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Carol L Schroeder

A Unique Selling Proposition

April 3, 2012

Unique Selling PropositionIf your customers need ESP to determine the USP in your ads or signs (as in this fun example from New Zealand), then you are not doing a good job of conveying your message. Keeping things simple makes it easy for consumers to understand what you sell -- and why they should buy it from you.

USP stands for unique selling proposition, and the concept was invented by Rosser Reeves of the Ted Bates & Company advertising firm in the early 1940s. Although it originally referred to advertising campaigns making unique propositions to customers to convince them to switch brands, today it is used to describe any aspect of a business, item or advertisement that differentiates it from its competition.

When I speak to groups of retailers I often start by asking them to write down a description of their business in ten words or less. After all, if you are a "general gift shop," there is little motivation for customers to seek you out when then can buy gifts in so many other places. But if you can describe your shop as "whimsical and practical crafts made by local artisans," you have given your business an identity that will set it apart from the competition. The description will also inform your buying decisions, your display choices, and your promotional effort.

The idea of focusing on a unique selling proposition when it comes to advertising -- be it in print, online or via social media -- will help you make these efforts more effective. Instead of listing all the different types of products that you offer, focus on one at a time in your promotions. Keep the message simple so that the consumer can catch on to it quickly.

Another aspect of the USP concept is zeroing in on a specific benefit that your store or product offers. Examples of good use of USP in advertising includes the Fed-Ex claim "When your package absolutely, positively has to get there overnight" -- which was cited in virtually every article on USP I read, so it must be good!

In order to know what benefit you offer, you need to put yourself in your customer's shoes and think of what their needs are. We advertise our shop, for example, as "Your Buy Local Wedding Registry," which targets consumers who want to support local business instead of chains when buying wedding gifts.

For some excellent examples of USP promotions online, check out this Think Traffic blog. As they point out, your personality may be the only USP that you need. After all, you as a shopkeeper are unique, and the business that you've created undoubtedly is too. Make sure that your promotional materials convey that fact to your current and potential customers.