You Don’t Need a USP – You just need to be better than the rest…

You just simply need to be better than the rest…

Much is made of having a USP; the term is used widely in respect of businesses as whole, products, services and even individuals (the “YouSP”). Guidance abounds on the process to create a USP but there are surprisingly few compelling ones to be found.

In recent discussion with many different SME’s only a few have claimed to know the meaning of the term and also to have a compelling USP.  Those that did have what they described as a USP offered what amounted to either a  slogan with little or no uniqueness or a rambling elevator pitch… also typically not unique.  Yet in most SME networking groups, seminars and education material the need for a USP is stressed over and over.

Something does not add up! Are you confused?

Here’s the bottom line; you don’t need a USP.  You should focus your efforts on discovering what value really means for your customers, what they are willing to pay for and then on delivering them great value consistently.  Do this and your reputation and business will grow.  Offer poor value or service and suffer the inevitable consequences… unless of course you are a monopoly or switching is just too painful.  Add in a compelling “YouSP” (the personality, style and values that you bring to the business) and you can create a truly powerful combination.

The idea of the USP is in many ways a good one, which explains its longevity; if we have something unique that is valuable to our prospective customers we have a real advantage in the marketplace.  For many businesses the stark reality is that they have little that is really unique and certainly unique within the conventional definition of the USP.

It’s worth first of all being clear about the origins of the USP and also how it is defined. The USP is an advertising term from the 1960′s famously defined by Rosser Reeves who gave us some memorable advertisements such as M&M’s “melt in your mouth, not in your hand.”

The first part of the definition of the USP starts with customer benefits, which is where every business needs to be focused; I buy a drill because I want holes, not to own a drill.  Benefits to customers are the key – you need to sell what they value and are prepared to pay for.

The next part of the definition is about uniqueness, which is much harder to achieve but not impossible; e.g. can you introduce a new service or product to your business that others don’t have? To establish your uniqueness you need to know:

  • How and why the customer uses the product or service
  • Features of your competitors’ product or service
  • The features of your product or service that you wish to promote and the benefits they deliver.

The third part of the definition is that the USP must be so compelling that it causes customers to switch to your product or service.  How many of us switched to a new service or product because of the USP over the last three months?  If we did switch, was it the case that we found something that delivered the desired benefits more effectively or was it at a lower price?

So here’s the definition from “In Reality in Advertising” ( Reeves 1961, pp.46-48):

Each advertisement must make a proposition to the consumer.  Not just words, not just product puffery, not just show-window advertising. Each advertisement must say to each reader: “Buy this product, and you will get this specific benefit.”

The proposition must be one that the competition either cannot, or does not, offer. It must be unique-either a uniqueness of the brand or a claim not otherwise made in that particular field of advertising.

The proposition must be so strong that it can move the mass millions, i.e., pull over new customers, to your product.

If you really do have something unique as a product or service then you have a real competitive advantage that you should exploit aggressively; remember that it may not last unless it is patented or protected in other ways.  Anything really good will be copied eventually, sometimes extremely quickly!

Going through the process of trying to identify a USP is a very valuable exercise since it will focus your attention on what you and your competitors offer, the value to customers and the points of difference.  Even if at the end you find your product or service is not unique, which is likely, do not despair; there are many other ways of being simply better than your competition through the choices you make about your:

  • role in the business
  • market niche
  • offerings
  • marketing and promotion
  • strategic alliances
  • sales approach
  • approach to service
  • response to problems
  • commercial terms
  • guarantees
  • innovation
  • supply chain
  • etc.

So armed, with these insights what are you going to do?  I hope that it will be to focus more attention of customer value, consistently good service and on creating a business model that repeatedly enhances your reputation. By all means devote effort to the “YouSP” if that will help, but remember that any business dependant on the owner for success will be very difficult to sell.  Over time you need to extract yourself from the position of the main reason people choose your business.  And lastly, make sure you have both a simple one line memory hook that sums up your business and also a number of strong elevator pitches to suit different people and audiences.

Good luck!