I’m new in town and have never heard of your business before. I’m looking for an explanation that’s as quick and easy to read as a street sign.
You have just a few seconds to convey to me what your local business offers and why customers like it. Then I’ll take a few seconds to determine whether what you’ve said matches my needs.
From this moment forward, we either walk the next steps of the consumer-brand journey arm-in-arm, or I wing off in another direction looking for a better match. I could become a loyal customer for decades, or I might never think of your business again.
That’s how important and fleeting the moment of opportunity can be when a customer encounters a unique selling proposition (USP) highlighted by a local business. In Chapter 3 of The Essential Local SEO Strategy Guide, we reference how a clear USP underpins SEO, and it’s a topic that deserves a deeper dive. For new neighbors, travelers, and residents in search of new goods and services, the USP is a sign you can hang in many places.
In this article, we’ll actively practice writing compelling USPs for real-world local businesses based on six simple components. Further, I’ll teach you to see a brand you’re marketing from the viewpoint of customers on the basis of user generated content (UGC).
First, what’s a USP?
A unique selling proposition in marketing is a brief statement that’s typically defined as distinguishing a brand and its offerings from its competitors. It’s not the same thing as the catchphrase found in slogans and jingles (e.g. “Reach out and touch someone” or “Just Do It”), which, while memorable, may only vaguely hint at what a business is or does. Instead, a USP should clearly define whether what a business is, does, and has matches the intent of the customer, and the art involved is in learning to convey a lot of meaning in very few words.
If you learn best from real-world examples, here’s an independent grocery store that has put its slogan and mission statement on its website homepage:
If we were tasked with creating a USP, just from this information, we would write something like this:
Shop the oldest and largest organic grocery store in Marin County to actively support our community’s health and sustainability.
If I happen to be looking for a market with a big selection of organics that’s been trusted by locals for many years and I want my dollars to work towards sustainability, my intent will have been perfectly matched by this USP.
Local businesses have an advantage over virtual competitors in that circumstances auto-generate one of the “unique” aspects of the company message: being present in a specific town or city makes your brand a unique resource for people there, as opposed to selling to the world at large. Pair locale with local rarity for a smart combination. The “selling” aspects of this type of content should inspire actionable language on your part; words like “shop”, “experience”, “visit” are mini calls-to-action embedded in the USP. Think of the “proposition” as making an offer you hope the right potential customer can’t refuse because it ideally matches their intent.
There are just 19 words in our sample USP, but it contains multiple intent signals, and now we need to learn how to break those down by type so that you can develop your own messaging for the local brands you market.
Surface QUAAAC components for your strongest USP
Image credit: Hedera Baltica
I recently learned that one of the great secrets to QVC’s multi-billion-dollar success is to get shoppers to ask the question, “Is this me?” and then answer with a, “Yes”. USPs should work just like this! You’ll have noticed that we turned the slogan and mission statement toward the customer in our example USP above, in hopes that they will see themselves in the details. In other words, we’re hoping the customer will ask, “Is this me who wants to shop for organic groceries at a time-honored store, and contribute to sustainability?” and find themselves saying, “Yes”.
Choosing the right details to highlight, when you have a limited amount of space, really matters! Let’s get our ducks in a row with a practice session of writing USPs together, breaking down our options into six basic components:
If our example grocery store decided that it was the high quality of their inventory that should star in their USP, based on what they’ve learned matters most to their customers, we could write a proposition like this:
Shop all-organic groceries, many sourced locally from our community’s best farmers, for peak quality you can taste!
In other instances, customers’ search for value underlies their quest for quality. They want to know what the highest quality is that they can afford on their budget. In that case, a USP might emphasize cheapness, deals, discounts, or specials. Brands like Imperfect Foods aim to deliver inventory that’s of good quality, if not flawless, and that’s easier on wallets, as made clear by their USP:
Get sustainable, affordable groceries delivered weekly to your door.
The skill required here is to match the economic realities of your customer base to the best quality their money can buy. Whether the inventory is luxury goods or the most affordable deals, nearly all customers want good value.
If your business model relies on providing something rare, uniqueness might deserve emphasis in your USP. For our grocery store, we might say:
Tired of reading labels? Shop trustingly at Marin County’s only 100% organic grocery store.
Perhaps my favorite example of a USP based on uniqueness comes from Redwood Yurok Canoe Tours, which reads:
Come and explore the powerful Klamath River on a spiritual adventure that will take you back in time, hearing only the quiet chatter of wildlife as you glide along the water’s surface.
This Indigenous-owned business is offering an experience you literally cannot get anywhere else in the world, and it’s a great illustration of building romance around rarity.
Simple availability can be an easy USP starting point for almost any business, because so many customer searches begin with the question, “I wonder if X business offers X good or service.”
I often recall seeing storefront signage for a business that had started out as “Pens Unlimited” and then presumably appended the slogan “More than just pens” to its messaging as they expanded, leaving me guessing about what the company actually offered. If your inventory is highly varied, it can be a challenge to fit it all into a business name or slogan, but a slightly longer USP can help. Our grocery store might highlight availability like this:
Shop organic produce, dry goods, supplements and award-winning prepared meals at Marin’s largest natural foods store.
As another example, the website of this SMB shoe store may not be state-of-the-art, but their USP immediately answers the question of “I wonder if they have X?”:
Shoe store offering fashionable dress, comfort, boots, and athletic shoes for men and women.
If a potential customer wanted to know if this particular shop had comfort footwear, this USP does the job.
