Direct Marketing Article
3 Steps to a Winning USP
By Bob Bly
In 1961, Rosser Reeves published his classic book Reality in Advertising in
which he introduced the notion of the Unique Selling Proposition, or USP.
Today the book is out of print and difficult to get. As a result, most
practicing direct marketers don't know the original definition of a USP.
Their lack of knowledge often produces USPs that are weak and ineffective.
According to Reeves, there are three requirements for a USP (and I am
quoting from Reality in Advertising directly):
1. Each advertisement must make a proposition to the consumer. Each must
say, "Buy this product, and you will get this specific benefit."
Your headline must contain a benefit - a promise to the reader.
2. The proposition must be one that the competition either cannot, or does
Here's where the "unique" in Unique Selling Proposition comes in. It is not
enough merely to offer a benefit. You must also differentiate your product.
3. The proposition must be so strong that it can move the mass millions,
i.e., pull over new customers to your product.
The differentiation cannot be trivial. It must be a difference that is very
important to the reader.
In general advertising for packaged goods, marketers achieve differentiation
by building a strong brand at a cost of millions or even billions of
dollars. Coca Cola has an advantage because of its brand. If you want a
cola, you can get it from a dozen soda makers. But if you want a Coke, you
can only get it from Coca Cola. Intel has achieved a similar brand
dominance, at an extraordinary cost, with its Pentium line of
Most direct marketers are too small, and have too strong a need to generate
an immediate positive ROI from their marketing, to engage in this kind of
expensive brand building. So we use other means to achieve the
differentiation in our USP. One popular method is to differentiate your
product or service from the competition based on a feature that your product
or service has and they don't. The easiest situation in which to create a
strong USP is when your product has a unique feature - one that competitor's
lack – that delivers a strong benefit. This must be an advantage the
customer really cares about. Not one that, though a difference, is trivial.
But what if such a proprietary advantage does not exist? What if your
product is basically the same as the competition, with no special features?
Reeves has the answer here too. He said the uniqueness can either stem from
a strong brand (already discussed as an option 95% of marketers can't use)
or from "a claim not otherwise made in that particular form of advertising"
- that is, other products may have this feature too, but advertisers haven't
told consumers about it.
An example from packaged goods advertising: "M&Ms melt in your mouth, not in
your hand." Once M&M established this claim as their USP, what could the
competition do? Run an ad that said, "We also melt in your mouth, not in
One more point: As direct marketers, we - unlike most general advertisers
today - are compelled to create advertising that generates net revenues in
excess of its cost.
Reeves believed all advertising had to do this. He defined advertising as
"the art of getting a USP into the heads of the most people at the lowest
About the Author:
BOB BLY is an independent copywriter and consultant with more than 25 years
of experience in business-to-business, high-tech, industrial, and direct
marketing. He has written copy for over 100 clients including Network
Solutions, ITT Fluid Technology, Medical Economics, Intuit, Business & Legal
Reports, and Brooklyn Union Gas...and has won numerous industry awards. Bob
is the author of more than 70 books including The Complete Idiot’s Guide to
Direct Marketing (Alpha Books) and The Copywriter’s Handbook (Henry Holt &