Why your USP has nothing to do with your product

Ok, you’ve built a product and now you’re trying to nail the product’s Unique Selling Proposition (USP) to create a compelling marketing message. Let me stop you right there.

The first mistake we do is to treat the USP as a product feature. It’s not. The USP is about the customer. It’s either what the customer can do (or as Kathy Sierra puts it; Kick ass at) or it is what the customer can identify with.

The classic USP-question is “Why should I buy from you instead of your competitors?” The easiest way to solve that is to put your self in your customer’s shoes.

How to kick ass

We have several internal drives or motivators that are the reason why we do what we do. I’ll leave it for other bloggers to elaborate on the various drives, but in designing a product or service you must have an idea what the person using it is doing and feeling.

A game for example, may satisfy many different drives at different stages. MMORPGs can satisfy the need to be social in a safe environment with other people that share a common interest. It also let’s you compete and overcome challenges which gives you a sense of purpose and fulfillment. By getting better at playing the game you overcome even more difficult challenges and are fed with new obstacles into a continuous feedback loop of challenge and achieve.

The basic design is to quickly be able to kick ass at something and then find a route to master in small steps. Instagram is a good example. Snap a picture and add a filter. “Wow, my picture looks awesome. I want to share this with my friends”. Then you play around with filters, maybe read up on basic iphone photography or import photos from your DSLR camera to Instagram to kick ass even further.

When designing your USP, highlight what the user can do, or even better what results she can achieve. Another important step here is to “be remarkable”. Your USP had better be something worthy of remark, or at least cause a raised eyebrow of interest.

  1. Five guys playing on one guitar is remarkable
  2. Five guys playing without a guitar is just another acapella song

Your new screwdriver is not “ten times stronger”. You can “cut the build time of your new kitchen in half and leave time to be with your kids” or “if you are left-handed, you can now do your carpentry without getting blisters in your hand”.

The benefit is a verb.

How to identify with something

Should I buy a watch from Breitling or Casio? That’s easy! It’s a matter if you are rich or poor! Right? Well, what about Rolex, Breitling or Omega? The price difference is there still but not as obvious. It comes down to who I am and how I see myself. So you look at your friends but also the brand advertising. The latest James Bond actor is the poster boy for Omega and some American celebrity millionaire is showing of a gold Rolex on another poster. Who of the two do you like best? Who do you identify yourself with.

The USP in this case is a way for your customers to find a connection or bond to your brand, business or product without having a clear verb on why something will make me do something better. Maybe I feel superior no matter which product I use. “Hey man, stop trying to sell me an Android phone. I’m an Apple fan!“. You didn’t compare your apple TV to other Internet connected digital media receivers. You were wow-ed by your friend’s iPhone two years ago. So, you just KNOW Apple produces superior products…

The definition of a USP for your brand are values that run through your entire marketing from the choice of people representing your brand, to the tone in your advertising and graphical presentation. It should be something that the customer can identity with, feel safe with and rely on.

If you are having trouble finding values, try defining what the customer should feel when she encounters your brand or product or what is the first sentence coming out of their mouth is

  • Playful – Let me try!
  • Comfortable – Yes, I found what I was looking for!
  • Nostalgic – No way!
  • Intrigued – What’s that?
  • Shocked – WTF!?
  • Inspired – Wow, look at that!
  • Relieved – Finally!
  • Creative – I bet I can control this with my iPhone

That’s it for now. I will do a dive into who the customer is in a later post. Please comment on this.

4 thoughts on “Why your USP has nothing to do with your product

  1. Thanks Björn Fant! This article really caught my attention while I was catching up with my Google Reader subscriptions. I really appreciate the flipped thinking as well as customer centric view. I only have a few comments to your excellent post:
    – UPB. Unique Product Benefit is a good twist to the USP and takes a similar perspective to yours
    – If the value is not a functional benefit, then it’s symbolic. I would like to add the ‘linking value’ or the ‘social value’ to the ‘identification value’ that you already described. The linking value states: ‘the social link is more important that the things’. What this also means is that the customerbrand relationship is not the focus. It is a bi-product (if relationship is a good word to use at all). Describing the brand as a resource or tool may be more useful.
    – A meaning-based approach can be used for identifying unique benefits beyond the functions themselves. Your product saves time, what does that mean? You community is global, what does that mean? Your product is small (e.g. Smart car), what does that mean?

    Keep up the good work! I like it.

    Comment 3 of #comment100

  2. Hi Elia! Great feedback I haven’t heard of the UPB before so I’ll definitely read up on that. Also, I liked your idea on describing the brand as a tool or resource. Made me think of another blogpost I should write. :) Thanks


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