Every marketing book on the planet (practically) waxes on and on about the importance of creating a "Unique Selling Proposition" or USP in order to effectively sell a product or service. Yet understanding what a USP really is, is still one of the most misunderstood concepts in business.

I've seen fuzzy slogans, unsupported claims, and vague sound bites all passed off as USPs. There is a law firm here in the Dallas-Fort Worth area that says they are the firm to go to when "results really matter." ???? Can anyone please tell me what that means? Who hires an expensive law firm when the results don't matter? Ok, I'd better get off my "lawyers can't market" soapbox right now because I have other things to say here.

There's a story about Claude Hopkins, the brilliant 1920s ad man who was asked to help a little-known, bottom-tier beer company named Schlitz boost their sales. This was before Schlitz became known as "The Beer That Made Milwaukee Famous." In fact, it was before Schlitz was even famous within the city of Milwaukee itself.

The first thing he did was request a tour of Schlitz' brewery. While on the tour, Hopkins was surprised to notice that despite being located just a few hundred waters from Lake Michigan, Schlitz used only water from deep artesian wells to make its beer.

He also noticed that Schlitz' brewers repeatedly tested their yeast recipes, going through hundreds of trials in order to come up with the perfect formula.

He also noticed that they washed their beer bottles several times before filling them with beer.

When the tour was over, Hopkins asked the Schlitz executives why they weren't letting the public know about these painstaking processes. They responded that all breweries did pretty much the same things and that their processes were not really all that unique.

But, noted Hopkins, not one other brewer was talking about them. So he created a campaign to educate the public about the artesian water (even though an abundant and cheaper supply of water was only a few hundred yards away in Lake Michigan), the hundreds of trials in order to create the perfect yeast recipes, and the repeated re-washing of beer bottles prior to their use.

As a result, Schlitz came to "own" these painstaking processes in the minds of the public, even though other breweries did the same things.

A USP only has to be unique in the minds of the public to give your company a vastly superior selling advantage in the marketplace.

Think about your own processes. What are your own quality control standards? How do you produce a quality product? What do you do to deliver a quality service? How do you train your employees? How do you initiate, and then use, feedback and survey results from your customers?

Personally, I find those car commercials that have engineers in white lab coats testing their cars with crash dummies or explaining the engineering processes (even though they are still over my head) over commercials that just shout to me about price and this-week-only sales.

Let's go back to the law firm I mentioned earlier. What if they educated the public about how they only hire law school graduates who were in the top of their classes, how their education continues once they come to work for this firm, how each newly hired lawyer is assigned a mentor, and how all the lawyers at that firm must take hours of continuing legal education.

The truth is, none of these things are unique to major law firms, but like Schlitz beer (oh I bet these lawyers would love to hear me compare their firms with a beer company), none of their competitors are educating the public about these things.

The reason a USP is so vital, is because it is a positioning device to create a unique spot of "real estate" in the mind of the marketplace. When Dominos Pizza began using the USP of guaranteed 30 minute delivery or less, they were not the only pizza chain that had fast delivery.

But they were the first to make fast, guaranteed delivery their claim to fame. And as a result, they came to "own" the idea of fast getting a pizza delivered quickly in the minds of the public.

What is your USP? What idea can you "own" in the minds of your public?

The success of failure of your marketing efforts depends on answering these questions. Don't pass them off with vague sound bites or unfounded, unsupported claims. The public won't buy these things and they will not make you unique in anyone's mind.

COPYRIGHT © 2008, Charles Brown


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