Various people have claimed that the USP is dead but are they right or are they trying to gain attention for a similar concept?
In this blog article, I’m going to have a look at what they say.
The USP Spoiler
Part of the controversy come from the various definitions of the USP or unique selling proposition or the confusion between an effective value proposition that positions your business and persuades customers you are the most relevant buying choice and an advertising slogan like KFC’s meaningless “so good”.
R.I.P. – The Unique Selling Proposition is dead
The widely held concept behind the Unique Selling Proposition (USP) is that in a competitive marketplace, the best way to distinguish one’s product or service from the homogeneous pack it to define oneself with a single, unparralled trait that sums up in as few words as possible what makes you special.
The claim is made in the book, “The #1 Way to Increase Your Close Rate: What You Stand Against,” by business coach Michael R. Drew.
The big idea…
A short statement to differentiate your business based on what you stand against.
An example is a Canadian alternative rock radio station, Ottawa LiVE 88.5, said “Beiber-free, Gaga-free with a no-Nickleback guarantee” that increased listeners by 29% and revenue by 22% in a year.
This is a USP by another name. It’s a switch on the avoid pain or move towards pleasure concept.
It avoids two of the biggest mainstream pop artists that will offend or irritate alternative rock fans. An alternative statement could boast about playing Nirvana but it’s not going to have the same unifying force. 100% of alt-rock fans probably hate Justin Beiber and Lady Gaga, 70% might like Nirvana including many who accept this is 20+ year old history. Positive associations to more modern alt rock groups will have a lower appeal.
This negative, what we stand against is a useful addition to the USP thinking but it doesn’t replace it.
The USP is dead – long live the USP
An argument that marketers exist to differentiate products because there are no USPs.
It stems from a mailshot a client received which compared the marketing of four competitors and challenged the reader to tell them apart.
As the title suggests, the author seems to be a bit conflicted on the issue.
USPs don’t exist in markets where the businesses are more interested in copying each other than in being different.
I accept that there are two levels of USP:
- genuine differentiation in the product, service and benefits.
- perceived differentiation in the mind of the buyer.
Both are valid although I prefer selling better steak than a fancier sounding sizzle.
You can look at any market and ask two questions:
- Are some businesses able to sustain a price premium?
- Are some buyers stupid?
If no one has a price premium, there is no USP.
If buyers are stupid and willing to pay a higher price for the same product or service then there is more going on with perception than the product. However if the buyer receives some emotional gain ( for example prestige or pride from being able to afford to pay a higher price), then the buyer feels the extra benefits are worth the price premium.
The USP is Dead!
An argument that the USP needs to be replaced by a value proposition.
Nowadays the concept [the USP] is widely misunderstood (or not understood at all) where the term is used casually to refer to any aspect of a product/ service that has some nebulous differentiating factor.
In its place, companies should use a value proposition.
The value proposition is a carefully crafted set of statements around what you do for people, as opposed to what you offer. It’s a headline that clearly shows why you are different from your competitors in terms of value delivered.
I agree that the term USP has often been used badly. Sometimes it gets too broad, other times it is too narrow.
The Domino’s Pizza USP is often considered to be one of the greatest ever created and popularised.
You get fresh, hot pizza delivered to your door in 30 minutes or less or it’s free.
How does that compare to the definition of a value proposition?
I’d say that it fits both.
I can mention one problem with thinking in terms of customer value.
The ultimate value or benefit is often commoditising.
Why do you eat food?
There are only a few reasons:
- To give you essential nourishment and vitamins – this is the healthy eating argument.
- To stop you feeling hungry – pizza works there.
- To give you a pleasurable experience – takeaway/delivered pizza doesn’t meet this as well as a gourmet restaurant but you might have much more fun eating pizza casually with friends.
The Death Of The USP (And What Is Replacing It)
The basic premise here is that it’s hard to make a product or service genuinely unique and even if it is, it might not be valued by customers.
You don’t have to do things differently, you just have to communicate them differently.
The author recommends that you create a Unique Story Proposition:
- What Matters To Your Customer?
- What Matters To You?
The author makes some good points but is still intent on creating a short phrase that helps to explain why you are different. The USP is still alive.
