Have you ever had someone come up to you and ask, "So, what's your USP?"
No, but I bet you're wondering, "What the heck is a USP?" USP is a marketing term that stands for unique selling proposition. Some experts use the term unique value proposition.
"It's a promise of value that your customers can't get from your competitors," says Judith Guido, of Guido and Associates, Moorpark, Calif. According to Guido, about 95 percent of lawn care and landscape businesses don't have a USP. "They look the same, have the same business development, pricing and products," she says.
And that's not good, because if all turf businesses in the same region are selling the same services at the same prices there's no differentiation or competitive advantage, and price becomes the ultimate decision driver. Guido instructs companies to look at other industries to see how they leverage their USPs. Southwest Airlines and Starbucks are two examples that she cites.
Southwest Airlines has created a unique brand for itself by using only one type of plane that provides for a lower pricing structure, as well as using its employee base as a differentiator. Southwest does team hiring and selects individuals with upbeat and dynamic personalities who have a sense of humor. The company recognizes that air travel can be stressful, and has built its brand on creating a terrific customer experience that is fun, happy, convenient and safe. And its employees inject humor into its customer service to make it lightheartedly different from any other airline. This is just one of the qualities that make it unique compared to carriers such as U.S. Airways and American Airlines. Not surprisingly, Southwest outpaces its competitors in both profitability and loyalty.
Starbucks stands out in the coffee industry. Its baristas take more time to make your coffee drink than McDonalds or Dunkin Donuts. At Starbucks, you can order hundreds of different ways to have your coffee made where McDonalds and Dunkin Donuts stick with the basics, and that makes Starbucks different from its competitors. Starbucks also creates a place that feels like a cross between your home and your office. Moms get together over a cup of coffee; business people can meet potential clients there; and many writers have worked on their novels at Starbucks. Additionally, Starbucks describes its server as "baristas" cementing Starbucks as a cool place to hang out. Its prices are also higher than its competitors for the above service, but it provides a higher level of service, a more pleasing atmosphere and a fair amount of trendiness, too.
So what makes your landscape or lawn care business different from your competition?
Creating a USP takes a lot of hard work. It requires more than just sitting down with your salespeople and writing catchy slogans. It means that everyone on your team, and in every aspect of your business, from the accountant to the crewmember, including your stakeholders, can accurately state your company's USP. Thus, when you decide to develop your USP, you need to do some research about your company by asking your entire team, stakeholders and clients if they know why your company exists. If everyone's answers aren't the same, then you need to devote time to developing your company's USP.
To develop a USP, you first need to gather intelligence - getting out of your comfort zone and asking questions about your company's purpose from the perspectives of your employees, your stakeholders, other professionals, the media, your community and your competitors. Essentially, you're asking people who know your business and its reputation how they define your business's purpose and mission. Once you've gathered all of that information, it's time to boil it down and do a competitive analysis.
At this point, you need to be objective and you need to prove to your stakeholders and team that your company is different from everyone else's. If you can come up with concrete answers to the following questions it will show you, and the rest of the world, how your company is different from the crowd:
1. What do you do differently from your competitors?
2. Do you offer unique products or services that your competition doesn't?
3. Do you work on Saturdays and Sundays where your competition only works Monday through Fridays?
4. What unique service(s) or product(s) do you sell?
5. How do you sell your products and services differently from your competitors?
6. Are you tapping into social networking and developing relationships with your clients, both actual and potential?
7. How can you partner with someone to service your customers faster, cheaper, better, with smarter equipment, trademarks or an exclusivity agreement?
Once you answer those questions, you're on your way to developing an effective USP.
Gary Roux, who owns Entrevant (http://www.entrevant.com) and manages the LinkedIn group "Quickbooks for Landscape Contractors", talks about two green industry businessmen who have successful USPs. Greg Whitstock made his company, Aquascape, a national leader in water features. And Phil Catron and his firm, NaturaLawn, promise to deliver an organic-based lawn care to his clients' properties.
Roux explains how Whitstock of AquaScape, Inc. stands out in his niche: "Greg is a national (business). He supplies components to make pond building easier. I would recommend visiting his website, his Facebook page, et al. He does a bunch of stuff that really makes him unique. Workshops, training, build-a-pond days, etc. His components and kits make backyard pond building a snap. Very cool group. I knew them when they were just starting out; they are now about $50 million, I think."
