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Stop worrying about your brand’s USPs

How many times have you heard this question (or read it in a brief template)…

“What is your brand’s unique selling point?”

I’d guess that like me, you’ve probably heard or read it hundreds, if not thousands of times.

It’s a standard question, right? A marketing agency needs to know what makes your brand and product different to the competition so they can help position your brand correctly and create effective communication.

I’ve also witnessed marketers seriously struggle to answer it in a meaningful way. They might be able offer a marginal product difference like ‘our toilet paper is thicker than the competition’ or ‘our olive oil is cold pressed’ but the reality is that these differences won’t mean much to most people.

Recently I was speaking to a client who admitted that their products were basically identical to the competition and were made in the same factory. They were concerned that there was no way for their brand to stand out.

This is the point where I can let you in on a secret.

If you don’t have a USP…it doesn’t matter. If your product is almost the same as the competition, it’s OK.

If you have got a true, meaningful product USP then that’s fantastic. Use it. However, in reality, very few brands do.

sainsburys ad brand usps

Don’t believe me? Try this; what are the significant practical differences between these very successful brands’ products?

  • Audi and BMW
  • HSBC and NatWest
  • Ariel and Persil
  • Tesco and Sainsbury’s
  • Stella Artois and Budweiser

Give up? Me too. There aren’t really any differences between their products.

What’s really important in building a successful brand i.e. one that generates profit over many years isn’t a unique product. It’s to be thought of first, by as many people, in as many buying occasions as possible.

To achieve this, you do need a good product that reliably satisfies people’s needs. If you let people down they won’t come back. But, to get people to choose you in the first place and remember which brand they bought, you need to be highly distinctive and to communicate a relevant and consistent story to your audience over time.

For those brands that do have a genuine product USP, there’s a note of caution to sound. Focusing too much on your USP can be a problem for the future.

Product USPs can be copied, or bettered. Take Marmite. It seems unique as a product, until you remember that supermarket own-label yeast extract is available. Dyson vacuum cleaners had unique bagless, cyclone technology when they first came out. Then all the competition came up with their own versions.

hard breakfast? soft breakfast? no breakfast? marmite ad brand usps

Thankfully for these two brands, they don’t actually rely on the uniqueness of their products. The Marmite brand is funny and a bit subversive, so it sticks in your memory and its packaging stands out a mile away in a supermarket. For people looking for a savoury option for toast it’s the first thing that comes to mind.

Dyson is a brand which does promise innovative products. What has made it aspirational however, and therefore kept it successful, is as much the aesthetic design and cool names, such as AirBlade, as the function of the products.

If you are still not convinced, then the truest test for the relative unimportance of USPs is to put yourself in the mind of a shopper. Whether in a supermarket or online retailer. Do they spend time weighing up the pros and cons of different brands and products based on the functional differences between them? Or do they look for the packaging of a brand they can easily recognise that they are 90% confident will do the job?

About the author:

Ed Steele is a Senior Strategist at CreativeRace. Alongside developing client strategy, his broad experience across 13+ years in marketing includes brand management, retail marketing and insight & effectiveness roles. Ed has worked on brands including Asda, Co op, Greggs, Anchor and Cravendale.

If you’d like to have a chat to about your brand and how to win with or without USPs then get in touch.