Your unique selling proposition (USP) is literally the foundation of your business.
In addition to finding an audience in need and figuring out how to fill that need, you also need to position yourself in the market in a unique way.
It’s an important decision to make, one that definitely deserves some time before you pull the trigger.
The thing is, you don’t want to get stuck in “paralysis”, frozen with fear of choosing the wrong USP for your brand.
Today I’ve got a great pair of interviews that will help you find (or strengthen) your USP… and not take forever to do it.
Do Blogs Really Need Unique Selling Propositions?
I think’s it is apparent to most of you reading why a USP can greatly benefit a business… but what about blogs?
Do blogs really benefit from strong branding?
I’d have to answer that with a resounding YES.
The thing is, blogs are often at the forefront of a business, especially if you are taking the “lean” way of building your audience before you even have a product.
Later in this post, during the interview portion, The Art of Manliness is a site that gets mentioned.
That blog (if you’ve never been there) has a very strong USP and branding; from content to images to it’s overall presentation, attention is definitely paid to detail in order to keep things branded in the AoM fashion.
When the Art of Manliness books (and other products) were finally introduced, they fit in just right with the already established branding present on the blog.
So, without the USP present on the blog, there wouldn’t be unique products to offer either!
Point is, in today’s world, your blog can be an extremely important part of your business, potentially being the biggest lead generator for sales (and isn’t that what content marketing is all about?).
Don’t slack on your branding for it.
Who Is Corbett Barr?
Corbett knows a thing or two about building a thriving audience, and an essential part of his strategy is utilizing a memorable USP for each and every blog he’s started (or blogger that he has advised).
I was glad to have Corbett on my site to force… I mean persuade him to reveal his insights on what kinds of unique selling propositions are prime to build a popular blog around.
1.) Before we discuss anything else about unique selling propositions, let’s get people on board as to why we even bother talking about them.
Just how important is it for a blog (or any business) to have a unique selling proposition?
For any business or blog to get noticed, you have to be a combination of different and better than your competition.
Otherwise, why would someone spend time on your site instead of elsewhere?
TOMS Shoes is a great example outside of the blogging world.
Because of the unique “one for one” program, TOMS was able to break into a 10,000 year old industry in less than a year.
Steve Kamb is a great example in blogging.
His Nerd Fitness site has become a huge hit because he chose to approach fitness from a new angle and cater to a group that was under-served by existing resources.
2.) Recently, you conducted an interview with Derek Halpern.
He’s noted for discussing his “divide and conquer” strategy, in which focuses on really separating yourself from the pack, because later you should be able to branch out into broader areas of your niche with no problem.
Do you think it’s wise to really “niche down” on a certain topic when a new blog or online business is getting started?
There’s an old adage in marketing: when you try to appeal to everyone, you appeal to no one.
It’s counter-intuitive, but often you can grow more quickly by focusing on a narrower topic or audience.
However, this is the opposite of what many new bloggers need to do.
For the inexperienced and those unsure of exactly what type of blog or business they want to build, just getting started is probably the most important thing.
If the choice is between starting a blog on a broad set of topics to test the water vs. never getting started because you become paralyzed with trying to find the perfect niche, just start now.
You can always change your mind later.
What are some ways which newer bloggers can really become the “go to” person in a targeted niche?
Pick something that hasn’t been analyzed specifically and apply proven concepts from other fields to it.
For example, let’s say you’re interested in and good at marketing.
Marketing is well understood, so it would be difficult to become a “general marketing” specialist and gain much recognition.
In this example, you could try focusing on a specific group that needs help and isn’t served well by general marketing advice.
Imagine building a go-to resource for people trying to market their products on Etsy.
When you target an underserved market and figure out how proven strategies can be applied to that group specifically, you become the obvious choice when someone from that group is looking for advice.
Again, like the “Nerd Fitness” example above.
3.) When it comes to testing ideas, how can folks “test” to see if their USP is one that will have any legs?
Considering the time and effort required to be successful in anything, it can be a daunting task to try a relatively untapped field.
What are some ways to gauge whether your USP has the potential for success (specifically for blogs), and is there ever a time that you should completely throw out a USP if it’s not performing?
You may have heard of the technique Tim Ferriss made famous with his Four-Hour Workweek book.
He used Google Adwords to test his book title and tagline. He found one (the one he went with) that performed remarkably better than his other options.
In blogging, you could test potential USPs by changing your tagline or the intro to your “about” page and then by measuring the conversion rate to your email list.
