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Has the Unique Selling Proposition (USP) Concept Lost It’s Long Term Potency?


Pizza hut


The term Unique Selling Proposition or USP as it is commonly known, was introduced in the 1940s by adman Robert Reeves. The purpose of a USP was to convey a unique benefit about the product or service to the target market which was not being offered by competitors.

One of the most famous examples of a USP is Domino’s Pizza – “Fresh, hot pizza delivered in 30 minutes or less guaranteed!” This slogan turned a struggling enterprise into a global success.

FedEx, the internationally reputed courier company is another business which drew strength from its USP, “When it absolutely, positively MUST be there overnight”. On the strength of that message, they created a delivery business dynasty.

The question you may be asking is, “So why have both these organizations stopped using their unique selling proposition today? There are several reasons who this happens – the competition steps up their game, the needs of the marketplace changes or it’s no longer practical to make the claim. Dangerous riding by Pizza delivery scooterists desperate to deliver Pizzas in 30 minutes could lead to an increase in accidents. Apart from the media having a field day, escalating insurance costs would mean the numbers don’t justify continuing with the proposition.

The Leveling Power of the Internet

The internet has been a game changer in the way businesses compete to get a share of their prospects mind. Apart from the speed of bringing a message to the market, the costs are strikingly competitive compared to traditional media. In fact, it’s often said that the internet is the cheapest place to fail. A USP can be annulled by competitors countering the unique benefits claimed, by their own renditions or even a slight alteration to the original claim.

The phenomenal growth of the internet has seen a mushrooming of copycat businesses. Even if a business develops a product with unique benefits, spends months researching the market and invests a small fortune in branding and creating a slogan that’s an attention grabber, it’s unlikely the company will be able to rest on its laurels for long. It doesn’t take long for a wannabe competitor to come along with a “me-too” product so the USP painstakingly communicated to the target market quickly loses its uniqueness.

The Curse of Instant Gratification

Technological breakthroughs combined with easy access to products and services through the internet has spawned a culture of instant gratification. This results in rapid shifts in demand. At times such shifts can happen suddenly. If the market loses interest in the product category a USP, however strong, instantly loses its potency. How many people today buy their own cloth and visit a tailor to have clothes stitched when they can walk in and walk out of a store with a new set of clothes?

Building Trust and Lasting Relationships

 Consumers today are having it tough and are reigning in their expenses. On the other hand there has never been a wider choice of products and services to choose from. It’s why retail stores are losing sales to online giants like Amazon as shoppers compare prices in the store and have no qualms walking out of a store empty-handed but with their order completed online.

It’s a well-known fact that people buy from those they like and trust. It’s why businesses like McDonalds, Pizza Hut and others have outlasted competitors who have quickly faded away. As a customer you know exactly what you get, anywhere in the world. Trust, familiarity and personalization are reasons why micro businesses you may never have heard of thrive for decades. They take pains to nurture their customers and treat them like friends. Eventually their customers become raving fans. Legendary rock bands like the Rolling Stones and football teams like AC Milan are proof this strategy works. They build relationships with their fans that often last a lifetime.

While this may fly against what the marketing experts tell you and it does not rule out differentiating your product or service, there is a fundamental shift in thinking required to succeed in business today. A USP is important, however its importance has been usurped by the need to build trust and establishing relationships. In an untrusting world this isn’t easy. However, the benefits are long lasting and ascend customers to becoming raving fans. Strong and stable relationships stand the test of time and aren’t easily eroded by the new kid on the block, seemingly appearing out of nowhere with a shiny new product attempting to get loyal customers to defect.