B2B Marketers: Please Don’t 'Cheat' When Creating Your USP

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There are two problems marketers have today when it comes to formulating a winning Unique Selling Proposition or “USP.”

The first is that most are unaware of the original three-part definition of USP, as formulated by Rosser Reeves in his 1961 book Reality in Advertising.

The core of the USP, as stated by Reeves, is that “each advertisement must make a proposition to the consumer.” And this proposition must meet three criteria for it to make your marketing stronger.

  • First, it must say to the reader, “Buy this product and you will get this specific benefit.”
  • Second, it must be unique — a claim that the competition either cannot or does not offer.
  • Third, it must be so strong that it can pull over new customers to your product.

You have to know and deliberately implement all three criteria to formulate a truly powerful USP.

When you ask someone what a USP is, almost everyone knows the answer.

But then ask them “What are the three components needed for a winning USP?”

Not one marketer in a hundred knows. And not knowing what makes a USP great is a major impediment to formulating a winning one.

The second problem with USP as it specifically applies to B2B is with the third criteria: making it so strong that it pulls over new customers to your product.

The most common USP mistake in B2B marketing, most notably among companies that sell complex (e.g., fluid dispending machines) versus simple (e.g., paper cups) products is, well, a bit of a “cheat” — as follows.

To formulate a selling proposition that is unique, many industrial marketers often take the lazy way out. How? By achieving that differentiation with a feature that is trivial — rather than one that is important and actually meaningful to the buyer.

In industrial manufacturing, the manufacturers often make their product “unique” with a new design feature, thinking that this will deliver them a credible USP.

But often, this design feature is trivial. So yes, the marketer is making a unique claim. But, it’s a unique claim that is a matter of total indifference to the buyers — and therefore, does not work. And that makes the whole thing a bit of a cheat, I think.

For instance, one manufacturer of machine parts had this USP: they reduced friction in machine operation by using ball bearings made out of smooth, low-friction plastic instead of metal.

But “plastic” versus metal ball bearings,  or “low-friction” versus conventional ball bearings, did little to move the sales needle.

However, it turned out that, with the lower friction came a number of other advantages, including less machine wear; greater reliability; longer-lasting parts; and no need to keep the bearings lubricated with grease.

And guess what? The winning USP turned out to be “greaseless ball bearings.”

Why? It was easy to remember. Distinctive. And most important, it delivered a major and significant advantage to the user by eliminating the costly and labor-intensive relubrication of bearings. So “greaseless” was the product advantage wording the market responded to best. Not just “plastic” or “low-friction.”

Now, with its greaseless bearings, the gear manufacturer had all three criteria of a winning USP: a powerful benefit, a clear difference, and a way to communicate to the buyer that this difference was an important advantage, and not just a trivial design factor — as is so often the case in industrial products.