Rethinking and Redefining your Unique Selling Point

Spiros Tsaltas

This article is a combination two lectures that I gave a few weeks ago: one for the Hult Prize at the U. of Ghana and one at the Sogakope Startup Day (an event co-sponsored by HIREghana).



What is a USP?

Allow me to start with a definition from Wikipedia (the internet is full of USP definitions):

A Unique Selling Proposition or Unique Selling Point (USP) refers to the unique benefit exhibited by a company, service, product or brand that enables it to stand out from competitors.

In layman’s terms: USP is the inbuilt qualities that makes a product or service unique in a competitive market.


Note that: The unique selling proposition must be a feature that highlights product benefits that are meaningful to consumers.

USP as a term was coined in the early 1940s by Rosser Reeves, an American pioneer on TV Advertising.

The creation of new products and services comes as a result of market analysis, which usually includes checking the market to determine how all competitors are doing with their product and service delivery. Also feedback on existing products or services and any sort of communication with your customers (beneficiaries if you are a nonprofit) can lead to the creation of new offerings. Customer Development can also help you ‘create or identify the USP for a new offering.

Minor Clarification: Customer development answers the question “Will they buy it?”

Product development answers the question “When and what can they buy?”


Usually, the decision to create a new product or a new vertical for an existing business is hinged on a “Unique Selling Proposition”.



A bit more on USP

For those of you who have read Jim Collins’s best seller: Good To Great, he talks about something that he calls The Hedgehog Principle: finding the one thing you can claim or aspire to be the best in the world at, and pursue it relentlessly. This is really another way to look on USP.


Having a good USP makes it easier to market a brand because a good USP can easily be woven into the product storytelling/narrative of the brand. One of the great things about having a good USP is that although the initial effort was directed at differentiation to fit into a competitive market, the USP can help you to create a monopolistic mark. Actually tthis is a whole idea behind  the Blue Ocean Strategy (by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne) and otehr similar books.

We all can think of several types of businesses that quickly draw you in (or even turn you off, which can be a good thing) because of who they are. They ‘leak’ / ‘smell’ uniqueness about what they are all about from the very first minute that you get introduced to or become aware of.

Almost all of the have not invented entirely new products or services. Simply these businesses sells things that consumers already buy, whether that is a consulting service or IT support, or handbags, shoes, etc). But, all these businesses have simply taken just a unique approach that gives them a significant advantage over any competitor.



The  6 most common USP Pitfalls

  1. The most common pitfall is in defining the ‘Uniqueness’ part. Yes, it is very hard and on top of it, people (your marketers and advertisers) tend to confuse uniqueness and differentiation. So, you do need to take the time to carefully research the competitive market offerings before you can make a unique claim.
  2. All marketing & sales campaigns, should be USP-focussed campaigns, taking into account your market What works in one market could be a complete turn-off in another.
  3. …Marketing without a USP (yeap, have seen it quite frequently)
  4. USP is defined but untested
  5. Not Understanding your target audience. What do you know about your target audience? Why are they buying products or services similar to yours from the market you are operating in?
  6. There are no USP Analytics




Why USP Analytics

The conversation about USP is great but the real USP-challenge that organizations face is: “How do we monitor the effectiveness of our USP?”

Great question …  USP can be incorporated in different stages of a product or service development/ design, so you should also develop / design relevant metrics and use these data to (partially) answer thsi question.

… when it comes to testing USP’s with PPC, you have a number of different approaches available to you. For example: by A/B split testing ad copy with different headlines or text.


You should really sit down with your marketing department and define what data you need to get back from all your campaigns and you you can turn all these analytics into eitehr a better USP or even a meaningful story to share with your customers.

How do you test your USP?

There are software tools that test USPs using Split Testing and/or Multivariate Testing – e.g. the 3 Minute Optimizer, Optimizely, VWO, Google Content Experiements, etc..

(please be so kind to google anyterms not familiar to you -tnx)


The simplest possible test is to get a group of people randomly and do the “5second test”: each participant is shown a screenshot of a landing page for five seconds.

After the time is up, the participant is asked to answer a few simple questions about the landing page, such as “what was the page about?” and “what product or service do you think this company sells?”

This information can help you determine the first impressions a visitor has with a particular page.


Another simple test is to set up a wide variety of “tests” on your landing pages (no coding skill required). I.e. you can A/B split test the headline of your landing page with all your USP ‘definitions’ for example.


Another example is to test your USP in the subject/title line area of your auto-responder emails and monitor the clicks and opens your email campaign receives.


Golden Tip: Always double-check that you have the right USP. Does it convey one strong benefit? Is it memorable? Is it clear who the brand is targeting from the USP? Can you deliver what it promises? Is it really unique – or could a competitor claim the same thing?


Your USP : keeping it Real

It is not a good idea to to constantly change your USP, but it is important to keep it relevant and ‘fresh’/’real’.

So always -please:

  • Be on the alert for any new trends or shifts in your industry and in any way that your competitors could undermine your USP.
  • Use the (Uniques Selling) positioning to develop your business and your marketing strategy.
  • Evaluate your activities using your USP as a benchmark.
  • Keep monitoring trends and new competitors that could affect how customers see your USP.



USP’s sibling: Point of Difference

Points of Difference and Points of Parity are both utilized in the positioning of a brand for competitive advantage via brand/product.

Points-of-difference (PODs) – refers to the factors of products or services that establish differentiation. Differentiation is the way in which the goods or services of a company differ from its competitors. PODs should solely aim at increased customer benefit and brand loyalty.

Attributes or benefits consumers strongly associate with a brand, positively evaluate and believe they could not find to the same extent with a competing brand i.e. points where you are claiming superiority or exclusiveness over other products in the category.

Points-of-parity (POPs) – Associations that are not necessarily unique to the brand but may be shared by other brands i.e. where you can at least match the competitors claimed best. While POPs may usually not be the reason to choose a brand, their absence can certainly be a reason to drop a brand.

While it is important to establish a POD, it is equally important to nullify the competition by matching them on the POP. As a late entrant into the market, many brands look at making the competitor’s POD into a POP for the category and thereby create a leadership position by introducing a new POD.

POP refers to the way in which a company’s product or service, offers similarity with its competitors within an industry.



USP & Product differentiation

Products can be differentiated in form, features, price, performance quality, conformance quality, durability, reliability, repairability, style and customization.

Differentiation focus targets a particular segment within a market, where it allows businesses to focus on their strength. Thus, the user experience of the particular segment would be better.

it takes time for differentiated products to gain recognition and be accepted by the public. Arguably, differentiated products are able to draw attention and spark people’s interest.


A Fair Warning

In real-world marketing, a “unique selling proposition” is seldom unique for very long. Technology advances are quickly matched or exceeded. Successful promotions are mimicked, price programs matched, and distribution channel advantages compromised.


In Conclusion

The term USP has been enhanced by the concept of a positioning statement. The positioning statement determines what place a brand (tangible good or service) should occupy in your client’s mind compared to that of your competitors.


We trust that given the listed benefits of USP that have been stated in this article. You and your organization will take a critical look at your company’s Unique Selling Proposition for improved brand performance and profits.


Thank you and Good Luck,



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