USPs can also lose effectiveness over time as a market changes, so you should review from time-to-time to see if yours needs to be refreshed.
4.) A lot of my readers know about my electronic music blog (Sophistefunk), which I’ve used as an example of how I build blogs in non-marketing niches.
Here’s one thing few people know: my favorite genre of music is actually the blues!
The thing is, I saw little potential for me writing a blues blog because I’m very unfamiliar with the genre outside of loving the music, meanwhile, I’m quite “into” the electronic scene.
What do you think about basing decisions for a USP off of passions vs. what might succeed better?
Hey, I’m a blues fan as well!
The “passion” debate that rages online (should you follow your passion) isn’t such a black-or-white issue.
The best opportunities are those where passion is combined with ability and a unique market opportunity.
Your choice to build an electronic music blog was probably smart.
The trouble is when someone becomes bored with an idea quickly and the project fails due to lack of interest.
Is there a happy medium between passion & topics with better chances of success?
Again, passion + ability + market demand.
5.) Speaking honestly, what are some blog (or even business) ideas/topics that you wish were out there?
Any blog topics that seem totally ignored to you that you think could do well if someone with applicable knowledge would just do it the right way?
Over the weekend my wife and I stopped by a retail shop in our neighborhood.
It’s a new shop, and I had been in there once before.
The same woman was working both times, and I sensed that she is the owner.
On both visits, the owner didn’t bother to say hello, ask what we were interested in, or introduce herself.
How many times does this happen to you?
It seems so simple.
When a shop owner is warm and friendly, you’re far more likely to buy something or return.
Imagine if a shop keeper went a step further and introduced herself, asked your name, and maybe remembered your name the next time you came in.
You’d be hooked for life. You’d feel like you had a new friend in town.
You’d probably send your other friends there as well.
This struck me as a great opportunity for someone to teach shopkeepers and restauranteurs some simple tips to make them more effective.
Imagine a “retail tips” blog where the blogger becomes a go-to expert and offers services, products and more.
That could easily be a fun and interesting six-figure business.
Anywhere there’s a problem not being solved, there’s an opportunity for an enterprising person to figure out solutions and share them with the world.
Often the solutions aren’t difficult to find, it’s just that most people aren’t willing to dedicate a few hundred or few thousand hours to research and experimentation.
As you know, I like to do small takeaway sections at the end of interviews (some say I like the sound of my own voice, I like to think I’m adding something ;)).
Corbett laid down some really solid advice, I especially like his take on “passion + ability + market demand” as the defining quality of a successful USP and as an overall successful endeavor.
I also like that he makes the point that, if you’re just getting started, you shouldn’t “sweat” your USP for too long if it’s going to stall you from getting started.
Start first, pivot later if needed.
There’s one major thing that I’d like to add…
You can have a niche that is “too unique”; just because something isn’t being blogged about, doesn’t make it a good niche.
In fact, I’d say that a ton of competition in a niche is a good thing!
Think about it…
If nobody is in your niche, who is going to link to you?
Who can you write for to get more exposure?
What large tribe is going to share your articles?
A non-competitive niche can also mean an empty niche, or a topic that just isn’t popular enough to be covered by a blog.
My way out of this?
Use the M. Night Shyamalan strategy for blog USPs.
Take an established topic, and add you own twist (M. Night Shyamalan being known as a director who focuses on plot twists).
A strong personality or an intense focus on a single sub-topic can also make for a good twist in your USP.
Again though, if it’s stopping you from getting started, don’t go too crazy: define your broad topic, and develop your USP as you go on.
That’s the benefit of building an audience, it’s lean, so if your idea fails, you can move on to the next!
Who Is Caleb Wojcik?
Caleb is a guy who I’ve been following recently (online that is, no need to check your bushes Caleb ;)) and talented founder of Pocket Changed, a not so typical personal finance blog.
He also works with Corbett on both ThinkTraffic and ExpertEnough, and just started a really interesting podcast that I’ve been enjoy as of late.
Today I was happy to dig into what Caleb thinks of USPs that work, those that fail, and how to “pivot” if one isn’t working out.
1.) To start off Caleb, I’d like to talk about incorporating the design process into a USP.
How much do you think site design & branding play into the memorability of a unique selling proposition?
Are there any particularly great examples that come to mind when it comes to great design + a strong USP?
I think the intersection between branding/design and USP is extremely important.
People should be able to get a feel for what your site is about before they even read a word.
The design should have the same “feel” as the topic as well.
For example, Zen Habits is focused on simplicity, so the blog design is very simple.
