I have written often about the importance of developing an effective unique selling proposition or USP. In short, your USP is the unique value that you offer to your customers and it should be bold and distinguishing. A good USP gives your customer a reason to choose you and not your competitor.

My background is somewhat dichotomous, extensively grounded (pun intended) in both horticulture and marketing/ sales. I have provided marketing and sales consulting services to Fortune 500 companies and also have the experience of building my own landscaping company, bringing to bear these marketing and sales skills. This background makes me uniquely suited to help lawn and landscape businesses improve their marketing.

That stated, I want to write specifically on developing an effective USP as a lawn and landscape business. There are many ways to develop a USP. USPs can be built around service, price, guarantees and many other dimensions. Reflecting on a USP also involves consideration of pricing and positioning.

Large landscape operations may be able to position as the low price leader, underbidding their competitors. They can afford a lower project profit margin as they can fulfill a higher number of projects. Notwithstanding, such companies also have higher operating costs and must be circumspect in how they manage their bidding and fee structures.

For smaller companies, getting into such bidding wars is a death trap. If they are able to win the bid, the project margin is so low, they have very little to reinvest in growing the business. In some cases, they forfeit any profit with the hope of “building their portfolio” or “winning referrals.” This thinking is not entirely unsound but it is not sustainable. To scale a landscape company as with any business, a healthy profit and operating margin must be achieved.

So, what does this have to do with developing an effective USP? A good USP can help you avoid such bidding wars altogether. Sure, homeowners want to spend as little as they possible can but they also want the job done right. A good USP creates security, trust and makes you irresistible to your customer regardless if you may be priced higher.

How do you design such a USP? The place to always start whenever embarking on any marketing or sales effort is with the customer. Effective marketing is driven by customer empathy; you have to get in the hearts and minds of the customer. What is keeping them up at night? What are they afraid of? What problems are you solving for them? Is your customer a homeowner or a commercial contractor looking to find a reliable landscaping subcontractor who can deliver efficiently? Are your clients affluent and looking to have the best looking lawn in the neighborhood? Are your clients looking for low maintenance planting or do they have a team of gardeners to attend to the planting?

It is also important to perform an inventory of your business and what services you offer. Do you mow lawns, provide maintenance? Are you more design focused, positioning more as a landscape architect? Do you specialize in certain types of garden styles or installations like water features? Do you specialize in hardscaping or more specifically services like stamped concrete?

In short, consider your customer’s needs, their problems and assess your core competencies and what you can offer to meet these needs and solve these problems. Again, there are many dimensions to consider when developing a USP whether it is a unique service you offer, a price orientation (which I think is generally best to avoid unless you are a really large outfit), a guarantee, etc.

To provide an example, when growing my own landscape business, I focused a great deal on warranties and guarantees. Offering a guarantee on the health of the plants and workmanship warranties on hardscape installations goes a long way to build trust and distinguish you from competitors. It is important that such guarantees are bold and not like everyone else’s. “Your satisfaction guaranteed” is being used by everyone else, lacks specificity and does little to make you irresistible to your customer.

If I offer something bold such as a lifetime warranty on all plants, that will get your customers attention. Now, you may think that is too bold or too risky. You may fear having to replant the yard fifty times over after your client failed to provide proper irrigation or care. I will tell you that in most cases, the yards we install are fairly low maintenance (often by request) and it would require more effort to kill the plants off then care for them. We also provide care guides to our clients so that they know how to properly care for the plants we install. If planted correctly to begin with, chances are they will do just fine.

This is just one example but the prevailing point is that your USP has to be bold, it has to truly be unique and it should separate you from your competitors. Most importantly, your USP reveals who you are as a company. Consider why you are in this business to begin with, what problems are you solving, how can you help? If you are in the hearts and minds of your customers and you really want to help, your USP will communicate it and your customers will feel it.