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3 Attributes of a Unique Selling Proposition

The USP (Unique Selling Proposition) first appeared in Rosser Reeves’ classic book Reality in Advertising, published in 1961. Because the book has been out of print for some time, few salespeople who are now actively working have had the chance to read his original description of Unique Selling Propositions and how to create a powerful one.

In his book, Reeves said that there are three primary requirements for crafting a strong USP:

It contains a benefit. A strong USP will have a benefit statement included. In some cases, the entire USP may be a benefit statement. Your Unique Selling Proposition should come right out and tell prospects what they will get in return for buying your product.

It must be unique. Since the word ‘unique’ is built right into the name, hopefully this isn’t a surprise. A USP doesn’t have to be unique in the entire universe of products for sale on Earth, but at the very least it should be unique for your industry. After all, the whole reason for possessing a USP is that it sets you apart from the competition, so if your USP’s benefit is the same as theirs you’re pretty much wasting your time.

It must matter to prospects. The built-in benefit must be something powerful enough that it can inspire prospects to change from your competitors’ products to yours. If your USP is something that no one cares about, it won’t exactly help you generate sales.

The easiest way to come up with a USP that meets all of Reeves’ requirements is to use a feature that your product has and your competitors don’t. Using this approach, all you need to do is craft an appropriate benefit phrase based on that feature, turn it into a catchy slogan, and you’re done. However, having a unique feature is not really a requirement for having a USP.

If your product doesn’t have something unique, you can instead choose to base your USP on a feature that your competitors have failed to use in their own advertising. For example, let’s say that you are a widget manufacturer and you are in competition with six other manufacturers who make widgets that are practically identical to yours. All of the widgets made by you and by your competitors have a coating to protect them from rust, but your competitors have never mentioned this in their marketing materials. In that case, you can create a USP based around that feature, perhaps using a benefit like ‘low-maintenance’ or ‘saves money.’ It doesn’t matter that all the products in your industry share this feature — once you’ve started using this USP, you’ve staked the claim on the feature and if your competitors bring it up in their own marketing materials it’ll just sound like they’re copying you.

Other ideas for USPs include manufacturing practices such as safety requirements or environmental precautions; warranties and maintenance deals; and special financing plans. Any feature that might create a benefit that sounds appealing to your customers is fair game. Of course, the bigger the benefit you can offer, the easier it will be to come up with a strong USP.

Once you have your USP, use it anywhere and everywhere that you can think of. That means putting your USP not only on your brochures or on your website, but also your business cards, your email signature line, your pens, your stationery, freemiums that your company gives away, etc. The more you use your USP, the more you will own that particular benefit in your customers’ minds.

About the author

My first sales position was a summer job selling vacuum cleaners door-to-door. I continued through a variety of sales jobs ranging from retail sales for a storage company to selling bank products for a Fortune 500 financial institution.

As a small business owner, I now focuses on selling for my own company, Tailored Content, a website content provider. I write on a wide range of topics but my primary focus is sales and how to sell effectively.