When I’ve written about the idea of developing a USP in the past I have said that the letters in the acronym stand for:
- Unique Selling Proposition (the term created by Rosser Reeve in his book Reality In Advertising) and the phrase used in the USA and most of the world.
- Unique Selling Point in the United Kingdom.
I’ve said that these were effectively the same concept but due to language conventions, they are used in different countries.
While I broadly agree with that idea as a simplification and believe many British people will refer to a unique selling point when they mean a unique selling proposition, I have reconsidered and think they can be slightly different twists on the topic of communicating uniqueness.
A Unique Selling Proposition
For me, a unique selling proposition is a customer value proposition. It is a short statement that explains why a targeted customer should buy your product or service rather than from a competitor.
It is customer facing – to follow the Doug Hall ideas it has:
- at least one overt benefit and possibly more
- it’s believable
- and has a dramatic difference
This type of USP can apply to a business or a particular product or service.
With globalisation and the opening up of competition, I believe that we’re generally well past the idea of one dimensional differences.
Think about why you buy from Amazon and how it is differentiated.
- vast selection range.
- consistently low price – it may not be the absolute cheapest but with their own supplies and the Amazon marketplace, you can be confident that you are buying at a low price.
- great service – they very rarely make picking and packaging errors and the goods are in fine condition. Returns are easy when necessary.
- the reviews.
- incredibly easy to buy with the one click service.
- different delivery options depending on how urgent your need and how much you’re prepared to pay to get it delivered quickly.
- secure transactions.
If you tried to recommend Amazon to a friend who was nervous about buying on the Internet and never had done, would you only focus on one thing?
Unique Selling Points
The Amazon example highlights the Customer Value Attribute Map where a value proposition consists of a variety of attributes or factors.
While the phrase unique selling point in the UK can refer to the all embracing unique selling proposition, I also think it can be used to describe individual customer value attributes which may be unique or where there is a clear difference in performance rating. A unique selling point is one factor of difference.
A unique selling proposition could therefore have a number of unique selling points.
I’ve written before about the idea that there are:
- industry key success factors – if you are going to be competitive, you need to provide these factors and customers must believe that you do.
- key factors of difference – the key success factors get you into the game, your factors of difference help you to win.
If we take the unique selling proposition as a value proposition that is used to persuade customers to buy, it may have to include industry key success factors as well as key factors of difference. It all depends on whether these qualifiers can truly be taken for granted.
For example, it is generally taken for granted that a hotel will be clean. If that’s the case then it doesn’t need to be mentioned for most people. However if you are targeted hypo-allergenic people, then it is unavoidable an issue because the cleanliness required needs to go beyond the standard level.
How Unique Does Your USP Have To Be?
The unique aspect of a USP can be daunting.
It can put some people off the idea of focusing on how to differentiate their business and products. This is a big problem because, if you’re not differentiated, you can only compete on lower price and that sucks the profit contribution out of the transaction.
When you think about your unique selling proposition and unique selling points, you need to take into account your area of competition.
At its simplest, this is geographic.
Even a business that is renowned for its incredibly consistent standardisation like McDonalds is unique in a small town where one store is competing against a Burger King, a KFC and several unbranded burger providers. Even in a big city like London where there are many franchise restaurants, location still keeps each unique because one is not three doors down from another.
The area of competition can also be shrunk based on customer specialisation. I could license my Eight Pillars of Business Prosperity development system to business coaches competing in the chiropractic market, in restaurants and in car service and repair shops. Each coach would be working to the same system but each would be unique in their own markets.
A similar situation applies when the product types are different. A Ferrari sports car and a Rolls Royce limousine could each claim a unique selling point if each had a shared special feature because, although very expensive motor vehicles, the sports car and limousine don’t compete head on.
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