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Why Your Brand Doesn’t Need A Unique Selling Proposition

In the 90s Pampers’ ‘unique selling proposition’ (USP) claimed it was driest nappy on the market. Procter & Gamble prided itself on this benefit, investing heavily in research and development to maintain its USP. In the end that singular focus blinkered the company’s understanding about what mothers really wanted. And while they believed that Pampers was the driest nappy, that wasn’t enough to stop mums buying more of the newer Huggies brand which appealed to their hearts not just their heads.

The marketing concept ‘unique selling proposition’ was introduced in the 1940’s by the pioneer of television advertising Rosser Reeves. Reeves invented the term USP to explain how successful advertising, (not necessarily great products and services) could convince the masses to switch brands. The golden rule was that adverts must include a USP that said “Buy this product, and you will get this specific benefit.” More than seventy years later we’re trying to make something that applied to an analog world fit into our digital landscape.

Marketing departments try to pass off cheaper, faster, stronger and longer lasting as unique benefits of a product or service. But in a world where most things are good enough it’s getting harder and harder to turn being different into an advantage. Unique by definition means one-of-a-kind, unlike anything else. That was an easy claim to make half a century ago when there were three kinds of washing powder— not so easy today.

People don’t want to be sold on the reasons why you think your brand is better or best.
They don’t want different.
They want difference.

Starbucks, Google, Instagram, Amazon, Innocent Juices, Oprah, Spanx and on and on, didn’t succeed just because they were different and could tell us how.
What makes a brand unique is the difference it makes in people’s lives.
So organize for difference not different it’s much harder to replicate.

Image by Alan Foster.