Learners have many choices when deciding which online course to purchase, so one of the most important marketing tasks for online course business owners to tackle is learning how to create their course’s unique selling proposition (USP). Marketing experts define a USP as:
An approach to developing the advertising message that concentrates on the uniquely differentiating characteristic of the product that is both important to the customer and a unique strength of the advertised products when compared to competing products.
Notice that the USP focuses on how your course differs from other courses. In short, the USP answers the question, “What is the UNIQUE benefit that my course provides?”
How to create a unique selling proposition for online courses
Create a strong online course USP with these six key steps:
1. Know your learners
When developing and marketing your online courses, it’s important to remember who your learners are and in what ways you can benefit their lives. Learners want courses that are easy to use, engaging, and yield tangible results. But more specifically, learners have their own individualized goals you will discover when you ask them for feedback.
There are many useful ways to gather information on what your learners want, but one of the most effective is conducting an LMS survey. You can use surveys to gather demographic information, learners’ goals and learning preferences, and useful feedback about their previous experiences with courses created by you or your competitors.
Once you know the common themes in the needs and desires of your audience, you can address them in your USP. For example, if your course teaches learners to be better public speakers, your selling proposition might describe the increased confidence and skill level your learners will enjoy after completing your course.
Who are your learners? (age, gender identity, location, industry, career focus, concerns)
What problems do your learners want to solve?
2. Know your competition
To market your course effectively, you must know what your competition is selling. Conduct competitor analysis to learn what other services in your market offer, and provide course content that helps your customers in ways competitors are not.
- Developing a general course idea (career change) into a specialty course for a professional group (career change for lawyers);
- Tailoring material from something general (stress reduction) to something new and timely (stress reduction during a pandemic);
- Taking something that is usually time-consuming and complex (creating a wardrobe) and offering a new, simpler way to do it (creating a capsule wardrobe in a weekend);
If you can zero in on where your competition falls short, you’re one step closer to pinpointing what makes your online course unique. Once you know your main selling points and what the rest of the online course market offers, you can use that information to ensure your USP draws an accurate comparison between yourself and your competitors.
What courses are available that are similar to the ones you might offer?
How will you make your course unique and timely?
3. Be specific about your ideal learner
When course creators first learn about marketing, it often surprises them that a general USP is less effective than a specific one. To market your online course well, you must identify who your ideal learners are and who they are not. When you are clear about this, you improve your course outcomes because you can tailor your material to your audience.
For example, if your course is introductory, you don’t want extremely experienced learners to take the course and then publish reviews that the information was too basic. Likewise, if you aim your course at mid to advanced-level learners, you’ll want to inform learners they may need to complete prerequisites or gain more experience and knowledge before taking your course. The goal is to enroll only appropriate learners, not all learners.
Among all the people who might be interested in your course, who are the learners most likely to benefit?
What level of prior experience and knowledge should a learner have before enrolling in your course?
4. Make it succinct
In marketing, shorter sentences are usually more effective, so use brevity to be clear and memorable.
If you can sum up your USP in a single brief phrase that solves a specific problem, there’s a good chance you made your course sufficiently focused. If you find it difficult to summarize your selling proposition in a brief phrase, it might be because you are trying to focus on too many ideas at once or to solve too many problems with one course.
Some USPs are brief, but with a longer explanation as a second part, much like a book title and a subtitle. Here are some examples from books that are best-sellers:
- Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers
- Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead
- Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking
Is your USP clear, short, and catchy?
When you describe your USP to others, do they find it easy to understand and memorable?
5. Use emotion
Marketing expert Jennifer Kem says people make buying decisions to improve their lives in one or more of these areas:
- Relationships or Self
- Spirituality or Happiness
A compelling USP is likely to focus on these areas. It’s persuasive to offer people a way to feel better, earn more, enjoy high-quality time with family and friends, and develop a meaningful life.
It is okay if your USP makes a bold claim because a memorable USP is more than a slogan — it’s a promise. Make sure your claims are credible, though. You’ll know your marketing claims are spot on if your learners are happy with the results they got after they finished your course. This is important for the next step, advertising with social proof.
Does your USP focus on one of the key emotional areas of health, wealth, relationships/self, or spirituality/happiness?
Is your USP both compelling and credible?
6. Use your unique selling proposition in your advertising
After you’ve chosen your USP, the next step is to tell people about it by advertising. Lead with your USP because you want your learners to associate it with your online course. You will want to feature your USP prominently on your website, in email marketing, on social media, and in any advertisements you run.
Buyers decide about online courses based on what they see others doing and saying, which is why social proof is such an effective advertising strategy. The more you can let your happy learners speak for you about why others should buy your course, the easier and more convincing your marketing efforts will be, so definitely use social proof to boost your online course sales.
Have you identified which advertising channels you wish to use?
Have you collected social proof?
How to create a unique selling proposition: What’s next?
As your course helps more people and you evaluate customer feedback, your advertising may evolve. Sometimes a course creator starts with one USP and, based on what learners say, changes it to better match what your ideal learners want. A learner who has completed your course may provide the perfect line to summarize how your course helped them, and then you can ask permission to use the line in your advertising.
Janet Scarborough Civitelli, Ph.D., is a writer and psychologist with expertise in communications, education, and technology. She writes about business, workplace psychology, and the e-learning industry.