A great way to learn about how companies develop their USPs is by reading their case studies. "Two great examples of strategic differentiation that most people reading this will identify with are U.S. Lawns and Brickman," Roux says. "What do they do? If you said, 'landscape maintenance' you haven't gone deep enough. How about 'commercial landscape maintenance?' Better. But digging deeper, you will see that the focus is on specific types of projects, specific property sizes and specific distances from the branch."
Who are you?
According to Tony Bass, a small business consultant, green business owners should be working on their businesses instead of in them, which means that you step away from the daily tasks of helping your crews get jobs done and take more of a top down role as a business owner where you hire foremen and crew leaders to make sure that jobs get done. And you work on taking the company to its next level and envision where you want your company to be in five, 10 and 15 years.
Bass stated that an effective USP will help prospective customers or clients know what to expect from your firm if they decide to hire you. Bass also advised that companies ask the following questions to the entire team. "Why should someone do business with our company? Take those (the team's) thoughts into consideration. Interview your top three to five clients. And combine those answers," Bass says.
The second question Bass tells his clients to ask their team and their clients is, "What makes our company special and unique?" Both questions are similar, but yield different results. From these replies, you again combine the answers to see how you're different from competitors.
"You've got to provide top-quality service and customer service. What's the biggest problems, aggravation, etc. that you solve for your customers? That (information) comes from the interviews with the clients. Even the smallest things can make a difference," Bass says.
Application and Development: Pursuing Your USP
It's great to learn about USP and how it can benefit your business in theory. But the rubber meets the road when you set out to create your company's USP.
Gary Roux shares his advice on learning more about applying USP to your business.
"It depends on the size of the firm. If they don't want to spend thousands on a consultant, there are a lot of books that can be found at Amazon. I listen to audible or recorded books instead of the radio while driving. Writing a business plan will help identify the USP. It's important that the USP match what the operating structure of the company is able to produce, i.e. don't have a 'low price leader' USP if you have high operating costs."
Roux recommends "Street Smarts" by Norm Brodsky, which goes beyond USP.
"There are lots of good resources on branding and positioning," Roux continues. "I recommend doing an internet search and going off of the reviews. The resources someone chooses will have a lot to do with the direction that you want to go. For example, in my case, I differentiate by customer service and communication. I read everything I can on Zappos, Disney and Nordstrom."
Roux also says that the same advice can be applied when looking for reputable consultants to help you with your USP research and creation.
"Seek out the ones that have your idea of a great USP and use them," Roux says.
Bass notes some other ways that your business can stand out from your competition:
- Your communication system: This is an area where your company can really stand out from the crowd. Have you formed a close enough bond with your customers that you share information back and forth through email, texting, etc.? "Phone communication has changed so much. It's morphed into a relationship with personal email addresses and quick texts."
- Websites: "If you don't have a website, you're not credible," Bass explains. The vast majority of land care companies do have websites, but about 94 percent of them don't have a call to action where you're asking the customer to do something - make a call, join your e-newsletter, print out a coupon.
"Being unique today is that initial meeting online, where the owner is present, but not ... moving them (the potential customers) from shopping online (to making contact with you)."
Bass also notes that potential customers, who are looking online, want to see proof of your value through client testimonials and reviews. And this information should be on your homepage where it's the first thing your potential clients see when they click onto your site.
Business after your USP
"If you have a USP, (the next step is to) build an introduction of your company with 200 to 250 words in an online video by the owner who introduces the company," Bass advises.
You can also broadcast your USP through pictures where satisfied clients are enjoying your handiwork that your company did on their properties. Potential clients can visualize themselves easier when they see real people enjoying their landscapes and lawns. And it's a visual word-of-mouth, if you will, when potential clients see their friends, family and neighbors in landscape pictures where you did the work.
Finally, your USP should be reviewed periodically to verify that your company is living up to its promise. "I think a USP is not something to change, but to verify that you're on track and are getting feedback from your team," Roux states. "It's really the largest part of (your company's culture), and you want that to be stable."
Avoid the obvious
Bass, Guido and Roux all emphasize that slogans such as "great customer service" and "licensed and insured" are not good USPs because everyone uses them. You're not standing out from the crowd with those phrases.
"Because every reasonably successful company does that," Roux says. "Nothing unique about doing a good job in this industry. If you don't (deliver great customer service), you'll be out of business. You have to be exceptional at something, or you will be in the pack and compete solely on price. And while that can be a strategy, the entire structure of the company has to support that strategy. There is a reason that Toyota has a separate dealership for the Lexus product."
So, what is your USP?
A member of the Garden Writers Association, Komancheck writes about the green industry from her home near Ephrata, Pa. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or check out her blog at http://wendykomancheckswriting.wordpress.com.