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What Is A USP?

Off all the different topics in business, this one about the USP is one of them I find most fascinating and strangely, it can be one that business owners struggle with in particular.

Before we get into details about answering the question “What is a USP” I should explain the difference in the interpretation of the acronym.

In the USA, USP stands for Unique Selling Proposition.

In the UK, USP is sometimes translated as Unique Selling Point yet the UK based Chartered Institute of Marketers says that USP is the unique selling proposition

I have no idea why there is a difference and I tend to use both interchangeably. However in this article below I develop a personal opinion to suggest that a selling proposition is the overall differentiation concept whilst a unique selling point can be an individual point of difference.

Are Unique Selling Propositions And Unique Selling Points The Same?

The Origins Of The USP

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.

Rosser Reeves was the CEO of Ted Bates and he identified three rules for a USP:

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

This begs the question, “What is a proposition?”

According to Merriam Webster dictionary, it is “the act of offering or suggesting something to be considered, accepted, adopted, or done.”

What Other Marketing Gurus Say About The USP

In the last 50 years, the phrase USP has adapted and twisted as various marketers have tried to put their own spin on it.

I like the Dan Kennedy question that he believes your USP should answer…

“Why should I, your prospect, choose to do business with you versus any and every other option available to me in your category? Why should I choose to do business with you versus any and every other option available to me in your category?”

Jay Abraham says…

“A USP is that distinct and appealing idea that sets you and your business, or practice, favorably apart from every other generic competitor…the USP is the nucleus around which you will build your success, fame, and wealth, so you better be able to state it. If you can’t state it, your prospects won’t see it”

Copywriter John Carlton talks about using a three step formula to create a USP although he turns it around into a Unique Position to Sell (a UPS):

  1. We help (target audience)
  2. Do (whatever you help clients do and add a unique twist)
  3. Even if (your worst case believable scenario)

Other Ideas And Definitions Of Unique Selling Propositions

Wikipedia says:


“The term USP has been largely replaced by the concept of a positioning statement. Positioning determines what place a brand (tangible good or service) should occupy in the consumer’s mind compared to the competition. A position is often described as the meaningful difference between the brand and its competitors.”

Entrepreneur.com defines the unique selling proposition as “The factor or consideration presented by a seller as the reason that one product or service is different from and better than that of the competition”.


The Economist defines the USP concept as “a description of the qualities that are unique to a particular product or service and that differentiate it in a way which will make customers purchase it rather than its rivals.”

The Kissmetrics website takes a different view.


“A unique selling proposition is what your business stands for. It’s what sets your business apart from others because of what your business makes a stand about. Instead of attempting to be known for everything, businesses with a unique selling proposition stand for something specific.”

I’m comfortable with these definitions. There is a lot of talk by marketers and strategists on the subtle differences between customer value propositions, positioning statements, irresistible offers, mafia offers and USPs.

Much of it is splitting hairs as the concepts diverge and are then brought back together.

The important issues are:

  • The business and/or product are differentiated from its key competitors.
  • Customers understand, appreciate and value the difference.
  • The business consistently communicates the difference.
  • The difference is preferably more than skin deep. It’s most effective when it is reflected in what the business does every day or the special benefits that customers receive.
  • The concept is gradually innovated and updated as customer needs change and competitors develop their own offers.

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