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Devise Your Own Unique Selling Point

Keith Robertson on marketing

ONE of the first things I was taught about marketing was the importance of the USP (Unique Selling Point). It was one of those things that all the marketing books said you must have, but initially I found it very difficult to come up with a good USP for my own company.
Even now I still don’t have one for all of the business names we use. Only recently I found out that the person who originally thought of the idea was a marketing man named Rosser Reeves. I say that it was his ‘idea’ but what I really mean is that he was the first to enumerate, to detail, to put it into words and to give it a name.
Possibly, from the beginning of written advertising, copywriters will have understood the importance of not only using strong headlines but also of highlighting the benefits of a specific product, but nevertheless it was Rosser Reeves who put it into words and apparently conjured up the title.
Although Rosser Reeves retired in the mid 1960’s one of the projects he had previously been involved in is still remembered to this day and that is the M & M’s USP: ‘melts in your mouth, not in your hands’.
His argument was that, although all products have a number of benefits, it is likely that one particular benefit will be more popular than any of the others and sometimes more popular than all the others put together.
Having found out what it is, it is then vital to communicate that benefit to potential purchasers so as many as possible understand that if they make the purchase they will receive that benefit. If it is possible, you should not only state the benefit, but also prove it by presenting some good evidence and the case is even stronger if it can be done in a way that demonstrates it.
Before the internet, advertising for smaller companies was limited to using words (descriptions of our services or written testimonials) or ‘stills’ (such us ‘before’ and ‘after’ photographs). Today, it is easier for us to demonstrate the benefits of what we do by using our phones to shoot video sequences of our work in progress which we can then load onto our websites. Simple, yet so effective.
Often keeping it simple works best. Something I have noticed about a significant number of TV advertisements is that the creative teams sometimes get so carried away with their ideas that the resulting advert completely misses the point. Some of them are so over the top that you are left wondering what it is they are actually advertising and some are so irritating that it actually puts you off ever purchasing the product/service being promoted.
Another of the things Rosser Reeves said was, ‘A gifted product is mightier than a gifted pen.’ Read some of the copy that describes products and services on the daily Groupon web postings. In some cases the copy is so over the top that it certainly wouldn’t encourage me to purchase.
That doesn’t mean I have never purchased from Groupon. I have, but only when it is a product or service I have wanted. In these cases I have clicked on to the actual company website to learn more. I have to concede that had these companies not used Groupon (I am only using Groupon as an example, but there are a number of similar services out there) I might not have learned of the offer, but repeatedly Groupon’s over the top style has put me off making other purchases.
Emphasising the importance of the actual product on offer Reeves said, ‘Let’s say you have $1,000,000 tied up in your company and suddenly your advertising isn’t working and sales are going down. And everything depends on it. Your future depends on it, your family’s future depends on it and even other people’s families depend on it. Now, what do you want from me? Fine writing? Or do you want to see the sales curve stop moving down and start moving up?’
Reeves also believed it was a waste of money to claim uniqueness where there isn’t any. It doesn’t take the purchaser long to find that out and, as repeat business is so important to the well-being and growth of our businesses, it is extremely foolish to promise anything that is not possible. If our service isn’t good enough it would be better to improve it before making over the top claims.
Much is said, and written, about the importance of building brands and recently I have noticed a number of television adverts where the initials of the group owning the particular advertised product is appearing almost as reminder that, although you are purchasing so and so’s washing powder or fish finger, you should appreciate that it must be better because it is part of this big international conglomerate.
Reeves’ view was that a provable claim-based strategy is more likely to be successful than the use of brand images. His view was that a brand image can be interpreted in different ways, some of which might not help support the product and an image is unable to articulate the full story.
Most of us could improve our online presence, and our printed advertising, if we took the time to consider what we have to offer that is relevant from a customer’s point of view.
And, as important as video and pictures are becoming, the right choice of words (remember to keep them simple) are still important if we are to get through to our audience.
Unfortunately much of what we write is because it is important to us and we don’t usually put ourselves in the position of our customers and what is important to them.
In a recent conversation with Willie Little, the owner of the successful Cleaning Doctor franchise, he explained to me his standpoint when putting together copy or preparing the layout of a website. He said he always asks himself, ‘What would Mary be looking for? What is it that she wants?’
If it’s time to review your advertising, whether website, direct mail letters or leaflets, it would do you no harm to do it this way. First ponder to try and find something that you genuinely do that is different to your competitors, something your customers will appreciate.
Then, once you’ve found something, craft it into your own USP. Use this as a base to create your advertising and marketing materials, making sure you see things from your customers’ perspective at all times.
Remember, all that interests them is WIIFM, (what’s in it for me) so let them know just what that is.
Although Reeves died in 1984 his ideas have continued as a worthwhile legacy. If you are interested in learning more, he wrote an excellent book in 1961 entitled ‘Reality in Advertising.’
Keith Robertson has over 35 years’ experience in the cleaning industry. He is a senior partner in Monkland Cleaning Services, Edingburgh, a training instructor on National Carpet Cleaners Association training courses, a board member and marketing director of the NCCA.
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This article has been reproduced from the Contract Flooring Journal website. You can find them at