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Finding Your USP for your Start-up Business with Lisa Hughes
As a business coach with over two decades of experience and a mentor with the AIB Start-up Academy, Lisa Hughes knows what it takes to make a successful start-up.
We spoke to her to find out how finding your Unique Selling Proposition or USP can make a serious difference to your business.
Get an Outside Perspective
As an entrepreneur herself, Lisa cautions that it’s easy to get caught up in the minutiae of running your business and lose sight of what truly makes your product unique. “You can’t see a building in its entirety when you’re inside the building,” she explains. “And when you’re an entrepreneur, who’s living and breathing your business every day, you can easily lose perspective on it. What ends up happening is that the business owner is not looking at the product from their customers’ perspective. They’re looking at it from the inside out.”
“We are all here to serve our customers, to take people’s pain away or add value,” she continues. “Until we get that message baked into our thinking, then sometimes it’s going to feel like we’re pushing a rock up a hill because we’re selling something that perhaps we don’t necessarily want or need. Ultimately, your USP is what your customers value. Not what you value.”
Learn From Customer Behaviour
Know your customer is a familiar business mantra, but finding your USP can require a more wide-ranging approach than traditional market research. “Sometimes if you ask a customer what they like about your product, they will tell you things that they think you want to hear,” Lisa says. “But ultimately, it’s their buying behaviour that tells you what they really do value. Lynne Twist always says, “Look at your chequebook”. Where you send your money is what you really value.”
“If we take the example of Kiki Moon from this year’s Start-up Academy,” she explains. “Keelin had developed this beautiful baby blanket, but what happened is that people started asking if she had it in a bigger size. It completely changed her view from ‘this is a baby product’ into ‘this is a product that everyone can enjoy’. And all of a sudden she had all kinds of market segments opening up.”
While Lisa doesn’t discount the value of market research, she cautions that a holistic approach to examining customer behaviour can pay greater dividends. “Listening to your customers for unprompted things is probably going to give you greater insights,” she says. “If you’re asking your customers specific questions you already have an agenda. Whereas listening to the online conversation around your product can really help you to understand what people really want from it because they will discuss it more naturally.”
Don’t Neglect the Emotional Element
Defining the functional elements of your USP is obviously important, but Lisa advises that what can truly set a product apart is an additional emotional aspect. “A great example from this year’s Academy is Shane from FEED,” she says. “His product has a number of functional USPs – it’s high in protein and it tastes great - but ultimately his emotional USP and the thing that kind of nails it for him, is that if you buy one of his products you’ll feed a hungry child. So yes, get your functional USP in terms of what you do and how you do it. But also consider what the emotional engagement or connection is that you’re creating. Because ultimately your functional USP can be replicated, but your emotional USP can’t.”
Context is Everything
Even if you’ve settled on what you believe is a fantastic USP, Lisa warns against adopting a one-size-fits-all approach. “If you’ve got a number of different customer segments, consider what those segments value, she explains. “It’s much more about what matters to that customer in this context at this time. For example, you might be having a different conversation with a customer at Christmas than you would be in the summertime.”
“The joy of social media and all the different channels we have now is that you can almost have a one-to-one conversation dialogue with people,” she concludes. “You can have a conversation as opposed to just promoting something and hoping it’s going to stick.”
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