What’s Your Unique Selling Proposition?

If you haven’t read Customer Value Proposition you might want to start there first. This is a continuation.

As I’ve said, the “customer value proposition” (CVP) is an internal document that serves to clarify your relationship with your customers and address your customers’ concerns. So how then do you articulate that value to your customers? The answer is through your “unique selling proposition” (USP).

The term unique selling proposition was coined by Rosser Reeves of the Ted Bates advertising agency, in the 1940s. Reeves asserted that successful advertisements made claims about a product’s advantages (e.g., “Better than the leading competitor for getting out stains!”). He was hugely successful as an advertising executive and his book, Reality in Advertising.

Reeves believed that:

  • the purpose of advertising was to sell,
  • that any advertisement had to make a proposition to the consumer,
  • that such proposition had to embody specific benefits, and
  • those benefits had to be significantly different from competitive offers.

He criticised what he called “product puffery”, insisting on the importance of the unique selling proposition over clever copyrighting. “The proposition”, he said, “must be so strong that it can move the mass millions.”

So, the purpose of the USP is to sell product or you could say it’s what makes the customer decide to buy from you, and not from one of your competitors. If the CVP embodies the unique attributes with a tangible value, then the USP expresses that value in ways that appeal to the customer. The USP is your positioning statement and should be in alignment with your sale slogans and any other claims you make about your product.

Most of my clients are start-ups and, not surprisingly, don’t know much about CVP and USP, except perhaps what they’ve gleaned from the “Value Proposition” part of Osterwalder’s Business Model Canvas or Ries’s The Lean Canvas. Veteran entrepreneurs also need to regularly test their assumptions by doing periodic reviews of their business CVPs. So here is my checklist for getting your ducks in a row:

  • You can’t create a USP from nothing! Without a solid Customer Value Proposition, no amount of clever copywriting can sustainably sell product. The USP is all about spreading the good news about your CVP.
  • If your existing market is saturated, innovate, either by offering a new value-add to an existing product, or come up with an entirely new product.
  • Once you have a solid CVP, the challenge is to communicate that value to the marketplace through your USP.
  • You should be able to express your USP verbally in less than 30 seconds. Make it your “elevator pitch”!

In a future post, I hope dig a little deeper on the process of USP development.