How to “Test” Your USP

“Whenever an individual or a business decides that success has been attained, progress stops.”  – Thomas J. Watson Jr.

In Message #1532, I showed you how to create for your business a Unique Selling Proposition, or “USP” … a reason why customers should buy from YOU instead of from your competitors.

Examples of classic USPs include:

“Melts in your mouth, not in your hand.” (M&Ms) “Good to the last drop.” (Maxwell House) “You deserve a break today.” (McDonald’s)

But how do you know whether your USP is any good … and whether it will stand up in the marketplace?

In his 1960 book Reality in Advertising, Rosser Reeves introduced the notion of a USP … and he said that, to be successful, a USP must satisfy three criteria.

To quote Reeves directly:

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.’”

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.”

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

Never mind that many USPs today seem to violate these three guidelines. There are exceptions to all rules, of course. And you could get lucky by just “winging it.” But why take the risk? Your greatest odds of success come from adhering to Reeves’s guidelines and making sure your USP is as strong as it can be.

See whether your USP meets all three guidelines:

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.’”

Strong USPs have a benefit, either direct or implied. Weak ones don’t.

State Farm’s “Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there” has a benefit: If you have a problem and are insured by State Farm, they will review and pay your claim promptly, giving you the money you need sooner.

Nike’s “Just do it” has no benefit. Therefore, it fails the test.

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.”

Here’s where the “unique” in “Unique Selling Proposition” comes in.

To differentiate yourself from the competition, it’s not enough just to offer a benefit; you have to offer something that your competition either cannot or does not offer.

As the first chocolate to feature a hard-shell coating, M&Ms achieved their unique positioning with “Melts in your mouth, not in your hand” – something only they could claim. Yes, other hard-coated candies followed. But by then, M&Ms already “owned” the position. What could these candies say? “We ALSO melt in your mouth, not in your hand”?

Note that Reeves says the claim does not have to be a unique feature your competition cannot offer …

It can be something your competition DOES offer … but “a claim not otherwise made” in that field. The classic example is the story in Claude Hopkins’ Scientific Advertising of his ad campaign for a beer.

The ad agency copywriter noticed that the bottles were washed in live steam, and commented on it to the brewery master. He replied, “That’s nothing; everyone does that.”

“But the beer-drinking public does not know that!” countered Hopkins, who went on to write a successful campaign based on the idea: “Beer so pure, the bottles are washed in live steam!”

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

A common mistake in promoting technology is to build some minor, insignificant difference into the product, and then tell the prospect that only you have it. Since the difference is in fact minor and insignificant, the market’s reaction is likely to be: “Yes, you have it. But who cares?”

Make sure the difference you are promoting … the “unique” in Unique Selling Proposition … delivers a benefit or performance difference that the reader really cares about – one that creates a significant advantage over other products in the same category.

For instance, a copywriter touring a piano factory noticed that a metal bar was installed in each piano. The factory foreman explained, “Wood warps over time. The bar stabilizes the piano to prevent warping. That way, this piano will sound the same in 20 years as it does the day it is first played.”

That unique feature, the stabilizer bar, coupled with a powerful benefit – preservation of sound quality – became the basis for a successful ad campaign.

  • Iam Donald

    Splendid article Bob, I actually needed that today and your message as ended my search and completely answered the questions I wanted answered. Thanks!