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Why The USP Doesn't Work Anymore & What To Do Instead

by Debbie Jenkins

The USP (Unique Selling Proposition) is based on the assumption that if you can't be better than the competition then being different will usually suffice.

It is true that most businesses scrape by in the midst of mediocrity. The bosses of these firms see an industry or profession that looks lucrative and join the ranks in a 'me too, I'd like some of that action', kind of way. If there's enough of a market for what they do then they'll pick up the odd client and eke out an existence without having to think or work very hard on their brand.

Most of these companies make up the headlines of casualties when the market they're in gets tough and only the outstanding or well-positioned firms stay safe.

So, the USP, in principle, enables the enlightened business owner to rise above the ranks and be noticed. This is usually achieved by:

  • High Value Promises
  • Guarantees
  • Under Promising and Over Delivering
  • Finding An Under-serviced Niche
I applaud and support this way of thinking and believe that high value promises, guarantees and aiming to delight clients are all important. I actually believe that these things should be the baseline for any business.

So the notion of a USP is fantastic. There's just one tiny flaw...

Finding your USP can be like the quest for the proverbial Holy Grail. You could end up spending inordinate amounts of money on research, product/service development and branding without ever really attaining a true USP. The quest to find 'unique' when 'relevant', 'outstanding' and 'decisive' are just as good can be frustrating and wasteful.

I've seen people stumble upon some really great propositions for their brand that would have worked like a dream, but then dismiss them because they're not "unique" enough.

Some of the problems with USPs:
  • Nearly every idea you come up with will have already been done, so struggling to find unique will be frustrating and wasteful
  • You'll spend lots of time trying to invent something truly unique and if you do ever find it you'll never really know if it's unique anyway
  • If you are unique then as soon as you start telling people the reasons why, somebody else will copy it and, alas, it is no longer unique.
  • Most people realize the above as soon as they start looking and instead of doing the hard work they'll just slap a USP label on something that is 'me too' or mediocre.
  • USPs feed many money-hungry textbook marketers with research, positioning and creative brainstorming projects. Then once somebody copies you it's back to the drawing board and they can get paid all over again.
I want you to get the notion of 'unique' out of your head by replacing it with 'decisive'. We'll look at how to achieve this shortly. Too many "textbook marketers", in my experience, really don't understand USPs. It's just another buzzword they throw at you to sound clever and important but under the surface their USPs are usually little more than over-dressed features.

So What Should You Be Aiming For?

Right, back to the program... I'd like you to ignore 'unique' and replace it with 'decisive'. I call this the Decisive Power Point (DPP).

A "Decisive Power Point" is more effective than a "Unique Selling Point" for a number of reasons:

  • Unique doesn't necessarily mean favorable to the person choosing - Decisive does!
  • If all else is equal your DPP will tip the scales in your favor - it will be the deciding factor
  • DPPs work from your client's viewpoint - they are triggers that help your client decide, not just things that you think are unique
  • A decisive difference is much easier to find and maintain than a unique one
An example of the DPP chart can be found here...
Your goal is to have a benefit that is higher and further to the right than three of your best competitors.

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Debbie Jenkins is a marketer, author and stand-up comedian who helps the owners of small expert businesses get more success by doing and spending less. Join her Lean Marketing eZine here ==>

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