From the dawn of marketing time, the Unique Selling Proposition has been a foundation idea. I wonder if it holds the same attraction now, post the digital reconstruction of marketing, or should we be rethinking our approach.
The USP was intended to communicate what you did that nobody else could, or would. That was fine in the days before the marketing world was global, as in your local area you could pretty easily be unique, but that is no longer the case.
Any idea that emerges that generates traction with customers will be copied very quickly by competitors, making it no longer unique. Anyway, just because an idea or claim may be true, there is no compulsion that customers should believe it.
Perhaps this boils down to making an appeal to people’s hearts rather than their minds. This has always been the case, but in a homogenised world, takes on even more importance.
When I think about my own behaviour critically, there are a few things I notice that presumably are pretty common. If so, why are we not using them more in place of claims of bigger, faster, better?
Choice. In most cases, there is more than one product that solves whatever challenge I am facing. In making a choice, being sure of the ability of the product to deliver the solution is worth money to me.
Top of mind. TOM is even more relevant than at any time in the past. We are blasted with thousands of messages every day, so being Tom when the appropriate occasion arises is gold!. A good enough solution that is there, easy to access, and offers reasonable value will get a vote.
Experience is never forgotten. Good or bad, the past influences the way we behave today. There are now a number of café’s in easy walking distance of my office. Some time ago I got a lousy coffee in one of them, probably a ‘trainee barista’ but when I pointed out politely the coffee was crap, all I got was a shrug, and explanation that the boss was not there. No second chance will be given, perhaps irrational, as it was a while ago, and almost certainly a one-off, but that is their problem, not mine, I have plenty of choice.
Heart. What it says about us. Sometimes we make purchase choices simply on the basis of what the choice we make says about us, and this is usually almost unconscious. I drive an old Mercedes, it is a great car, but much to my surprise, it is what that car says about me that makes it so comfortable for me. Similarly, in the days we all smoked, Marlborough was a big brand, not because there was any USP, it was just a fag, but because of what it said about the smoker. (Lucky that has changed a bit over time).
Value is always a combination of all sorts of little things, some not obvious. Convenience, availability, branding, packaging, exclusivity, design, and yes, price, as well as many other often highly personal factors. In an increasingly busy life, changing just a little of any one of the factors can considerably enhance value. When we compute value, again often unconsciously, it is rarely the USP that pops into our minds, there is a mental wrangle of all the foregoing, that sometimes ends up being expressed as a number relative to some other number for an alternative, called price, and sometimes as just a feeling.
Back to the question, should we rethink our USP?
To my mind the changes that have occurred in the last 20 years demand that we do so.
We used to be able to sell products, so the USP was a useful tool, but that time has passed. The power in the buying relationship has moved from the seller to the buyer, completely altering the nature of a sales process. We can no longer deliver a product and charge a price, now what we deliver is an increasingly personalised value package, for which we are paid. We need therefore to be considering a Unique Value Proposition, UVP.
It might seem just a semantic difference, but it is a huge behavioural one