I can count about 100 really innovative and unique products during the last 25 years. In truth I stopped believing in USP advertising in the 1980s. Back then, I fell in love with brands like IKEA or Diesel that cracked Unique Emotional Props. The ones that did it with more authenticity were more appealing to me than those that didn't.
In this week's Economist there's an article about the USP. A good read. Interesting that Philip Kotler mentions UEP - now. Digital pressure undoubtedly.
From Economist.com Uniqueness is rare, and coming up with a continuous stream of products with unique features is, in practice, extremely difficult.
A unique selling proposition (USP) is 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.
Marketing experts used to insist that every product and service had to have a USP, at least one unique feature that could be distilled into a 60-second sales spiel, the equivalent of a single written paragraph. But this idea was usurped by the view that what really matters in marketing a product or service is its positioning, where it sits on the spectrum of customer needs. Shampoos, for instance, claim to meet all sorts of different customer needs and sit in all sorts of different positions—the need to wash dry hair or greasy hair, dark hair or blond hair, or the need to wash hair frequently or not so frequently. Few of them, however, can claim to have a unique selling proposition. All of them clean hair.
Uniqueness is rare, and coming up with a continuous stream of products with unique features is, in practice, extremely difficult. Philip Kotler says that the difficulty firms have in creating functional uniqueness has made them “focus on having a unique emotional selling proposition (an ESP) instead of a USP”. He gives the example of the Ferrari car and the Rolex watch. Neither has a distinctive functional uniqueness, but each has a unique emotional association in the consumer’s mind.
Uniqueness can be sought in a number of ways:
• By offering the lowest price. John Lewis, a British department store, used to claim that it was “never knowingly undersold”. Its USP established it as the cheapest vendor (under certain prescribed conditions) of the items that it sold. But this is a rocky route to success, particularly at a time when there are firms prepared to sell (temporarily) at well below cost just to establish turnover. This was the case with many early internet retailing experiments. Moreover, buyers who base their purchasing decisions on price alone are often disloyal. Customers continue to go to John Lewis for many reasons other than its price promise.
• By offering the highest quality. This is the Rolls-Royce approach to selling.
• By being exclusive. In the information age, this is an increasingly common type of USP. More and more firms offer a unique packaging of information or knowledge.
• By offering the best customer service. Domino’s Pizza became the bestselling brand in the United States on the basis of its USP: “Fresh, hot pizza delivered in 30 minutes or less, guaranteed.” It did not promise high quality or low price, just fast delivery. A side benefit of a USP like this is that it compels the firm’s employees to try that bit harder to achieve the promise. A firm that fails to fulfil the promise in its USP is condemned to a short future if it cannot quickly come up with a new one.
• By offering the widest choice. This is particularly appropriate to niche markets. A specialist cheese shop, say, can claim to offer a wider selection of cheeses than anyone else.
• By giving the best guarantee. This is particularly important in industries such as travel and catalogue selling, where customers pay for something upfront and then have to hope that what they think they have bought is eventually delivered.
Jay Abraham, a marketing consultant who once described himself as “the most expensive and successful marketing consultant on the planet”, said that most businesses do not have a USP:
[They have] only a “me too”, rudderless, nondescript, unappealing business that feeds solely upon the sheer momentum of the marketplace. There’s nothing unique; there’s nothing distinct. They promise no great value, benefit, or service—just “buy from us” for no justifiable, rational reason.
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