“Visualize your information to get things done.”

Unique Desirable Short Specific X-Factor
NovaMind no no no no no

NovaMind might be a great piece of software, but the website does a very bad job of conveying any kind of value, let alone a clear USP. While the statement I picked out isn’t very lengthy in itself, you do have to sit through 13 nauseatingly boring slides to find it. That disqualifies it for the “short” criteria.

As for the desirability, we do want to get things done, but that’s not specific enough to be truly desirable. Plus, the other half of the statement is ambiguous in this department: do I want to visualize my information? I’m not sure.

The X-Factor is very difficult to define, but you can sure tell when it’s missing. The NovaMind site portrays the very opposite of an X-Factor: it is bland and instantly forgettable.

More Mind Mapping Examples:

  • MindMeister – “The leading online mind mapping software. (no signup required for the demo)”
  • Xmind – “Professional & powerful. World’s coolest mind mapping software, best way to brainstorm, most efficient solution for saving time.”
  • MindJet – “83% of the Fortune 100 use Mindjet to work inspired. (move ideas to execution quickly and confidently)”
  • MindGenuis – “Designed to meet your business needs. Thousands of people worldwide have been using MindGenuis for more than 10 years.”
  • Visual Mind – “Improves effectiveness and productivity. Every day.”
  • Mindomo – “Mind Mapping Made Easy. Thousands of people are using Mindomo to organize their work, solve problems and find the next big idea.”
  • Bubbl.us – “2 million mind maps created, 1.5 millions users and counting.”

As you can see, there’s a strong emphasis on statements along the lines of “we’re the best/most popular/have the most users”. As usual, when everyone makes the same kind of statement, it becomes meaningless. MindJet make the most of it and manage to stand out by making their claim very specific. If you want to brag in your USP, that’s the way to do it.

The Brain

thebrain
I don’t know how popular The Brain is, but it’s a great example of a USP-based product. Instead of creating another among a million and one mind mapping products, the creators of The Brain decided to take a different angle: this app is not for mind mapping, it’s for storing and finding anything and everything in a brain-friendly way. It’s digital storage, organized the same way your brain is.

Note that the basic concept is the same. You could call this a mind mapping app. But in a crowded market like this, it’s cleverer to use a new angle and set yourself completely apart from the competition.

As the USP statement, we’ll go with this:

“Your digital brain: organize and find everything the way you think.”

Unique Desirable Short Specific X-Factor
The Brain yes yes yes yes yes

The weakest part of this statement is the desirability. Yes, I want to organize and remember things, but it doesn’t exactly get me excited. If you watch the video on the site, you’ll see that it does a very good job of presenting a problem and then offering The Brain as a desirable solution – it just takes a bit more than a headline and sub-heading to get the information across.

Having said that, this example does manage to tick all the boxes: it’s completely unique, compared to the competing products, it’s very specific and the whole “works like your brain” concept is fresh and very memorable.

Conclusion

You’ve now seen what difference a good (or bad) unique selling point can make, especially in a crowded market. As stated before, a strong USP is not absolutely necessary for a successful business, but it makes almost every aspect of it easier, so it’s well worth pursuing.

What’s your biggest take-away from these examples? What USP are you working on or what changes do you want to make to the USP of an existing product, business or blog? Let us know by leaving a comment!

Shane's Signature

Shane
 

I'm Shane Melaugh and I'm the guy writing most of the posts on this blog. My goal is to provide you with useful, straight-forward insights on how to grow your business by creating compelling offers, driving traffic and increasing conversions.

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below 23 comments
Jamie Anderson - May 23, 2013

Hi Shane, really enjoyed your post. Amazing how some of these relatively big online companies are getting their USPs so wrong. Also, I couldn’t agree more with you on your point about promoting evergreen products.

Reply
    Iain - May 29, 2013

    Great point Jamie,

    It amazes me how many larger companies still get it wrong even though they have had a long time to get it right.

    I guess that’s what really separates the big dogs from the little.

    At least we know that if you get it wrong at the start, you can still progress albeit not as well though.

    Great post Shane.

    Reply
Arber - May 23, 2013

Hey Shane,
Great read, seems like this can work to the better of so many different things and not just an online business. A work portfolio would very well benefit from a solid individual’s personal USP [thanks for introducing me to this term].

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Jeffrey - May 23, 2013

I have two USPs that I need to test for my online Catholic adult education business.

1. Rediscover the joy of learning and living your faith
2. Don’t just learn you faith – learn to live it

My USP is that I teach practical application of theology where other online educational sources teach more academically. What do you think?

Reply
    Shane - May 26, 2013

    You can always test. I don’t have the first clue about your target audience, so your guess is probably better than mine. But if you can devise some way to test these messages against each other, that’s the best way to find your answer.

    For example: create a landing page and split test the different statements, to see which leads to more signups. Or use the statements as subject lines on emails and see which one gets more opens.

