The unique selling proposition (USP) or unique selling point is a marketing concept first proposed as a theory to explain a pattern in successful advertising campaigns of the early 1940s. The USP states that such campaigns made unique propositions to customers that convinced them to switch brands. The term was developed by television advertising pioneer Rosser Reeves of Ted Bates & Company. Theodore Levitt, a professor at Harvard Business School, suggested that, "Differentiation is one of the most important strategic and tactical activities in which companies must constantly engage." The term has been used to describe one's "personal brand" in the marketplace. Today, the term is used in other fields or just casually to refer to any aspect of an object that differentiates it from similar objects.
A unique selling proposition (USP) refers to the unique benefit exhibited by a company, service, product or brand that enables it to stand out from competitors. The unique selling proposition must be a feature that highlights product benefits that are meaningful to consumers.
As described by Dr. James Blythe, the USP "contains the one feature of the product that most stands out as different from the competition, and is usually a feature that conveys unique benefits to the consumer." Communicating the USP is a key element of branding.
In Reality in Advertising, Reeves laments that the USP is widely misunderstood and defines it in three parts, summarized here:
- Each advertisement must make a proposition to the consumer--not just words, product puffery, or show-window advertising. Each advertisement must say to each reader: "Buy this product, for this specific benefit."
- The proposition must be one the competition cannot or does not offer. It must be unique--either in the brand or a claim the rest of that particular advertising area does not make.
- The proposition must be strong enough to move the masses, i.e., attract new customers as well as potential customers.
The USP concept has become one of the eight broad approaches to creative executions in advertising. The USP approach is recommended where the product category is characterised by high levels of technological innovation. A clear USP helps consumers to understand differences between brand offerings in a category, and may also help consumers to form a positive attitude towards the brand and may ultimately contribute to improved levels of brand recall.
In order to determine an appropriate USP for any given brand, marketers must undertake extensive research of the category as well as consumers. It is important to be able to locate a space in the market, ensure that the feature is something that is unique, and also something that is valued by potential customers. Sellers also need to try selling it to themselves; this is so they know they are passionate about that business and confident it can succeed. The seller needs a key point to use when trying to sell their product or service, and coming up with it prior to selling will benefit. Having a point of difference to stand out is a major benefit in the markets; customers will be drawn to the business as it offers something no one else has. This is exactly what every business should be looking into whether it is home delivery service from the store or all-organic food at the restaurant.
In markets which contain many similar products, using a USP is one campaign method of differentiating the product from the competition. Products or services without differentiation risk being seen as a commodity and fungible by the consumer, thus lowering price potential. That's why having a unique selling point is essential to have a successful business that can handle competition and possible future comers in similar markets.
The desktop personal computer market is one example with many manufacturers and the potential for new manufacturers at any time. Apple used the slogan "Beauty outside, Beast inside." for its Mac Pro campaign to differentiate its product as "beautiful" compared with any other desktop computer. Buyers of this product were willing to pay a premium price, compared with technically similar desktop computers. Apple differentiates itself with a focus on aesthetics and cutting-edge technologies. Wal-Mart's "Save money, live better" (Waiz, 2013). Wal-Mart is concerned with being the cheapest department store and reminding their customers that it's not how much you spend on a product that matters. Something so simple that can attract customers like that and show the unique selling proposition of the business is what people look for.(Entrepreneur, No Date).
The following are examples of Unique Selling Propositions. What is commonly considered a slogan is enhanced with a differentiating benefit of the product or service. Typically, the uniqueness is delivered by a unique process, ingredient, or system that produces the benefit described.
- Anacin "Fast, incredibly fast relief." In 1952, Rosser Reeves created a TV commercial that capitalized on Anacin's "special ingredient," caffeine, by suggesting limitations of other aspirin and repeating, three times, the differentiation proposition: fast.
- M&M's: "Melts in your mouth, not in your hand." 1954 M&Ms use a patented hard sugar coating that keep chocolate from melting in ones hands, thus a chocolate soldiers could carry., compared to other brands.
- Head & Shoulders: "clinically proven to reduce dandruff." 1961Pyrithione Zinc was found, after 10 years of research, to be an ingredient that was actually effective in eliminating dandruff where other products were not effective. Adding the name "Shoulders" to the product name also indicated how this product was different than other shampoos that only cleaned the head.
- Domino's Pizza: "You get fresh, hot pizza delivered to your door in 30 minutes or less--or it's free." 1973-1993 "You Got 30 Minutes" 2007- Domino's uses what it calls the "make line" and other systems to make pizzas quickly.
- FedEx: "When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight."1978-1983". FedEx was the first company to specialize in overnight air freight and first to implement package tracking. This pioneering advantage was made possible by a new system outlined in the founder's 1965 Yale paper.
- Metropolitan Life: "Get Met. It Pays." 1984 Met's newer "Whole Life Policy" was a sales success for the company. The policy offered one-third more coverage, for the same price, and grew in cash value for a bigger "pay out" over time. In advertisements, Met compared buying the policy to buying a home.
- Southwest Airlines: "We are THE low-fare airline."
The term USP has been largely replaced by the concept of a positioning statement, popularized by the publication of Al Ries and Jack Trout's Positioning: Battle For Your Mind. The positioning statement determines what place a brand (tangible good or service) should occupy in the consumer's mind compared to the competition. The model directs managers to determine the cognitive gap, locating "which functional benefit in a given category is most valued by consumers and least dominated by other brands." Positioning is also commonly known as mindshare marketing; the aim is to stake a claim to the cognitive association in consumers' minds, connecting the brand's trademark with the benefit claim as "simply, consistently and frequently as possible."
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