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The USP (Unique Selling Proposition) And Rosser Reeves

I’m sure you’ve heard that your business needs a Unique Selling Proposition (USP) because the idea is banded around by most marketing consultants and coaches.

Unfortunately the meaning of USP tends to change depending on who you listen to although the point about differentiating your business and your offer from competitors is consistent.

The Origins Of The USP

Do you know where the term originally comes from?

It was developed by advertising agency Ted Bates & Company and promoted in a book…

Reality in Advertising,” by Rosser Reeves published on March 12th, 1961. (Read my review of Reality In Advertising)

That’s right the concept of a USP is now 50 years old.

The Rosser Reeves Rules For An Effective USP

He identified three rules for a USP:

  1. Each advertisement must make a proposition to the consumer.
  2. The proposition must be one that the competition either cannot, or does not, offer.
  3. The proposition must be so strong that it can move the mass millions.

Are The USP Ideas Still Applied?

It’s a good idea to look at a few advertisements and marketing pieces – newspaper, TV, direct mail and websites – and see whether they make an impact on you as a potential customer and whether they follow the rules.

Is there a proposition? Does the marketing say the equivalent of “if you give me your money and buy this product or service, then this is what you get back in terms of benefits?”

Tombstone Advertising Doesn’t Work Because It Ignores The USP Ideas

Often I think you’ll see or hear advertising which makes no offer or proposition. It’s just says – “this is our name and this is what we do.” Some marketers call this wasteful marketing which lacks an offer, “tombstone advertising”.

To avoid picking on anyone, I’d better use me as an example.

My tombstone advertisement would read

Paul Simister,

Business Coach,


So What?

Does the promise include something unique?

If you just promote generic benefits, the potential customer has no idea why he or she should buy from you rather than one of the ten of competitors. In fact, he may be so confused, he can’t make a choice and will either withdraw from making a buying decision or will pick one or two potential suppliers at random. See Yellow Pages Bingo.

Is the proposition strong enough to move the masses?

Either the proposition attracts, repels or leaves potential customers indifferent. It’s that last one that is the big problem – bland, boring promotional messages which leave the reader thinking “so what?” even when they have given their full attention to the offer.

Using Your USP Effectively

Your USP should become a constant theme in your promotions as it establishes a clear positioning in the minds of your prospective customers. All marketing messages get stronger through repetition and a short USP can stick in the memory so that when the need arises, your name is that one that springs to mind.

The Abuse Of the USP

The USP is an important concept but it’s also abused. I thought it was ironical that when I was reading Reality In Advertising, Rosser Reeves said that even back in 1961, the concept was not being applied well.

Your USP is “Why you should buy from me” which is put into your marketing but too often the USP is seen as a small part of marketing.

This is nonsense and leads to what I call shallow differentiation.

It’s something that looks good and sounds good but in the end probably means nothing.

What you need is deep differentiation.

And that’s the big idea of the business which drives everything in it and all the decisions.

Differentiation and the USP shouldn’t be something you bolt on after you’ve built the business, recruited the staff and designed all the systems and processes just because you’ve realised you need a nifty little phrase to use in your marketing.

Decide On Your Differentiate Strategy And Then Craft Your USP

Instead, if you do it properly, how you decide to differentiate your business should be the driving force for everything else. If you want fun to be an important part of your core business identity, then you should go out and recruit people who are funny, happy and smile a lot. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself having to keep telling your staff to smile, laugh and joke and it will feel forced.

Or if speed and short lead times are an important part of your differentiation and USP, then you design it into your systems and processes. It becomes a critical part of your choice of suppliers. The need to be quick consistently is the basis for the decisions you make.

Writing your USP isn’t a small part of your marketing which can be left to your marketing director or even your marketing agency or a copywriter. Not if it is going to be authentic.

Everything You Do Should Reinforce Your USP

It is your business and should be understood by your customers, your employees and your suppliers. Everything done in the business should reinforce your USP.

If not, you reduce the USP down to the level of a marketing trick designed to manipulate customers.

What Do You Think Of The USP Concept?

I’d like to know what you think.

Was Rosser Reeves right to emphasise the importance of the USP?

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