What Is A USP And Why Is It Important To Product Managers?

by drjim on April 25, 2016

What makes your product unique?

What makes your product unique?
Image Credit: Kevin O’Mara

Congratulations, you are managing a good product. It might even be a great product. However, when it comes time for one of your potential customers to pick a product to solve their problem, why should they choose yours over all of the other options that they have?

The Power Of A USP

Trying to figure out what makes your product better than everyone else’s is a classic product manager problem. One of the things that makes this so hard to do is the simple fact that we know too much about our product. We know how it does what it does and so we understand (in most cases) that we do things quicker / better / faster than the other guys. The problem comes when our customers are trying to decide between choosing our product or another product – they don’t know as much about our product as we do. Getting them to choose your product is a skill that you could add to your product manager resume.

What’s missing here is what we product managers like to call a Unique Selling Proposition (USP). To put it simply, a USP is a simple statement that clearly identifies what makes your product different from all of the other products that your customer could possibly choose. Note that I said that a USP was a simple statement, this means that it is really only one sentence long. No marketing brochures are allowed to serve as your USP.

You would be amazed at just how hard it can be to create a USP for your product. The reason that this is so hard is because as product managers we’ve been taught to think of our product as a collection of features. We know about a whole bunch of things that our product does very well. It is very hard for us to narrow this list down. However, in order to help our customers with their decision making, this is exactly what we need to do.

How Best To Use Your USP

Yes, creating a USP is hard work. However, it turns out that spending the time working on accomplishing this is time well spent. The reason is that once we’ve been able to clearly identify what makes our product different from everyone else’s product, it allows us to move forward with our product development definition and make sure that we spend our time on those things that our customer will value the most.

With a product that has many different functions, it can often be all too easy to create road maps and other feature plans that add value to the product in areas that have nothing to do with the USP that you’ve identified for your product. While some of this will always be required, now that you know what your USP is you are going to want to make sure that each new version of your product includes features that add more and more value to its USP.

As an example of the power of a USP, I was working with a small firm that was in the business of creating websites for schools. This is a niche market but there were a handful of other firms that were offering the same product. This firm did a better job, but had a challenge describing why what they did was better than everyone else. I worked with them to hash out a USP and eventually they discovered that what they did better than anyone else was to create websites that talked with each other – a network of websites. Once they worked this into their marketing material and their conversations with their customers they were able to really stand out.

What All Of This Means For You

In order to be a successful product manager, you have to really believe in your product – this is part of your product manager job description. You know that it’s the best solution to solve your customer’s problems, but your potential customers may not always know this. What this means for you is that you need to create a USP.

Your product’s unique selling proposition (USP) is the single sentence that clearly states why it is better than all of the other possible solutions that your customer could select. It can be very hard to boil down all of the things that your product does well into a single USP. Once you do this you can use your USP to guide future product development in order to strengthen what makes your product special.

No product manager ever has enough time to get everything done. However, taking the time to sit down and create a USP for your product is well worth the time that you’ll invest in doing it. Knowing what makes your product different will help both you and your customer make the right decisions going forward.

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Product Management Skills™

Question For You: Do you think that you should have different USPs for different types of customers?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

I can only speak for myself, but during the course of my career I have been the product manager for a number of very boring applications. You know, business-to-business stuff. Back in the day as I worked on my product development definition, how I dreamed of being responsible for a product that had millions of users and was associated with something that was more interesting. It turns out that this dream has now come true for a large number of product managers out there: they are responsible for dating apps. This market is growing and making your app successful has become very hard to do!

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