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The Quest for a USP – Do You Really Need One?

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If you study a marketing course you’ll hear about the importance of having a USP (Unique Selling Proposition) over and over again. Your USP is what is different about your company to the rest. In other words, it answers the question of why people should choose your company over your competitors.

Rosser Reeves was the man who came up with the unique selling proposition. His revolutionary thinking changed the way that people thought about business and marketing – to be a successful business you needed a unique selling proposition:

“Each advertisement must say to each reader: ‘Buy this product and you will get this specific benefit.’ The proposition must be one that the competition either cannot, or does not, offer.”

Reeves developed a simple 3-step marketing plan, outlining what all businesses should look to do:

  • First, develop a good product or service
  • Identify a Unique Selling Proposition (USP)
  • Repeat and reinforce this USP into your customers’ minds with dedicated consistency

There’s certainly nothing wrong with this line of thinking. Everyone can think of highly successful businesses who built their success on a unique selling proposition – Dyson, Betfair and eBay amongst others.

However, in reality unique selling propositions are by definition unique and therefore extremely hard to find. You could end up searching for that ‘holy grail’ forever and never come up with anything truly unique.

What’s more, even if you do find a truly unique proposition that’s no guarantee of success. Unless you capitalise on the opening through clever decisive action someone else will copy it. Suddenly your unique selling proposition simply becomes a selling proposition and you’re back to step one.

Theo Paphitis is one well-known advocate of playing down the importance of a USP:

“Although I have made a fabulous living from my business ventures, I can let you into a little secret — I’ve never had an original idea in my life! But I have pinched a few from other people and made them work for me.”

So without a USP how do you stand out from the competition?

Through simply being better informed and more decisive than the competition. This means seeing opportunities and exploiting them before your competitors, offering better customer service or product enhancements at an earlier date, using your market budget in a cleverer way, and above all, being decisive. If you see an opportunity, go for it. If something needs changing, don’t hesitate, change it.

Through relentlessly making improvements, developing strategic partnerships, thinking of clever marketing & advertising ideas, and adding new services you can become the company of choice for consumers in your industry.

Meanwhile, your competitors will be hesitating, searching for that unique selling proposition. The chances are that they’ll never find it, and if they do you can always copy it.

Think of today’s successful businesses. Are they all truly unique? Not at all. Consider Tesco – they almost state that they don’t have a USP through their tag line of “Every little helps”. Yet small improvements made with relentless consistency have resulted in their dominant position.

So don’t worry about being unique. Strive for decisiveness instead.

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