    Reply
Alison - May 24, 2013

Hi Shane, as usual a great post with honest and in – depth discussion – your USP!
Interesting to hear that most sliders don’t work that well – as a trade based service we have a Home page slider of projects completed – we are B2B- clients like to see size, scope and variety of work we are capable of. Not sure if i should re-think this now ……
Cheers
Alison

Reply
    Shane - May 26, 2013

    The question here would be if the slider is the best way to present the size, scope and variety of your work.

    One issue with slider content is that it’s easily missed. By the time the first transition comes around, many of your visitors may already have scrolled down or clicked on a link and never realized there was a slider (or just weren’t interested enough to wait for it).

    Maybe something like a call to action that says “see our work!”, which opens an image gallery, would be more effective.

    Reply
Stephen Carter - May 24, 2013

good post Shane. it made me think about the headline for a sales letter that i am writing. as a result i rewrote it completely so as to ensure a better USP. it’s not like i didn’t know most of what you went to pains here to point out. but it’s easy to forget that prospects aren’t mind readers and can’t divine what makes your product so special if you don’t tell them right up front!

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    Shane - May 26, 2013

    Congrats on taking action, Stephen!

    Also: I like your gravatar. I need to re-watch the Iron Giant, one of these days. :)

    Reply
Catalin - May 24, 2013

Great one, Shane!
Gave me some ideas about how to design a new site (which I’m working on) around a well-crafted USP…
I also like how your video and article text are complementary, instead of just a transcript: another interesting idea.
Thanks for the great work!
Catalin

Reply
    Shane - May 26, 2013

    Thank you, Catalin!

    I’ve done the video-plus-content thing a couple of times. It seems to work quite well.

    Reply
DmitryKireev - May 24, 2013

hi, Shane

thanks for a great post. it really helps to systematize things i already knew about USP.

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Toby Carlisle - May 24, 2013

Hello Shane,

The internet makes everybody into a skilled marketer. Or does it? At least every aspiring marketer believes they are great at the job until somebody like you points our where so many have gone wrong. Skilled marketing people have imagination, have studied marketing theory and practice then worked at it for years and years. Only then do the things you write about start to become second nature to a few people. They are the really successful marketers. The others need to keep reading your advice.

Toby.

Reply
    Shane - May 26, 2013

    Thank you very much for this comment, Toby!

    Like anything worth doing, marketing takes a lot of time and practice. The great thing is that the know-how is so much more accessible with all the great resources available online.

    Reply
Olaf Glaubitz - May 24, 2013

Shane, my holy Online-Guru, i will never understand where you get the energy from to put together such a detailed post. Do you use the big Duracells?

Olaf

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Barry Marshall - May 25, 2013

Shane, awesome post mate. I am finding your posts also have a USP of being more informative and entertaining than others!

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    Shane - May 26, 2013

    Thank you, Barry!

    I’m happy to see the word “entertaining” in there. I’m always worried that my content might be a bit too dry. I tend to get carried away and I want to make sure that it doesn’t get boring for most people.

    Reply
Tim - May 25, 2013

Hi Shane; You’re quite right on all counts. I think what many of these marketers/webmasters are missing, is putting themselves in the potential customer’s shoes, and stating clearly what to expect by opting into their software/product/service.

With so much competition, it’s difficult to come up with some truly unique benefits to entice the customer, but it makes all the difference, once you get it right.

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    Shane - May 26, 2013

    Thanks, Tim!

    I agree that “clarity” is where things often go wrong. I remember a quote along the lines of “no one will ever complain about your website being too clear about what you’re offering”.

    There must be millions of websites that just leave visitors confused about what exactly is on offer and what they’re supposed to do next. And if the webmaster doesn’t know what the USP is, then there’s no chance the website will do a good job of communicating it, either.

    Reply
Vitaliy - February 6, 2015

Hey Shane – enjoyed this post. Especially liked this checklist that you’ve set up under each site. It really helps in visualizing how they stack up against one another in terms of value these sites are offering. I’d like to suggest another helpdesk to your list: Helprace (it offers a feedback community and knowledge management in addition to a ticketing system.)

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    Shane - March 7, 2015

    Thanks for your comment! I’ve had a look at the Helprace website and I’d say it doesn’t do a great job of conveying a USP. Digging a bit deeper, I can see some unique ideas there, but the first impression is very much “just another helpdesk”. That’s something I’d try to fix, if it was my business.

    Reply
      VItaliy - March 27, 2015

      I see your point. What made you think that this is just “another helpdesk”? Actually, we’re trying to present it as an all-in-one solution, as in: “Why use a helpdesk by itself when you can gather a wide variety of feedback?” and “find out what your customers are really thinking about your brand”. I suppose we aren’t very effective in conveying this message across. Regardless, thanks a lot for your feedback!

      Reply
Paul - December 8, 2015

Great examples, thanks a lot.

Reply

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