USP? It’s a buzz-acronym from the sales world that means unique selling proposition. Identifying it is the key to selling anything. It’s a sine qua non for sales success, and, really, for success in business of any type.
Identifying a USP requires some honest answers to key questions, such as: What makes your product special? What sets it apart? And if the product is the same as a dozen others, what kind of deal are you offering that can become your unique proposition for selling it?
The answers inform every aspect of any marketing campaign, from slogan and tagline right on through sales letters and even packaging.
So does this apply to freelance journalists?
Duh. Of course it does. But maybe not the way you’d think.
Because in freelance writing, your unique selling proposition has almost nothing to do with you.
If you think that your USP is your unique writing flair, your ability to breathe life into any subject or story, get over yourself. Unless your pitch is for a memoir of your fascinating life, stay out of the way. The “you” part of the equation will shine through in the way you frame your pitch. “You” becomes subliminal, a whisper in the editor’s ear. When it comes to getting published, ideas rule.
Shout your ideas. Whisper “you.”
Your USP should be boldly obvious, enticingly resonant, irresistibly unforgettable in every pitch you write. Here are those questions again, recast for our purposes, ready to ask yourself before you write the first sentence of your next query letter.
- What makes your story special?
- What sets it apart?
- And if the story is the same as a dozen others, what kind of deal are you offering that can become your unique proposition for selling it?
If your doesn’t pass USP muster, pump it up. Dial it in. Give it the twist that sets it apart. A story about Paris isn’t special. A story about patisseries in Paris is getting there. A story about your search for the best pain au chocolat in Paris has some zing to it.
But dial it in even more. Maybe you’ll use social media to get your answer, and write about how tweeting with locals and expats sent you on a delectable quest.
Or maybe you ask five different fussy chefs where each thinks the best pain au chocolat resides. And find out why these pastries are special: Is it the flour, the water? Where do they source the chocolate?
Suggest a couple of sidebars. They can be part of your USP “deal.” They show that you’re thinking like an editor—and they offer the possibility of a higher word count; i.e., more moolah.
Timeliness can play in to a freelance writer’s USP. Maybe there’s a chocolate festival happening in Paris, but you feel the attention is too focused on straight chocolate and not enough about its pastrified apotheosis. Anything you can do to make your pitch timely—keeping in mind lead time for print publications, of course—will make it more compelling.
Okay, so you’ve nailed the USP for your pitch. What next? How do you carry that over into actually selling your story?
That will form the USP for my next post.
If you want to learn more about using USPs in their original context, copywriting, check out John Carlton’s Simple Writing System.