Create a Powerful, Memorable “Unique Selling Proposition”

‘Rosser Reeves introduced and defined the USP and its three components in his 1970 book “Reality in Advertising” . . . and the book is long out of print.

I remember reading the three-point definition of a USP in Reeves’ book years ago, but when I went back to check it, the book was somehow gone from my library . . . probably lost in my most recent move.

So I went on and paid $80 (the lowest price I could find) to get a used copy, specifically so I could share with you Reeves’ definition of a USP. And that makes this one issue ETR worth at least $80 to you. But given the value of having a strong USP for your product, it is certainly worth much more than that.

OK. Here, then, according to Rosser Reeves, are the three components of a successful USP:

1. Each advertisement must make a proposition to the consumer. Each advertisement must say to the reader: “Buy this product, and you will get this specific benefit.”

So, to begin with, there must be a compelling benefit. For instance, “The CryoQuad Quiet-Cool air conditioner reduces your summer electric bills by 25% while keeping your house cool and comfortable.”

2. The proposition must be one that the competition either cannot, or does not, offer. It must be unique — either a uniqueness of brand or a claim not otherwise made in that particular field. This is the “unique” in “unique selling proposition.”

You must clearly differentiate yourself from the competition. Example: “The CryoQuad Quiet-Cool air conditioner features our patented energy-saving TwinStar Freon pump which spreads the cool air evenly throughout the room vs. other units that only cool the air in the immediate area.”

3. The proposition must be so strong that it can move the mass millions, i.e., pull over new customers to your product.

This means the unique proposition cannot be a trivial difference. It has to be something important, something the customer really cares about. Example: “The energy savings you get by cooling your home with a CryoQuad Quiet-Cool can pay back the cost of the unit by the end of the summer if you get it now . . . and save you hundreds of dollars more in energy costs over the lifetime of the unit.”

Reeves cites Wonder Bread’s as a classic example of a USP stated clearly, simply, and lucidly: “Wonder Bread helps build strong bodies 12 ways.” What’s interesting is that if you associate your product with a strong USP in the consumer’s mind, it is difficult for competitors to take it away from you.

After all, could you imagine another brand of bread saying, “We also build strong bodies 12 ways?” Every time they would say it, the buyer would think of Wonder Bread — and nothing else.

Here’s another example, this one from a software company that sold an “application development tool” that computer programmers used to develop Web-based applications.

The company needed a USP, but the applications built with their tool weren’t really better than applications developed using other methods. But their tool did save time. In fact, tests showed that it took one-third the time to develop Web applications using their software than with other methods.

So they combined this with their money-back guarantee to come up with the following USP: “Develop Web-based applications 3 times faster or your money back!”

Does this meet Reeves’ definition of an effective USP? Yes. And an ad based on this USP will work, because:

1. It has a strong benefit: Develop applications faster.

2. It is unique: This is the only application tool developer that not merely claims but PROMISES (with a money-back guarantee) to help the buyer develop applications 3 times faster.

3. It will sell the product: Since programmers are always swamped and productivity is a major issue, a tool that helps them produce their work in one-third the time is a strong enough benefit to get them to try this product.

(Ed. Note: Bob Bly is the editor of Mailbox Millionaire, ETR’s program to help you start your own successful direct-mail business.)