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?

Summary

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.

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About Think Outside The Cliché

I write blogs that try to encourage people to think differently about their purchasing behaviour. I also write blogs that attempt to show companies that there are often other unconventional ways to conduct business. Whether you are a consumer or a business person there will be definitely be something interesting in my blogs for you. I hope you enjoy them and please remember I always, always appreciate constructive feedback.

5 responses to “Spot the Difference”

  1. sdcps says :

    This is a really interesting and informative blog post 🙂
    A lot of companies have different USPs, but I realize the most memorable ones are not just different but ones that fufill a need for me. I found an article by Coe stating that USP’s are created by companies in 3 steps. First, finding out what people want (identify a need). Next up is defining the ideal customer. Lastly, they come up with the unique selling point for that ideal customer.
    Like your example of domino’s “30minute delivery or free pizza” USP attracts the needs of consumers that want fast pizza. Don’t you hate it when you place an order and they say it’ll take about an hour or sometimes more to deliver to your home? See how it attracts you in?
    Companies also use designs and drawings that people recognize to attach a USP to a brand name or product. Lux – keeping women’s most treasured clothes like new – is one example. They used elements and designs that were instantly recognizable from retail and fashion advertising (Schwarzkopf).
    I guess it’s not just about being different but being different in a way that meets people’s needs.

    • thinkoutsidethecliche says :

      Thanks your your response.

      The Coe article sounds really interesting – I will look out for it.

      That’s a really good point about having to be different in a way that meets people’s needs. It makes me think of M&Ms who had a campaign informing users that they were the chocolates which ‘melt in your mouth, not in your hand’.

      With this campaign M&Ms highlighted a problem that users may not have realised they had (chocolate melting in your hand) and shown how their product can solve it. This is a wonderful example because it shows not only how using a USP make yourself different from the competition but it also demonstrates how a USP can answer a problem consumers didn’t know they had.

      Thanks again for your comment.

  2. crystal1014 says :

    USP, which is a quite new word for me, can be the key of success in the competitive market. It is a quite interesting blog that you use your own experience to demonstrate the importance of USP. In my mind, USP can be the feature of a certain product which does not belong to others. It has to meet customers’ demands. Otherwise, it may not be noticed in the sea of similar products. I remembered that once when I hesitated in choosing which wallet to buy, I found a small bag in one of wallets. It was convenient for me to put tickets or transportation card in it, which attracted me a lot. The wallet had the same shape, style and color with the other one, expect the little bag. Finally, I bought this one just because of the little bag. This is my own experience of USP, and I know even a little difference can change a lot in the choice of customers. Therefore, companies have to consider more from the standpoint of consumers, then; they can design and produce products which can satisfy consumers more.

  3. undercoverconsumer says :

    Hi there, I think this is a really interesting blog post. I remember back in school we were asked to design and make a product in graphics, i think it was a board game or some sort of phone holder, but anyway we were told to give our product a ‘unique selling point’ i remember it being really hard to think of one, but i just said to myself ‘what attracts me to a product’ and ‘what benefits, needs and wants can it give me’. These factors are what companies play towards, they aim to fulfill the ‘human need’ through their USPs. Just as you stated above in your dominoes example, customers are hungry, they want hot fresh pizza and they want it now! Dominoes aim to fulfill this need by promising to deliver their pizza within 30minutes, thus satisfying customers and in time building brand loyalty. Asda also do this with their ‘Asda price Guarantee’ – “If we’re not 10% cheaper on your comparable grocery shopping we’ll give you the difference. Guaranteed!”, essentially they are giving you a reward for continually shopping with them..All companies need a USP, it’s what makes them stand out from the crowd. If they didn’t have a USP then they won’t end up fulfilling consumers demands and wants, and thus end up being like all the other thousands of products out there. For example there are hundreds of chocolate bars on our supermarket shelves, a lot of them are the same, but some chocolate companies have created a separate market and made themselves unique, like Green & Blacks who pride themselves on selling the highest quality organically produced chocolate. .

  4. mashenz says :

    Thanks for interesting information. I think that using USP is beneficial in terms of both rational and irrational point of view. You described the situation of buying the best tend for the budget you had and it seems to be a very coherent logical process. On the other hand, you mentioned the situation when people associate themselves with products they buy (Xerox and HP people ) – this is obviously irrational component of USP. The main thing for consumers that it’s not always easy to figure out which product has this outstanding feature. You spent some time, actually did kind of marketing research on the ‘UK tent market’. So the problem is such important advantageous characteristics are not necessarily shown in advertising, because of lack of finances or whatever. I believe that it’s very beneficial to portray those things both for companies and perspective consumers.

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