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What is the Unique Selling Proposition?

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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 12 November 2016
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As consumers shop for any kind of service or product, they will probably be faced with plenty of competing choices. Due to the fact that numerous products may exist to fulfill the consumer’s requirement, marketing and advertising experts have developed the concept of the unique selling proposition (USP). In a nutshell, this is a method to market your product or service in a way that is different than other competitor’s marketing strategies, in the hopes that the unique selling proposition will encourage people to buy your product or service because of the way that it is marketed.

Rosser Reeves, considered one of the giants in early television advertising, first articulated the idea of the unique selling proposition. Not only did Reeves coin the term, but also he put into action the type of advertising and marketing the term represents. His ads relied primarily on slogans that were catchy and would hopefully be remembered when consumers looked for the products advertised. All ads were aimed at proving superiority or memorability of products advertised. Reeves participated in a number of campaigns, including ones for Anacin®, the famous M & Ms, “melt in your mouth not in your hands,” commercials, and he successfully “marketed” presidential candidate Dwight Eisenhower in the 1952 US Presidential Election.

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The basic concept of the unique selling proposition focuses on things like slogans, packaging, and brand name recognition. Given that many products and services are about equivalent, marketers must look for ways to “package” or advertise the product they represent in a unique way, one most convincing to the public In Reeves’ work on the unique selling proposition, a few ideas dominate: penetration, usage pull, volatility, and consistency.

Penetration is achieved when people remember the message by a particular advertiser when they shop. If you’ve ever passed a product in the store and remember a jingle about the product, or other ads about is as you pass it, likelihood of purchasing the product increases. Usage pull is the difference, expressed in a percentage, between people who buy the product or service after hearing the ads, and those who opt for the product without hearing or viewing ads. Usage pull can determine the success of a unique selling proposition. Some ads can create negative reactions, so that people are more likely to purchase a product if they have not seen advertisements for it.

Volatility is the concept that advertisements or campaigns may not be remembered by consumers for very long. Some remain memorable, but many of us forget most advertisements if they don’t continuously air. For Reeves, this meant you could achieve greater penetration by keeping advertising campaigns going. Once advertisements stopped, after a while, limited benefit can be derived from having once advertised a product. You have to keep the product in the forefront of consumer’s minds to keep them loyal to the product.

A related concept to volatility is the issue of consistency in a USP strategy. While you may want to pull ads that are creating negative usage pull, if you change the message too much, you’re likely to lose customers. By presenting the product or service with the same basic message each time, you may achieve greater penetration, though some advertising execs of today say the idea of consistency lacks strong factual evidence that changing the message, changes volatility or penetration.

In a unique selling proposition, advertising usually comes down to two choices: comparing the product to other similar products to proves its superiority, or using slogans that will aid in penetration. You can look at a few different examples of how this works in recent marketing. In the late 2000s, Apple® began a series of “PC and Mac” commercials with the comic John Hodgman playing “PC.” While Hodgman expressed his difficulties with being PC, the Mac actor, Justin Long, raved about how simple being a “Mac” was, and sympathized with PC’s (Hodgman’s) problems.

Slogans are yet another means of creating the USP. The idea the “Red Bull gives you Wings,” or that Oil of Olay provides “Younger looking skin,” sloganizes the benefits of these products. Skittles® candy “Taste the rainbow,” or that you’d “want to be a pepper too,” from Dr. Pepper® commercials, can stick in your mind, resulting in higher consumer value of a product and greater likelihood that consumers will purchase it.

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