Spot the Difference
The Importance of a Unique Selling Point (USP)
Three weeks ago my girlfriend and I decided to buy a tent – a lightweight, all-weather tent which we could take with us when we went walking.
Not surprisingly, there were hundreds of little canvas homes for us to choose from. So we did what all rational people would do and worked out our budget and figured out exactly what specifications we needed. This helped us to filter down our choices but there were still a wide range of tents available to us. So we went online and searched for reviews. After reading these, and getting rid of some of the brands we didn’t trust, we were left with 8 tents to choose from.
All of these tents were very similar in price, weight and size. They were all totally waterproof and all had a porch for kit. The styles and shapes of each of the tents differed but the main product features were the same. All except for one tent…
This tent was set up by pitching the fly sheet (the outer sheet which keeps the rain off) before the inner sheet (the mesh chamber in which you sleep). This makes very little difference if you pitch your tent on a nice day. But if you are unlucky enough to have to erect it in the rain (which is quite likely in North Wales in October) then it means that the area where you sleep never has to get wet.
This feature of the tent is a USP and needless to say it was the reason that we eventually parted with our cash and bought it.
What is a USP?
A USP refers to the features of a product or service that offer unique benefits which are not found in its competition (Egan, 2007). Companies often use USPs to compete with dominant brands in the market (Tholke, Hultink, and Robben). For example Domino’s Pizza’s attempted to differentiate themselves from the competition in the fast food industry by guaranteeing customers that they will receive their pizza within 30 minutes of ordering or it will be free of charge:
Some companies can compete with their rivals by using a USP that claims superiority over a shared product feature (Kippenberger, 2000). For example Xerox claimed that their printers are 3 times faster than HP’s fastest printer. Another example of this is ASDA, who regularly used low prices as their USP:
Does a USP make a difference?
In a word – Yes.
ASDA, Dominoes, Xerox and even my new tent are all examples of how a USP can be the difference between a product or service being purchased or not, particularly in a highly competitive market.
So why are we more drawn to a USP?
Research suggests that a USP is beneficial for a number of reasons. One reason is that consumers give more attention to something novel and therefore often think more positively about it (Carpenter, Glazer and Nakamoto, 1994). A USP that involves a direct comparison is also favourable because it usually results in better consumer evaluations (Ziamou and Ratneshwar, 2003). This means that if a company claims to offer better customer service than its rivals, consumers are likely to praise the company for this reason in a post purchase evaluation.
Finally, I will look at three other reasons for why a USP draws people to a company, product or service. These were were uncovered by Simonson and Nowlis (2000) and include:
1. Consumers often use unconventional reasons to express their uniqueness and independence. For example, people may decide to purchase Spitfire Ale because they are the only person they know who drinks beer brewed in Kent, England.
2. Unconventional, non-obvious reasons allow a person to use and demonstrate their intellect. For example, people with Xerox printers are likely to feel that they are smarter than HP printer owners for making such a shrewd purchasing decision.
3. Novel reasons are more persuasive. Tents where you pitch the fly sheet first are amazing!
And owning the world’s most versatile camera seems like a pretty good idea, right?
We live in an era where most markets are now more competitive than a Manchester Derby. From the evidence and research discussed in this blog it is clear to see that a USP is an incredible way for a company to differentiate itself from its competition.
So if you want people to choose your product make sure you make at least one thing different!
You must have an example of where a USP has altered your consumer behaviour. If so I would love to hear it.
Many thanks for reading.