How Unique does a Unique Selling Proposition Need to be?

Unique Selling Propositon

Unique Selling PropositonDiving into the world of marketing, you’re going to hear a lot of buzz words and one of them is “unique selling proposition” or sometimes called USP.

What can trip marketers and businesses up is the word unique. There can be the misconception that unique refers only to product or service that no one else offers, but that’s not what a unique selling proposition is. Ideally, every business should aim for something that is unique that gives it a definitive edge against its competitors.

Creating USP’s for Commodities is Hard

Glenn Wong, who worked as the C.E.O of Electronic Arts Canada, gave this advice at the Imprint 2013 branding conference.

He said that commodities like oil and gas are generally competing on price. If you were to go to two different gas stations, and both gas stations were next to each other and one was 2 cents cheaper per litre than the other, which one would you go to?

Most likely the cheaper one I would imagine. Commodities, like gas, can be very hard to differentiate from each other because they often compete on price. In general the public doesn’t see anything different among gas providers. In these types of cases the gas companies like Shell and Chevron create a unique selling proposition that allows it to be different from each other. For Chevron, their unique selling proposition is having Techron gas, for shell it’s having a nitrogen enriched gas.

But the average person probably doesn’t know what the difference is between Techron gas and Shell’s Nitrogen enriched gas. This is why if one of the gas stations was cheaper than the other, then customers go to the cheaper gas.

The lesson I learned, commodities can be very hard to have a unique selling proposition because they rely on price, but on is still needed regardless.

Create a USP for Consumer Goods

It’s often discussed that unique means something that can’t be copied, but the truth of the matter is that having a USP is more about customers perception that your company is unique compared to others.

lululemon philosophyLululemon is famous for making yoga wear. But any company can come a long and create yoga wear, and some have. Its products can be copied, so a Lululemon knows it must find a way to make customers believe that Lulu is unique compared to their competitors. And this is where the company’s philosophy to create the “uniqueness” that helps sell their products to customers.

During his talk, Glenn Wong talked about the challenge of differentiating Nabob coffee from other insta coffees in the market. Their creative/marketing agency that they worked with finally came up with a slogan, that took 14 months in the making, that reflected on their unique selling proposition. “Better Beans. Better Coffee.”

While many other companies produce coffee beans, the slogan makes consumers question about what type of bean quality that competitors are using, and it infers that their competitors make inferior coffee. That simple slogan is what Nabob’s unique selling proposition was.

A Unique Selling Proposition can be Counter intuitive

Sometimes the unique selling proposition doesn’t seem to make much sense at first. DDB created some amazing ads back in the 1960’s for the VW Beetle. While many car advertisements would have focused on power, a new technology, or something such as how spacious a car is, DDB chose to focus on how tiny the vehicle was and how it would make an owner’s home look much bigger.

This way of thinking was counter intuitive, especially since the American dream always focused, on bigger, stronger, and better. But DDB did a 180 degree and turned that American dream with a different angle that focused on the small.

The point is, the USP is not always obvious, and you need to look at it from different angles and be creatively imaginative.

If You Can’t Create Something Truly Unique…

If you feel down deep inside your business can’t create something truly unique, ask yourself what can it do to make sure it’s not easily copied. Or what can your business do so superior that it’s just too much work for most businesses to even try to copy.

Ultimately this is why Groupon is struggling, it’s an easily copied model by other businesses, which is why there was a period of time where there seemed to be a new daily deal company every week.

Zappos is a great example of creating a business environment that’s not easily copied. There are a lot of e-commerce websites that sell shoes, yet Zappos most unique selling proposition is its ability to provide excellent quality service every time. Why aren’t more online businesses delivering the same level of customer service as Zappos? Simple, it’s too hard, and though excellent customer service can be copied, most businesses are too lazy to carry out.

The USP can be Anything

The USP can be anything. It can be a unique brand, a unique target audience that only your service or brand connects with, it can be a slogan/tagline or jingle that helps set your business apart from all your other competitors. The goal of the USP is to help ensure that there’s a strong differentiation between you and your competitors in the mind of your clients and customers.

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Written by Vincent NG

I’m a social media marketer, particularly for Pinterest, It all started back in 2010 when Pinterest was in beta. It was the fastest independent website to get 10 million unique visitors in the U.S. This really struck a chord with me, and it was then that I knew that Pinterest was going to be a powerhouse in the world of digital and social media marketing.