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unique selling proposition
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Why The Unique Selling Proposition (usp) Is Out - Dated In Today’s World
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Why The Unique Selling Proposition (usp) Is Out  -  Dated In Today’s World

Rosser Reeves was an advertising copywriter who joined the Ted Bates advertising agency in 1940. In the 1950’s he enjoyed phenomenal success, becoming chairman of the board in 1955.

In 1961 he published his first book in which he described the selling technique that made him famous – the Unique Selling Proposition (USP). It has 3 elements:

  1. Each ad must propose a benefit for buyers.
  2. The proposition must be unique, not offered by competitors.
  3. It has to be compelling – it must sell.

Today, the USP is firmly entrenched in conventional business wisdom. In the online world, it is accepted with little question as a requirement for business success.

So, what is wrong with it? How can it possibly be out-dated? Is there anything better?

To answer these questions, we need to go back to the 1940’s when Rosser Reeves was establishing himself as a copywriter. Until that time the world had enjoyed the production era when mass produced products virtually sold themselves and the focus was on efficient production methods.

Then, in the 1950’s, as markets started becoming more competitive, the production era gave way to the sales era. In this era persuasive sales messages were necessary to sell products. Advertising was defined as “persuasive communication”.

The 1960’s saw the birth of the marketing concept, where attention shifted from product features to customer needs. There was little market research conducted until the late 1960’s when marketers started to realise that they needed to understand their customers’ buying behaviour and motivations.

So, what is the difference between sales and marketing?

In a nutshell, selling is about how I like to sell, marketing is about how you like to buy.

The problem with the USP concept in today’s world is in the “S”, for “selling”. It contradicts 2 other widely accepted principles of modern business – customer focus and value proposition.

Customer-focussed businesses market, they don’t sell. They understand what their customers want and they deliver it. They don’t build it and then try to find and persuade customers to buy it.

The simplest way to think of a value proposition is “what you get for what you pay”. “What you get” includes both tangible and intangible benefits. “What you pay” involves both money and other costs, like time. So, a great value proposition might be “more stylish bang for your buck in half the time”.

Marketers today accept that a strong value proposition is essential because a compelling sales message is no longer enough. The USP has been overtaken by the UVP (Unique Value Proposition).

Success in the online world used to be about getting lots of traffic and persuading visitors to click links. Today it is about engaging visitors and delivering value to them - valuable content.

Whether you work for a company producing tons of products or a home based business providing a personalised service, the requirements for success are the same. You need a unique value proposition – a product or service that offers better value than anyone else. Then, you can advertise it.

Are you providing value or selling a proposition?


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