Unique Selling What?

by | 30.03.2020 | Processes & methods | 0 comments

What can you and your company do better than anyone else? In marketing-speak, the answer to this question is called the “Unique Selling Proposition”. Perhaps you feel the same way as I do: often I hear terms that are repeated a hundred or even a thousand times, that are considered “set” and I ask myself: what is the point of that? Unique Selling what? Does that really exist? I doubt it!

Google – Your friend and …

Google Germany finds more than 27 million answers to the search query “Unique Selling Proposition”.

The first organic hit leads to Gabler’s Business Dictionary. There you will find the following explanation:

“The term Unique Selling Proposition (USP) is the unique selling proposition of a product or service, which distinguishes it from other offers. The USP plays a greater role in marketing in order to place the respective product on the market, to advertise it and to sell it particularly successfully. Due to the market saturation and the objective interchangeability of products, the USP is becoming increasingly important”.

The second organic hit leads to grunderszene.de There you can read this text:

“The term Unique Selling Proposition (USP) is the unique selling proposition of a product or service, which distinguishes it from other offers. The USP plays a greater role in marketing in order to place the respective product on the market, to advertise it and to sell it particularly successfully. Due to the market saturation and the objective interchangeability of products, the USP is becoming increasingly important”.

Mmh, looks identical. And not a bit unique. Obviously Google does not always punish copied content. And what does Wikipedia say? The term “unique selling proposition” puts the site in third place:

“In marketing and sales psychology, the term “unique selling proposition” (USP) is used to describe the outstanding performance feature that makes an offer clearly stand out from the competition. Synonym is veritable customer advantage. The unique selling proposition should be “defensible”, target group-oriented and economical, and should be achieved in price, time and quality. The term belongs to the basic vocabulary of marketing. A unique selling proposition, i.e. a unique benefit promise, should be associated with the product.”

After all, the 83 authors listed have not copied from Gabler or Gr├╝nderszene. And some of the statements made there are also interesting; I will get to them later.

In search of the “Unique”

What is your unique selling point? Does your product have more features than other products? Do you implement customer requirements into your product exceptionally quickly? Do you offer more updates? What can you do better than everyone else? And above all: what sets you apart from your competitors – far away from beautiful advertising slogans?

I think most companies have something special, but not distinctive features. This “something special” has encouraged other organisations to work with you, to use your products or services. What could that be?

  • Maybe it is your employees and colleagues with whom your customers have been working together for many years?
  • Maybe you were at the right place at the right time and solved a problem without further ado?
  • Maybe you have conveyed trust and confirmed this trust again and again in reality?
  • Perhaps you react as quickly as users could wish?
  • Maybe you offer goodwill rules with which you can positively surprise your customers.
  • Maybe you have built a community that helps each other?

It can be many aspects, small and large, that make you and your company a valuable partner, supplier, producer. This is what makes your company special. But none of these aspects should be unique even in the beginning. Sorry.

Innovation or me-too product

Of course, you might object that my examples relate more to companies or their services. True. So let’s take a look at the product side. And then straight away to the two main sentences of the USP definitions mentioned:

  • “In marketing, the USP plays a greater role in order to place, advertise and particularly successfully sell the respective product on the market.”
  • “The unique selling proposition should be “defensible”, target group-oriented and economical, and should be achieved in price, time and quality.”

I’ll make it short: I only disagree with sentence 1 in parts. But not with regard to the unique selling proposition, but with regard to the task in marketing. Marketing is not a synonym for advertising. To think about how a product is marketed is a task in marketing. But marketing means above all: FROM THE MARKET INTO THE COMPANY. It is a way of thinking. What do customers want? What interests do stakeholders pursue? Where are markets and sales or revenue opportunities. FROM THE MARKET INTO THE COMPANY. Not: From the company into the market. That is only half the truth. Just trying to sell something is an outdated approach. Admittedly, it has often worked in the past, but it will work less and less in the future. (This could be another blog post …­čśë)

In my view, the second definition is much better, as it uses some exciting terms:

  • defendable
  • target group oriented
  • economic

“Apple launched the first iPhone on November 9, 2007, heralding the smartphone age.” according to Chip.de. Whoever is the first to bring a novel product to market, especially if it is a disruptive and not “only” an evolutionary product, has a unique selling point per se with his product. Ergo: With innovations there can be a unique selling proposition. Is this defensible? Not if it is a market where supply meets demand and demand creates supply. Samsung and Huawei with their numerous me-too products send their regards.