The Art of Manliness harkens back to how “men” used to be viewed, so it has an old fashioned feel to it.
Any of the great posts on unique selling propositions that I have read always state that it’s not necessarily about doing something entirely different, it’s about putting your unique spin on something with potential.
I feel like this is the same reason that tons of similar offline businesses can exist in the same city.
What are some of your favorite ways that you’ve seen people put a slight twist on a tried and true topic?
What are some ways people can stand in their niche when creating content?
It isn’t that you have to think of something that has never been done before, it is just that you need to be interesting enough to stand out.
Standing out in your niche is all about delivering more value than other websites.
Notice I didn’t say content.
Just because you publish more content (either by doing long posts or posts more often) doesn’t mean your site will grow faster.
Making your content more applicable, shareable, and unique is how you can stand out.
3.) What are some of the traits of a BAD USP?
Sometimes people get so caught up in creating something so “unique”, they can’t tell when their idea has no legs.
How can you tell when a USP has not potential, or isn’t made with a target market in mind?
A bad USP would be one that has already been taken.
You don’t want to explain your business or website to someone they respond by saying, “Oh, you mean like XYZ?”
Think of a combination of two things that would make up what you are doing.
For example, a website like PhotoPin.com is like Google for Flickr Creative Commons images.
To test whether or not your USP has any legs, try to come up with 3 different “ideal customers”.
Write down the demographics, background, and interests of these people and try to make everything that you do be of interest to each of them.
4.) For folks who have already started sites and are sitting here wondering “What’s my USP?”, what can they do?
How can a blogger refine (and even start) their USP over time, without taking so long as to forgo actual content creation?
What kind of research can a blogger do to find a good USP to apply to their existing blog topic(s)?
If you already have a blog and you are trying to redefine your USP to an existing audiences there are two ways I recommend people go.
One way to go is to do a rant that specifically states what your blog is NOT about.
I did this on my blog with a post called why Pocket Changed is NOT your “typical” personal finance blog.
A second way to go is to be straight forward about why people should be interested in your site.
We did this at Expert Enough during launch week with the post called “Welcome to Expert Enough: Why We Want to Be at the Top of Your Reading List”.
Determining your own USP should not be a single day task.
It will morph over weeks, months, and years.
If you have no idea where to start, start here.
5.) Lastly, as I asked Corbett, what are some USPs or blog topics that you feel are really missing from the blogosphere?
Are there any topics you’d love to see getting way more coverage, a la a “Digital Photography School for _______”?
As for what is missing in the blogosphere, I’d say there is a lack of great video-based blogs.
Using video with high production value really sets you apart from the crowd.
Examples that come to mind include Hilah Cooking and This Week in Blogging.
Even teaching people how to shoot high-quality video would be a good market to tap into.
Really great stuff from Caleb as well.
I especially liked two specific points he made: defining what your blog/business is NOT about and defining 3 ideal customers.
Selling 101 tells you that you need to find your customer before your product, and if you expect to build an audience, you need to find your reader before your blog is live.
That’s why competition can be such a blessing (as mentioned above): a competitive space tells you that there is interest, and you just have to find your way in.
It’s like a packed club versus an abandoned one, the crowds may kill some of the initial enjoyment, but if you can make your way into the VIP section, it’ll likely be very rewarding.
I also liked his take on defining what your blog or business is not going to be about.
This can be a great technique to developing (or strengthening) your own USP.
What are you going to stay away from entirely? (At least in the beginning)
What is it about other blogs in your space that annoys you, or what do they seem to overdo to the point of oversaturation?
(For me, in the marketing space, it was the aggressiveness & the lack of facts/evidence/research, which is why Sparring Mind is built the way it is)
On the flip-side, what are they leaving out? What holes are there in their content? (Do they never use video? Is everything focused on ______ when it seems like ______ is a really popular sub-topic?)
Brainstorming can go much better with some parameters pre-defined (so you don’t start in “blank slate” mode), so be sure to try and define what your endeavor won’t be about when thinking about what you will be standing for.
Over To You
Hope you enjoyed this one, I definitely enjoyed coming up with questions and I really liked Corbett & Caleb’s answers.
As always (since I don’t want to leave you hangin’), here’s what you can do next:
- Let me know about your blog/business’s USP… what makes you stand out?
- Tell me (in the comments) what some of your favorite unique selling propositions are, and what businesses are behind them (one that I love is Saddleback Leather)
Thanks for reading, please share this post if you enjoyed it.