The Problem With “USPs,” They Aren’t Unique


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The Unique Selling Proposition is a cornerstone to much of what we do in marketing and sales.  At a high level, it’s supposed to be a compelling statement about who we are, what makes our solution different.  Ideally, it is so compelling the customer immediately sees the light and issues a PO.

All we have to do is position our USP in our web sites, our marketing materials, and our prospecting pitches, and we immediately capture the customers’ attentions.

I’m not sure USPs ever really worked, but in today’s world there is really nothing right about the concept of the USP.

Let’s dissect this…..

Unique is, well…. unique.  That means it is different for each person we seek to engage.  What’s important to a certain type of buyer (think persona) is different from another type of buyer.  USPer’s will immediately respond, “Yes, you have to develop persona based USPs.”

But then it’s different industry to industry, market to market, company by company.  Ultimately, we recognize, what’s unique is in the eye of the customer and it’s probably relevant to a certain point of time or set of circumstances the customer might find herself.

But our USPs never seem to reach the level of “One to One,” they are always broadcast to a wide audience and immediately become General Selling Propositions, (GSPs) rather than unique.

Another problem with our thinking about “Uniqueness,” is we fail to consider our competitors.  A number of years ago, I was giving a keynote, the client had asked me to focus on their USP.  My first slide, showed their “USP,” they immediately applauded, high fiving each other about their “USP.”  They probably thought, “We’ve got the right speaker, he recognizes the value of our USP.”

My second slide had the USPs of their top 10 competitors.  All of a sudden, the audience was deflated.  Except for a few small wording difference, the USPs weren’t unique.

Each, in fact, were remarkably similar.  Each claimed to be “bigger, better, faster, cheaper….”  Or “new, innovative, different…”  But fundamentally, they could have been interchanged with each other and no one would have known the difference.

But the fact that USPs really aren’t, isn’t the biggest problem.

The problem is the SP part of the acronym–the Selling Proposition.

Thinking customers or markets care about our Selling Proposition is really the ultimate conceit and self centered thinking.

Ironically, for all the decades the concept of USPs has existed, we don’t hear much discussion around UBPs–Unique Buying Proposition.  If Google is any kind of indicator, Unique Selling Propositions get 16 +M hits, Unique Buying Proposition gets 9 + M hits.

But customers care about what they care about.  When they are buying they care about their buying proposition, not our selling proposition.  And for each customer in the buying group, there is a different buying proposition—which may be why so many customers struggle with buying.

I’m not sure the concept of a USP was ever useful, but it’s not a helpful concept for our customers or for engaging them in high impact discussions.  It’s time that we abandon them and banish them from our vocabularies.


Republished with author's permission from original post.

Dave Brock
Dave has spent his career developing high performance organizations. He worked in sales, marketing, and executive management capacities with IBM, Tektronix and Keithley Instruments. His consulting clients include companies in the semiconductor, aerospace, electronics, consumer products, computer, telecommunications, retailing, internet, software, professional and financial services industries.


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