Big IdeasSelling

Nobody cares about your USP

By 08/15/2011August 12th, 20222 Comments

Marketing’s “New USP”

We’ll get into the modern-day application in 63 seconds, but first…

Back in the 1940’s, Rosser Reeves of the Ted Bates and Company ad agency coined the term “USP”. (Quick aside…Reeves’ 1952 spot TV approach was adapted to get Dwight D. Eisenhower elected, and forever changed American political campaigns…but that’s a story for another day.)

Your unique selling proposition

As any self-respecting marketer knows, your “USP” is your Unique Selling Proposition. In his book, Reality of Advertising, 1961 (9 copies currently available on, from $89 to $255!), Reeves describes a USP as having three parts:

  1. It must make a proposition–“buy this product and you get these benefits”.
  2. It must be unique.  Something your competition do not, cannot, or will not offer.
  3. It must sell.  It has to pull in new customers to your product.

Sounds simple, right?

Advertising classics:

“Hot, fresh pizza delivered in 30 minutes or less, guaranteed.” (Dominos)

“When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight.” (FedEx)

“It melts in your mouth, not in your hands.” (M&M’s)

Unfortunately, for most businesses, it’s not that easy to come up with a brilliant USP that conveys to customers what’s in it for them.

Many business owners and marketing directors I work with get it about half-way.  They can articulate what makes them unique.

Marketing 101: Lessons from an Italian Grandma

For example, a small family-owned Italian restaurant might say, “Pasta done the old-fashioned way Grandma used to make it”.

That’s a good start.  Is it unique?  Yes.

Is it strong enough to pull in new customers?  Quite possibly.

Does it make a proposition to the customer, “buy this product and you get this specific benefit”?  Not really.

See, the customer is always thinking to themselves, “So what?”

Unique Solutions

Every time they see an ad (hundreds or thousands of times daily), they want to know, “what problem does that uniquely solve for me?”

The thing is, even though millions of people still aimlessly surf the internet, more and more, people are looking for very specific solutions.

I would suggest that for maximum marketing effectiveness, it’s not as much about the “selling” proposition. It’s more about solutions.

With a nod to an online mentor of mine, Pam Foster, who first coined this term (I think), let’s start incorporating marketing’s new USP, the Unique Solution Proposition.

The Italian USP

How can we apply that to our Italian restaurant example? Off the cuff, how about something like, “In the busyness of your week, reconnect with family and enjoy homemade Italian food. Just like Sunday dinner at Grandma’s”.

See the difference? The solution isn’t just the old-fashioned pasta the way Grandma used to do it. The solution is helping you reconnect with family in the busyness of your week.

That’s just one, simple, top-of-the-mind example. But do you get the idea?

Your prospects are always thinking, “So what?” Skip the selling proposition. Instead, offer them a unique solution proposition, an answer to a problem they have.

Break through the marketing noise with marketing’s “new USP”. It’s not just about selling anymore. It’s about solutions.

Next post…more “new USP” examples (sans Grandma) and a 3-step formula for applying it to your online campaign.

Steve Roller

Author Steve Roller

I'm a business coach, author, copywriter, world traveler (33 countries on five continents so far), and professional speaker. In addition to helping companies get more customers and make more money, I help other writers create profitable businesses. I offer one-on-one coaching, professional copy critiques, and live, in-person business-building workshops. When I'm not writing, coaching, or speaking, I enjoy nothing more than hanging out with my wife and four kids and planning my next adventure.

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Join the discussion 2 Comments

  • Tristan says:

    Nice post Steve. The USP…definately an enjoyable challenge to overcome. Very rewarding when you unearth a USP even the client didn’t see coming (as long as it actually exists of course). Enjoying the website- insightful for a budding copywriter like myself. Cheers from down under

    • Steve Roller says:

      Thanks, Tristan. You’re right, it’s a kick when you come up with something a client wouldn’t have thought of on their own. Best wishes. Hope to make it down your way in the next year or two.

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