This is a proposition that works well when customers need a resource they can trust based on the availability of expertise or the proof of longevity. Our grocery store might say:
Shop Marin’s only grocery store owned by a sitting board member of the Organic Trade Association — locals have trusted our organic commitment since 1969.
Certifications can go a long way towards conveying authority. I found information of this kind buried deep in the loam of a Washington plant nursery, which could be brought forward to their homepage as an authority-based USP like this:
Shop plants with three Master Gardeners and two Certified Professional Horticulturists on-site to help you grow your dream garden!
Some of my personal favorite USPs send signals of brand-consumer affinity — they convey that the local business operates on the basis of certain values shared by customers. Our sample grocery store is fertile ground for authentic proofs of community building, and could write a USP like this:
Be the change! Shopping with us benefits your whole community, from free organic meal programs for students and elders, to our Deep Green Energy commitment, to profits shared by all employees.
Meanwhile, outdoor outfitter Patagonia takes a similar approach with this USP:
Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.
And sometimes, a USP can blend more than one element. The gorgeous website of The Red Door catering company has signals of both authority and affinity that could be stirred together for an inspirational, aspirational message, like:
MBE-Certified, Women-Owned, ICA member caterers prepare local, organic feasts for your unforgettable event.
When ease is paramount for customers, convenience-based USPs can send a good message. Our grocery store might write:
Try convenient online ordering, curbside pickup, and prepared meals, or walk in just minutes from any downtown neighborhood to our organic grocery store.
Sometimes, location is all it takes to convey convenience. I love this ultra-simple USP from Deer Valley Grocery, which happens to have a beautiful waterside destination location:
“Enjoy breakfast and lunch lakeside.”
It can’t get shorter or sweeter than that.
I hope this practice session was useful. Now, we need to determine the most effective components for a particular local business you’re marketing.
Let customer content inspire your USP
Sentiment trends in your reviews, Q&A, and social media comments can point the way to what your customers value most about what your business does. These forms of user-generated content (UGC) can be a big help in determining which elements could be most effective if centered in your USP.
Start by searching Google for your brand name so that your Google Business Profile appears on the left of the screen (if your brand name search doesn’t work, add your city to your query. If that doesn’t work, you may need to learn the basics of local SEO first so that you build enough authority for Google to associate branded searches with your local business listing). Click on the “View All Reviews” portion of your profile and look at the Place Topics Google has surfaced in the oval tabs at the top of your review display.
Place Topics are an accessible, free form of basic sentiment analysis, highlighting topics mentioned most frequently in your reviews. If we had no other information about our grocery store than this, we could write a customer-centric USP along these lines:
Done with Whole Foods? Shop sustainable, fresh produce, our scrumptious salad bar, and healthy vegan choices at our Mill Valley market.
The great thing about Place Topics is that when you click on them, they sort the review corpus to show only reviews that contain the chosen topic. For example, when I click the “produce” tab, this deepens my understanding of exactly what customers are saying about the fruits and veggies at this store:
If we decided produce was uppermost in our customers’ minds, we could refine our USP like this:
Shop “the best produce in Marin” — unlike Whole Foods, we’re 100% organic and locally-owned!
Definitely dig deeply into your reviews to find out what really resonates with your customers. Moz Local customers have the added advantage of our sentiment analysis and trend features to help you go beyond Google and understand dominant review topics across multiple platforms.
If a local business has active social media profiles, customer likes and comments can also provide insight. Looking back through our grocery store’s Facebook posts, I caught the moment early in 2020 when a simple inspirational post received an unusually high amount of likes and loves, and comments from customers saying how much they missed the store and wished delivery was available:
Happily, the business was able to utilize this moment of community interaction to announce the debut of their curbside and delivery service:
A major change in operations, which so many local businesses underwent as a result of the pandemic, could be a strong reason to temporarily alter a company’s core USP for the purpose of quickly disseminating new information. For example, the market might have publicized this message:
Your organic groceries are now available via curbside and delivery in Fairfax and San Anselmo through our new shopping cart.
Other sources of USP-inspiring UGC could include FAQs the business receives via Google Q&A, phone calls, and form submissions — very good reasons to be empowering relevant staff to actively track this type of sentiment. Meanwhile, searcher behavior (if not content) could further refine your USP messaging. Consider using Google Trends or keyword research tools like Moz Keyword Explorer to discover popular search terms related to what your business offers, and that could be effective if incorporated into your proposition.
Where should you publicize your local business USP?
Image Credit: Chris Hottentot
One you’ve put in the work of crafting a strong USP, be sure you are nesting it in as many places as make sense, including:
Website about/mission page
Website contact page
Website location landing pages
Website title tags
Website meta description tags
Website Header tags
Alt tags (if appropriate to describing images)
Google My Business description
Google Q&A (if it answers an FAQ)
Descriptions on all local business listings and review profiles (use Moz Local for a quick data push!)
Carefully-worded review requests in hopes that reviewers will talk about aspects of your USP that matter most to them
Social media profiles
Social media posts
Digital ad campaigns
Guest post profiles
Storefront or in-store signage
Radio and television ad campaigns
Print news campaigns
Mailers, circulars, and other print assets
With such amazing, multifarious applications, it’s easy to see the worth of investing time and care into developing a meaningful USP. You might adjust the wording slightly, based on medium, and you might even create several propositions for different purposes, seasons, or testing periods.
What I think you’ll learn from practicing perfecting your USP is that, like so much else in marketing, it comes down to great storytelling in a limited space, with eyes firmly set on engaging customers with a message of readiness that deftly meets their needs.