Introducing the most misunderstood and misused term in advertising: “U.S.P.”(Unique Selling Proposition).

Perhaps no advertising term has been so indiscriminately and consistently (yes, I said CONSISTENTLY!) misused as U.S.P. or Unique Selling Proposition. Defined by Rosser Reeves, legendary Chairman of Ted Bates agency, in his 1961 seminal advertising book, Reality in Advertising, U.S.P. has become recognized worldwide as something that effective marketing communications must have. Unfortunately, most marketers, then and now, have only a very dim idea of what a U.S.P. really is and how to develop one.

“Father of the U.S.P.”

Reeves had developed the concept based on years and millions of dollars spent researching the effectiveness of Bates and competitive agencies’ advertisements. He effectively (and concisely) captured all that learning into what was the ideal selling idea, or what made marketing communication WORK.

Even in 1961 Reeves observed that U.S.P “is the most misused series of letters in advertising. Applied loosely and without understanding to slogans, headlines, visuals and more —in fact to most anything that advertising creators consider slightly different   from what they find in their competitors’ advertisements.”

U.S.P. — The Definition

What I hope to explain here, is that U.S.P. is a PRECISE term, and in Reeves words, “deserves a precise definition.” That definition has three parts, from which interestingly the acronym U.S.P. is derived. Imagine that!

PROPOSITION: Each communication must make a proposition to the customer. By “proposition” this means, buy this and you will get this specific benefit.

UNIQUE: The proposition must be one that competition cannot, does not or chooses not to offer. It can be a unique feature or benefit but, AND THIS IS IMPORTANT, it can be derived from the uniqueness of the brand itself. This latter consideration is especially relevant in today’s crowded and many times over-regulated advertising field, where many brands within a category essentially do the same thing. Many marketers give up and say, “There’s nothing unique about my offering, so I’ll just say what it does.” Remember, there is always the possibility of being unique, as long as the BRAND’s uniqueness is capitalized upon.

SELLING: The proposition must be capable of “selling” new customers to try a product or service, or convincing existing ones to remain loyal, even in the face of new competitive offers.

So you see, every brand CAN have a U.S.P., and by doing so can have more effective marketing. Unfortunately, most SME’s don’t ever really create one. These SME’s without a U.S.P. could be described in the words of Jay Abraham, a marketing consultant some describe as “the most expensive and successful marketing consultant on the planet”, as being …“only ‘me too’, rudderless, nondescript, unappealing businesses that feed solely upon the sheer momentum of the marketplace. There’s nothing unique; there’s nothing distinct. They promise no great value, benefit, or service—just ‘buy from us’ for no justifiable, rational reason.”

This is the first in a series of posts where I will comment on and attempt to explain some of the marketing communications, U.S.P.’s and Brand Essences currently in use by branded marketers here in Phnom Penh. Next post will be my view of the very crowded, and in my view undifferentiated branded coffee shop category. I will share my take on Starbucks, Cafe Amazon, Brown Coffee, Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf and Cost.

And after that, I will post about some marketers that I think are “doing it right.” Stay tuned.