There’s No Such Thing As A Unique Selling Proposition (USP)

Start a business or launch a new product and you are faced with the recurring question “What’s your USP ?”  Your investors will tell you that you need it before they will invest, your marketing team tell you its needed to tell a compelling story and your advisers tell you without a USP it simply is not going to sell.  How wrong they ALL are !

The Unique Selling Proposition (USP) is the single thing that makes you and your product different from the competition.  It defines you as having something that is different, however small that makes you stand out above the crowd.  It really should be simple to find something unique shouldn’t it ?

Sadly, if you truly have something unique, it wont be for long and if you really want to protect it you need to get it protected under international patent/copyright.

Over the years I have worked on some amazing ideas, all of which I thought to be unique, and I have to admit, that a few of them (at the time) were not in the public domain but what I didn’t figure at the time was the fact that other people in the world were having similar ideas.  Here’s a couple:

  • Never Mind The Milk – Great concept for tracking and sharing tasks – I too was working on this concept, but shelved it because they launched first.
  • Google Gears – Yes I was working on this concept too, in fact I spent 2 years working on it until I received an SMS at 3am one morning from my business partner giving me the bad news that Gears had just been launched.

When you think about it, technology and real time communication, makes it easier for people around the world to have similar thoughts,  a single comment or phrase mentioned on Twitter can spark Inspiration in people throughout the world.

Only this morning, while driving to the office, I heard the report from the BBC stating that a petition had been started to give Malala Yusufzai a Nobel prize (as you will know, Malala was cruelly shot for seeking education for girls).  When I heard this story, I had a brilliant idea to use a crowd concept on Twitter called FollowFriday to ensure the concept achieved global coverage.  My thought was to create a hashtag which people could reference ‘#malala4nobel’  a great idea until I launched it on twitter and quickly found that somebody else had already thought of ‘#nobel4malala’  As you see, something triggered my thought, and that same thing also triggered somebody else’s thoughts in a very similar way.  It is not unique.

With 7bn people in the world, the chances of uniqueness are very, very slim (yes a patent can protect it but the patent simply means you were the first to ‘register’ it not necessarily the first to come up with the idea).  Indeed, there are very many examples of one person coming up with an idea and another person registering the patent (check the light bulb, the television or google to find many more).

Our DNA is not unique, neither are our finger prints and many believe we are not the only planet to have life.  Though the odds on duplicates are very low, with so many opportunities of others the concept of being unique is very likely to exist.

So, what about the Unique Selling Proposition (USP),  my only advice unless of course you truly have something that is Unique is to come up with something that makes you stand out/be different from the majority of the competition.

The next time you are asked “What’s your Unique Selling Proposition”…

Before giving a response, in your mind think “What’s my Uncommon Selling Proposition

Have a great day and please join the petition to recognise Malala for the Nobel, I wish I had thought of it first, but so glad somebody else did.

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  6. Thanks for your feedback Jack, thanks too for correcting the terminology. Whilst the origins of the USP are not under question, I do challenge the ability to deliver such unique propositions. Very few organisations provide something that is ‘unique’. It’s the uniqueness which for me is the key term. Though the concept originated in the advertising space, it is now also used by VCs to determine whether a startup should get funded. Sadly there are many who believe that, in order to be a successful business you must have a USP which, in the majority of cases is not true. Thanks again, Mike

  7. USP stands for Unique Selling Proposition, not Unique Selling Point. The term was coined by Rosser Reeves, an executive with advertising agency Ted Bates, where he eventually became chairman. USP is an advertising concept. These are the basic principles (source: Reality in Advertising, Rosser Reeves 1961): Each advertisement must make a proposition to the consumer. The proposition must be one that the competition either cannot, or does not, offer. It must be unique—either a uniqueness of the brand or a claim not otherwise made in that particular field of advertising. The proposition must be so strong that it can move the mass millions. More info: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unique_selling_proposition.