Criticism of USP – 5 reasons against and 10 alternatives

Ordinary Nadee
Ordinary Nadee

The Unique Selling Proposition (USP) tool was invented by Rosser Reeves, presumably in the 40s of the last century, and published in the book “Reality in Advertising” published in 1961. Where he formulated 3 main rules of USP:

  • Any advertisement must make an offer to the consumer.

  • The offer should be such that competitors either cannot give, or simply do not put forward.

  • Each proposal should be strong enough to set in motion millions of people, that is, attract more and more consumers to consume your product.

And in Runet this tool was popularized by “Business Youth”. After them, everyone began to sing the odes of the USP – how wonderful this instrument is. Now almost everyone is proposing to start creating a business with the formation of a USP. Packing – USP. Any advertisement is USP. And for many, USP is the God of advertising and the King of marketing. Many marketing professionals pray to him, most new marketers and, unfortunately, everyone who starts their own business.

Today I want to dispel the halo of beauty … USP is just a tool … in some situations it can work well, in some it is excellent, but in others it is simply not useful. USP is like a hammer, they are great at hammering nails, good at straightening bends, but they cannot tighten the screw … and you definitely should not rely on one hammer when building a house.

Reason 1: The USP was invented by a copywriter in the early days of TV commercials

Rosser Reeves worked at a time when there was no such competition either in business, or in marketing, or, even more so, in advertising. And he was mainly engaged in television advertising, where even now there is no such competition as on the Internet, and during the formation of the market. Both then and now, oligopoly corporations predominate on TV, with only a few competitors. Strategies and tactics for oligopoly corporations are not suitable for micro and small businesses with thousands of competitors.

The best USP of Reeves is considered – “Melts in the mouth, not in the hands” for M & M’s – chocolate coated caramel … And lo and behold, here Reeves breaks all the rules.

  • He does not make any offer here, he only hints that it bothers consumers that they have sweets in their hands. But if you think about it, then who can melt in the hands of such small pills? After all, eat them right away …

  • Not unique. How many candies do you think are concealed in your hands? Answer: only chocolate! Caramel does not melt at the temperature of a human body, but it dissolves in water, therefore, in saliva, which means they will “melt” in wet hands.

  • I also do not see in this USP a force that sets in motion millions of people. Although this USP is known to many millions, it is not a fact because it is strong. If we assume that there would be another candy, not very tasty, would this USP work? Or if M & M’s didn’t spend millions of dollars to popularize this USP, would we know it now?

Consequently, in his best work, Reeves himself did not follow his own convictions.

I also want to note that even now, TV advertising does not have high-quality analytics of the effectiveness of advertising campaigns, let alone the middle of the last century, when there were no tools at all except a survey (often interested by interested parties) and their own subjective opinion. Then the advertiser could see at most some success.

Reeves ended his career 6 years after the release of his book, according to colleagues because people did not notice his advertisements. Although he himself claimed that he dreamed of retirement at 55, when he left, he immediately took up other work – he began to write advertising articles, where he had no success. Business Molodist also changed shoes after 6 years of USP trainings, and finally began to use the offer concept.

Reason 2: Great Internet Competition

Now, in the era of online advertising, many more companies have access to advertising – hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands of companies compete in many industries. And, in my opinion, in the field of such competition, it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to try to be unique.

Whichever USP you come up with, if there is a huge chance that someone is also using this USP, therefore, you are no longer unique.

And in the desire to be unique with your TP, you can choose far from the best offer on the market. Which, therefore, will greatly reduce your competitiveness.

Let’s imagine that your best friend wants to open a coffee shop … You study the market together and see that there is already someone offering: the most delicious coffee; the fastest service; with delivery; draw on cups; give gifts, etc.

What advice would you give him? There are only 2 options: either to become unique for your small niche, or to become better than competitors.

Reason 3: Your Consumer May Not Need A Unique Offer

Each product has several criteria by which it is purchased. There are not hundreds of them, but only a few: solution of needs, price, packaging, speed, quality, image, novelty, attractiveness, etc.

And it is according to these criteria that the consumer chooses a performance, and in 100% of cases uniqueness is not in the first place, and in many cases uniqueness does not play any role in the choice.

For example: walk around your home, office or look in front of you on the table, think about which of the products you have purchased have unique properties and which you have acquired for these unique properties. How many products can you count? One? Two? Ten? – Out of hundreds.

Reason 4: Not every business benefits from a unique offer

To come up with and introduce uniqueness into your product does not guarantee that sales will increase, but it does guarantee additional costs.

Although in some cases the uniqueness can justify the added value, but with inelastic demand, you risk losing a significant part of your customers.

Let’s say a grocery store decides to introduce 24/7 delivery as its uniqueness in the area, but how many people actually order groceries at night? Undoubtedly, there will be such, but will they pay off the additional costs. Although, perhaps, such a USP will increase the loyalty of daytime buyers.

Reason 5: You Can’t Think of Many USPs

It is almost impossible to predict the effectiveness of advertising, therefore, having come up with one or two USPs, you can fly by … Or you can come up with a fairly good USP, but far from the best offer. It will be much more effective to put forward several hypotheses, test them and choose the best.

A Few Tips

  • When studying any marketing tool, include critical thinking – criticize everything you can, because otherwise you will lose money.

  • It is best to introduce uniqueness during the initial planning of creating a business, after the search can turn out to be a failure.

  • Choosing one USP does not guarantee success – check dozens of different offers.

  • USP is a powerful tool, but mainly for products that are easy to change without introducing additional costs – many services and digital goods.

  • Be prepared from the outset that any of your success can be copied – don’t rely only on uniqueness!

10 alternatives to USP:

  1. Offer

  2. Proposed

  3. Positioning

  4. Value proposition

  5. Rational proposal

  6. Emotional proposal

  7. Targeted offer

  8. Brand offer

  9. Feature proposal

And the best alternative is the Matching Offer

Thanks for reading! If you still have questions, feel free to comment, or vote like (or dislike if you don’t like it)! If I get 50 likes, I’ll go into more detail about the alternatives and how to build sentences.

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