Friday, January 2, 2009

Designing a USP for Your Business

Your brand image is primarily an emotional construct. Emotion is probably always more powerful in swaying people than reason, but people like to be able to rationalise their choices. This is where awareness of another advertising theory - the USP - can be helpful to you.

The USP, or unique selling proposition, formula was developed by Rosser Reeves, an ex-copywriter who became head of the Ted Bates agency in New York. He wrote an excellent book, largely dealing with this theory but also covering other aspects of advertising, called Reality in Advertising.

To establish your USP, you compare your product or service with your competitors. Then you determine one feature you have which no one else can offer. This is your unique selling proposition. It is this which you must promote singlemindedly.

A 1987 issue of Marketing Week, the British trade paper, gave a wonderful example of how little the average marketing executive understands the phrases he deploys with such gay inconsequence. The subject was 'Store credit cards'. A bank executive said: The whole point of a Marks & Spencer, Boots, Dixons or even Fortnum & Mason card is to bring people into the store - and to provide a bit of a LISP' (my italics).

How a credit card can be a unique selling proposition when the same facility is offered by any number of retailers is difficult to comprehend. It reminds one of people who refer to things as being 'rather' unique, or 'fairly' unique. Here are some typical USPs:
'Cleans your breath while it cleans your teeth.'

Colgate toothpaste. 'The too good to hurry mint.' Murraymints. 'There's more for your life at Sears.' Sears Roebuck. 'It ain't fancy but it's good.' Horn & Hardarts. 'The mint with the hole.' Polo Mints. 'It takes a tough man to make a tender chicken.' Perdue Chicken

And, finally, another gentleman in the chicken business: 'It's finger lickin' good.' Colonel Sanders

One of the problems with the USP is that you sometimes have to rely upon some pretty trivial points of difference to arrive at your proposition - as you can see from the list above. And although, for simple products a good USP may often supply a successful selling idea, I think it is difficult to arrive at one for complex services such as American Express or The Consumers Association.

However, comparing yourself against your competition to discover what USP may exist is a great aid to clear thinking. For example, I was able to improve results for Odhams' Kathie Webber Cookery Club by writing a headline which was simply a personal way of expressing a USP: `My cookery cards mean you control your weight without giving up luscious food you love to eat.' This did well in the UK, and even in France, home of gastronomy. Moreover, subsequent approaches to selling this product revolved around this original thought. ====

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