I agree that your difference can certainly come from either your back story or your purpose.
The USP is DEAD!
What’s your Unique Selling Point, what makes you different, why are your products or services better than your competitors? If you still think this way when you are putting campaigns together then you need to rethink your marketing.
I find that statement scary as it implies that you don’t need to differentiate.
In its place, the recommendation is to…
Think about your own messaging, understand who your customers are and create a message based on the real problem, not on the benefits of your product or service.
I have a bias that I like marketing that starts from a stated (or implied problem) and moves to a solution.
But this advice doesn’t go far enough.
Let’s look at an example – weight loss.
The problem – the person is fat, unhealthy, miserable and likely to die at an early age.
The more sympathetic statement of the problem – the person is not overweight because of eating too much food and taking too little exercise but because of his body isn’t blah, blah, blah (sorry I can’t think of any technical reasons – I tend to go along with the eating too much, not exercising enough thinking.)
You need to bring in some solution. A magic pill to stop blah, blah, blah (or to suppress appetite and to increase calorie and fat burning from minimal exercise).
If you think about it, weight loss is a huge market which attracts many of the best marketers in the world. How much attention is given to increasing the pain of the problem?
Very little from what I’ve seen. It’s about trying to give hope through the benefits of a special solution.
Is the USP dead?
A look at the advertising in the beer marketing highlighting thinks like a special bottle cap, a label that turns blue when the beer is cold or a new type of can.
I admit the advertising is rubbish despite the huge budgets these companies have to spend on marketing.
But what would beer drinkers have to say?
Are they indifferent to the beer they drink?
Some are, some aren’t.
In my student days, I had very strident opinions about beer and what I liked (and would drink) and what I didn’t (and wouldn’t touch).
My thoughts were based on flavour, image, price, alcohol content and my particular needs in the buying occasion. Sometimes I wanted volume, sometimes it needed to be ice cold (we British will drink warm bitter and mild out of preference,b if it’s too cold the flavour is lost).
The beer market is about creating trial. Preference is created after the beer is tasted.
The USP is dead! long live the ESP
Developing a genuinely compelling Unique Selling Point was a big ask 20 years ago. In today’s world of massive competition it is virtually impossible (even for a professional marketeer!).
So, in the brave new world of the 21st century how do you differentiate yourself and stand out from your competitors? It’s about using communications that engage your target audience at an emotional level.
The big idea is to create an emotional selling point or proposition.
A USP by another phrase. It’s still a short positioning statement to create buyer preference.
Did Domino’s USP appeal to the emotions?
Yes – my hunger will be satisfied.
Did Fedex famous statement appeal to the emotions?
Yes – it was all about creating confidence in the next day delivery service.
Great USPs have often been great ESPs.
The Death of the USP (1961-2012)
A cry to build a personal brand from an Internet marketer.
The power of personal branding in creating preference and differentiation between businesses is huge.
If you’ve ever travelled miles out of your way to go to a restaurant with a celebrity chef, you’ll know that it creates a special occasion.
But it’s not the only way.
The USP Is Not Dead
Claims that the USP is dead are premature.
Businesses can be differentiated.
Businesses must be differentiated if they are going to succeed above the lowest price commodity level.
Your USP and your brand are two sides of the same coin.
Forget about logos and fancy colour schemes, your brand boils down to a single concept.
The position in the mind of your customers.
How do they think about you?
They will sum up your business idea in a few words but your business will be defined either uniquely or within a group of also-ran products and services.
If your customers are doing it, I recommend that you help shape their opinions by thinking through:
- How you want your business to be defined uniquely
- How you can communicate that idea frequently and consistently.
You will then have your USP and you’ll see for yourself that the concept is very much alive and well.
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Paul Simister is a business coach who helps business owners who are stuck or struggling with disappointing marketing, to get unstuck. You can then start attracting, converting and keeping more customers. If your business is based in the UK, you can have a free 60 minutes Business SOS consultation (please click) with me to get you unstuck.Don't forget to download and read my FREE Report - The SIX Steps PROFIT Formula: The Simple Rules That Every Small Business Owner Needs To Know available to download at Six Steps Report (Please click).