Is there value in your USP?

If you are trying to work out your Unique Selling Proposition, STOP! By the time you have it defined, whatever ‘it’ is, ‘it’ will no longer be unique.

And what’s more, your customers don’t care.

In today’s business world, ‘unique’ is not only difficult to define and explain with any level of credibility, it has a very short life-span.

I know this is going to be controversial, especially among more traditional or academically focussed marketers, but it’s a fact – ‘customers don’t care if you are unique, they only care about the value you deliver.’

In ‘real-world’ marketing and sales you are usually competing with businesses that are similar to you and delivering products or services that are similar. Claiming uniqueness is risky and difficult to justify. Time spent on justifying this is better spent on showing prospects and clients the value you deliver.

Your Unique Selling Proposition is said to be the factor or factors that differentiate you, your product or service, or your company from the competition. First proposed by advertising pioneer Rosser Reeves in the 1960’s, the premise is to focus on ‘what you have that your competitors don’t’. But in today’s fast-paced world, even if you have a patent or are market-leading in the introduction of a product, it will soon be copied in a manner that dilutes the competitive advantage your ‘uniqueness’ offered. What makes you unique today is easily and quickly replicated by competitors. Even your own business may cannabalise your uniqueness as you strive to stay ahead of the pack releasing new products and updating the old. In working to define a Unique Selling Proposition you are internally focussed, looking at what you think makes you different and/or better than your competitor. But if this difference is not considered of importance by the prospect, it is of no consequence.

Your Value Proposition, on the other hand, is externally focussed and explains how your product or service solves problems or improves situations. It is specific to the benefits you deliver and it explains why your clients should consider you over your competitors. It can be defined as ‘the extent to which a good or service is perceived by your customer to meet their needs or wants, measured by their willingness to pay for it’. It depends more on the customer’s perception of the worth of the product than on its cost or uniqueness. More simply, the principles of Lean business define Value as ‘anything for which the customer is prepared to pay’, and this may be be in other than financial terms, like for example, time.

To build your Value Proposition you need to:

  1. Identify/confirm your target market and ideal client
  2. Take a walk in your customer’s shoes
    1. To be able to define your value proposition you need to understand the environment in which your prospect operates and will use your product or service
    2. Take notice, review your observations and be able to show proof
  3. Define the most important benefits (not features) as they would be seen by your customers
    1. What pleasure do you deliver (gain), what pain do you remove
    2. Be specific
  4. Craft your value proposition statement
    1. This needs to address the market you are targeting – you can have more than one value proposition (different strokes for different folks)
    2. It needs to include the benefits you are delivering
  5. Test your value proposition statement

You might think you have a great value proposition, but you don’t count. A value proposition is only of benefit to you and your company if it resonates with, and is seen as believable by your ideal client.

  1. Continually review and revise your Value Proposition. Your market won’t stand still and your customers won’t wait – proactively review where you sit in your market and make sure you continue to deliver and communicate your value.

By focussing on value and not what you think makes you different, you are more likely to win customers. Understanding what customers value shows you are in synch with their wants and needs, even if they may not yet know what they want themselves. As Henry Ford once said…”If I’d asked what they wanted, they’d have said a faster horse”

If you focus on value, as defined by your customer, your R&D, marketing and sales and entire operations can be more focussed meaning less wasted time, effort and money; and as a result greater profits and more satisfied customers.

But don’t totally discount the value uniqueness can deliver. Just be mindful of where uniqueness has the most value. In today’s fast-moving sales environment, the uniqueness should be the salesperson, your sales process and your customer support – these should form the culture of your business. Culture cannot be copied and it will set you apart.

Ultimately, only a small percentage of your target market are early-adopters, attracted by the uniqueness of your ‘first-mover’ advantage.   Fewer still will be attracted by the uniqueness of your brand, although in luxury markets this is seen as value – just ask Kim Kardashian. In the real-world it’s not who does it first or who is the only one that does it. It’s who does it best for the customer that counts. What is of interest to your market is the value they receive from what you offer.

Value vs Uniqueness in the Real World

As an example of value vs USP, let’s look at a brief history of portable music. The first transistor radio was released in 1954 by ‘Regency’ – who, you may well ask? Exactly. Regency’s transistor was unique, and it did offer value, something I think was well defined by Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak who said “My first transistor radio…I loved what it could do, it brought me music, it opened my world up”. Yes, it was unique, for a time, but it was the value, not just in what it offered to consumers, but also because it was ‘first to market’, one of a kind – but it was what it delivered that was the real clincher in the market (Wozniak loved “what it could do’, not what it was). Major traditional radio manufacturers of the time like RCA, Sylvania and others realised that this tiny radio was more than just a fad. They soon swamped Regency as they delivered better value to the market. So even as far back as the 1950’s, uniqueness was short-lived.

Sony entered the race as early as 1957 with their first transistor radio and in the 1970’s introduced the Walkman. A portable cassette-player with hi-fidelity sound it took the market by storm. Again, like Regency’s transistor it was unique as it allowed consumers to not only listen to radio, but made their own music portable. Again they had first-mover advantage. It was unique…until others caught up and even passed Sony as Apple did with the release of the iPod.

But Apple were a little smarter and did not consider the iPod as unique. They developed an entire music supply chain; from purchase to storage to playing and sharing – the value was not in the device, but in the process (yes, again unique at the time). This had a huge impact on the likes of Sony, not just on the Walkman but Sony’s entire music distribution model. While the iPod’s uniqueness was removed with the release of MP3 players by competitors (including Sony), it maintained market dominance as a result of the value in the supply chain. It was Apple themselves took the ‘uniqueness’ out of the iPod when they released the iPhone, effectively cannibalising their ground-breaking product. The product was no longer unique within the Apple stable (and had been effectively copied by other MP3 devices) but the value proposition still lay in the supply model, not just the delivery platform.

But when the iPhone was released (it can be argued this was the first real smartphone) it was quickly copied by others including Samsung and what was unique was no more. But again, as Apple had effectively built a platform for sharing across their various devices (iMac, iPad, iPhone), the value was in the integration of devices and storage, not the uniqueness of the product.

Yes, many will argue this article focusses on innovation more than ‘value’ or ‘USP’ but it is the accelerated occurrence of innovation that makes it even more critical for you to focus on value, not what you think is unique.   The key message to sales and marketing professionals and businesses generally is that uniqueness is short-lived. Being first is rarely a compelling competitive advantage and in today’s market it is even more rare that what you offer is unique for very long.


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