If a product loses its uniqueness, updates are often developed. New features are added, which may temporarily be seen as unique selling points. With the Apple Watch this could be observed very well: “Always on” was the big selling point with the Apple Watch Series 5. Seriously? A watch that always shows the time? What should be a unique selling proposition? This is where the target group comes into play. Not the target group of wristwatch wearers. And not the Smartwatch wearer demographic either. But the target group of Apple Watch owners. It was not a unique selling proposition for them either, but obviously a sensible innovation.

And what about “economical” and “price, time and quality”?

In search of the “selling”

From my point of view, only real innovations offer unique selling propositions, but mostly only temporarily. The smaller an (evolutionary) innovation is, the smaller is a possible unique selling proposition. Me-too products can offer evolutionary innovations (such as wiping over the login screen on Samsung or the excellent cameras on Huawei products) and these can of course be marketed and sold. And we are already looking for the “selling”.

“Apple launched the first iPhone on November 9, 2007, heralding the smartphone age.” I think that statement is relatively undisputed. Undisputed in the sense that when the iPhone saw the light of day, it heralded the smartphone age. But the iPhone was everything but the first smartphone. Alcatel launched the OneTouchCom, a mobile phone with touch display, back in 1997. Ten years before Apple. It offered mails, calendar entries with reminders and a manually switchable Responsive Design of the display. From my own experience I know that the quality of the product was high. And? Practically nobody bought it. So neither unique selling points nor disruptive innovations lead directly to a “selling”. And therefore unique selling points are not automatically economical.

So what now?

Assuming my argumentation is correct: Unique selling propositions for products exist temporarily at best. In the case of services or companies, they are even rarer to find. Moreover, they are practically undefendable and profitability is on a completely different page. What does this mean for the Unique Selling Proposition?

From my point of view you should rather forget USP as a concept. Think about it instead,

  • what you stand for as a company,
  • which values are important to you and which values you want to offer,
  • how you are perceived and how you want to be perceived,
  • what vision you follow and why you do it,
  • what you want to offer your customers and how you can do it a little better in the future,
  • how to involve your customers in your development,
  • how you can continuously improve your products and services and how you actively learn from your experiences.

Of course, it makes sense to also take a look at other market participants and see what they do. Very few companies succeed in making disruptive innovations that last and are economically worthwhile. So it is perfectly okay to continue to pursue a smart me-too strategy. And if you do, it is not with the aim of creating a unique selling proposition. But with foresight and focus on customers and – not to forget – your employees. Of course, this is not easy. But it is the real task in marketing:

FROM MARKET INTO THE COMPANY AND FROM THE COMPANY INTO THE MARKET.

 

Notes:

Michael Schenkel has published a few more posts here in the t2informatik Blog, including

VUKA, so what?!
Software development made easy – a persiflage
Small Data

Sources (in German):

[1] https://wirtschaftslexikon.gabler.de/definition/unique-selling-proposition-usp-50075
[2] https://www.gruenderszene.de/lexikon/begriffe/unique-selling-proposition-usp
[3] https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alleinstellungsmerkmal
[4] https://praxistipps.chip.de/iphone-reihenfolge-die-modelle-geordnet_94211

Michael Schenkel
Michael Schenkel

Head of Marketing, t2informatik GmbH

Michael Schenkel is a graduate business economist and is passionate about marketing. He has a certificate for excellent hiking characteristics, Odenwaldtour in classes 6a/6b and since 1984 the Seahorse. He likes to blog about requirements engineering, project management, stakeholders and marketing. And he will certainly be delighted if you meet him in the real world for a cup of coffee and a piece of cake or for a virtual get-together.