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How to Set Your Course Apart With a Unique Selling Proposition (USP)

How to Create a Unique Selling Proposition for Your Online Course

We’ve worked with thousands of course creators over the last five years. And while some of them have been lucky enough to launch wildly successful and profitable courses by creating a course in a space where there were no there offerings, most of us have to face a simple, daunting truth when we create our online course…

We’re going to have competition.

The good news is that if we understand our ideal customer, we can differentiate our course offering enough to stand apart from the crowd.

By creating a unique selling proposition, or USP, for your course and framing all of your landing page and marketing efforts within that USP, you can launch a successful course regardless of how many competing offerings are out there.


What Is a USP?

Simply put, your USP is what makes your course different from every other course which teaches a learning outcome similar to yours. It’s what sets you apart. It’s what will help you turn website visitors into paying customers. It’s what your course’s marketing and sales copy would be centered around.

A really good USP would directly address a specific need experienced by your ideal customer and emphasize what individual quality separates your course from the rest.


Using the USP Process as Idea Validation

Crafting a USP is critical to your efforts to market your course, but it can be an invaluable step in validating a prospective course topic also.

Sure, you can evaluate your course topic for what price you might be able to command and you can take a look at how many people might be willing to purchase it.

But if you can confidently create a once-sentence USP which you truly believe in and when you sit back and look at it you say, “Wow…that’s good” then you’re well on your way to a successful course launch.


Three Examples of Great USPs



Nerd Fitness

First up…Nerd Fitness. The fitness blogging niche, if you could even call it a niche anymore, is a crushingly saturated space.

Fitness websites which cater to nerds?

Well, as far as I can tell, there’s one.

And how many nerds are there out there who may be sit behind a computer all day writing code and drinking soda and know they need to do something about their health, but are too intimidated to even type into their web browser because they know the first image that pops up is going to cause them to think, “Forget it…I’ll never look like that”?

Well, I personally know at least 20 people that fit that description!

Everything about this site stands apart from other fitness blogs. Their community is called “The Rebellion” and they refer to their members as underdogs, misfits, and mutants.

Their about page states “As we’ve learned from Optimus Prime, small changes can eventually add up to huge results”. It’s fantastic stuff and it’s a great example of a powerful USP…

It addresses a specific need…someone who is out of shape, wants to get in shape, but is intimidated by everyone else who is already in shape.

And they lead with how they’re unique…”we get you, welcome home”. It’s even evident in their choice of domain name!



Saddleback Leather

Here’s another example. How many companies do you think there are competing in the handcrafted leather goods space?

Well, when I typed it into Google to do my research for this post, it returned 1,170,000 results.

But how many of those have an About Us page which kicks off with…

“A hot wife, two fabulous kids, 14 Rwandan sons and daughters, a cool dog and a crooked federale sent to kill me kind of makes up the Saddleback story. Here’s how it happened.”

One…and it belongs to the Saddleback Leather Company.

Everything about this company’s message is designed to lead you toward the belief that you’re not just buying another leather bag that’s been handcrafted to become the last one you’ll ever own, you’re buying a piece of equipment that is going to be there alongside you for an Indiana Jones-style, wild-adventure, ride-of-a-lifetime. In a crowded industry, they stand apart with nearly unbelievable true tales of adventure and it works.

They’ve even become famous for their 100 year warranty which reads...

“Before you’re dead, be sure to leave it in your will for one of your descendants and have them contact one of our descendants and they’ll take care of it for you.”

It also clearly states that they do not warranty products which have been damaged by taking them shark diving in salt water, stomped on by an elephant, or torn apart by a crocodile’s death roll. I love it.

Almost makes me want to pull out my credit card and buy a new $600 messenger bag. Almost.



World's Strongest Librarian

Here’s another website in the self-development space which also has no shortage of websites.

Type “how to get smarter and stronger” into Google…now we’re at 3,370,000 results.

How may of them cover book reviews for people who want to increase their intellectual capacity as well as discover effective strength training routines, oh, and also include a photo of the blog’s owner arm wrestling Steven King as a testament to their dedication of purpose?

You guessed it…one.

And it’s called The World’s Strongest Librarian. As a self-described book nerd who also enjoys rattling the plates at 5:30AM every morning, I love this site. And while it’s the only one quite like this, there are millions of other people out there like me who are part-geek, part-athlete.


So How Do We Create Our Own USP?

Now that we’ve looked at some examples of websites that stand apart in crowded spaces by framing their message differently, how do we begin crafting our own USP?

Well, it’s part process and part art, but at the end of the day it’s quite simple and doesn’t need to be nearly as over the top as these examples.


Step 1: Get In Their Head

To begin crafting a USP, you need to understand what makes your prospective course customer tick, what outcome they want, and how you can give them a better way to get to that outcome.

When we recommend this USP creation process to our course creation clients, we generally begin by having them answer four key questions about their ideal customer.

If you’ve already launched your course, you may have some hard data on who does purchase it. But if you’re using this process to validate a course topic, you may have to do some brainstorming to answer these questions.

  • What is the outcome that your ideal customer truly wants?
  • How can your course create that outcome for them?
  • What factors would motivate them to purchase your course and achieve that outcome?
  • Why would they choose you to lead them to that outcome instead of someone else?


Step 2: Craft Your Elevator Pitch

After we answer those four key questions, we can use them to create an elevator pitch using a framework that has been around for decades in marketing circles. And if you can confidently create this one sentence summary for your course, you’ll be well on your way to a successful course launch.

  • For…
  • Who…
  • Product (or course)…
  • Is…
  • That…
  • Unlike…

Let’s use Nerd Fitness for this example…

FOR nerds WHO know they need to change their health habits, NERD FITNESS IS the only fitness website THAT can help you face your fear of getting started and get healthy UNLIKE all of those other intimidating bodybuilding sites.

That wasn’t so bad now, was it?

And that, my friends, is arguably the most important step in the course topic validation process, even more important than knowing what you might be able to charge for your course or how many people out there you might be able to find to buy it.

If you go through this process and end up with a statement that you truly feel good about and confident about, your course will do just fine.

About Nate Johnson

Nate Johnson is one of the co-founders of Fly Plugins, creators of the first and most widely-implemented learning management system for WordPress, WP Courseware. Since 2012, he has helped thousands of entrepreneurs, corporate training departments, and higher education institutions develop and deploy online training courses from their WordPress websites.

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