What the heck is a unique selling point?

Everyone that studies or knows marketing would have heard this term – Unique Selling Point or Proposition (USP). We were taught that finding your USP is the first step before any efforts to sell your product. I had been telling my team the same. We need to understand our USP before doing anything else. Until recently, it just occurs to me that it’s really hard to find a true USP. Hence the question, does USP really exist (at least in today’s world)? 

What is a Unique Selling Point?

Let go back to the basic, shall we? What is USP? In the simplest term, USP is a unique attribute of your product that no one else has. According to Entrepreneur Asia Pacific, USP is…

The factor or consideration presented by a seller as the reason that one product or service is different from and better than that of the competition.”

I used to work in a hospitality company. The company has a portfolio of hotels and restaurants. Part of my role was to market those products. As it turned out, I really struggled to find the USPs for those hotels. As a result, we had to use many discount promotions, similar to everyone else in the market. 

Here is a quick way to evaluate if you truly have a USP. Simply ask this question – do I have to offer discounts more than 4 times a year? That’s once a quarter. If you do, you are in the same boat as many people. 

Does a Unique Selling Point really exist?

Well, as I struggled to find the USP for my former company. I asked myself this very question – does USP really exist? OK, just look at smartphones. Can you really see the differences between iPhones and Samsung Gallaxy? A lot of people, myself included, like Apple’s products. However, Apple doesn’t offer the best physical products in the market. From a product perspective, both brands are very similar. However, there is something that sets Apple apart. And, that is what this post is about. 

So, to answer my own question, a singular USP does not exist or is very hard to find. What I mean by a singular is that it is super hard to identify one single factor that makes a product truly different from its competitor.  

I am not the only one that questions the existence of the USP. [arlie] PEYTON wrote this article questioning the same. To take it further, Debbie Jenkins pointed out the below in her article:

“Finding your USP can be like the quest for the proverbial Holy Grail. You could end up spending inordinate amounts of money on research, product/service development and branding without ever really attaining a true USP. The quest to find ‘unique’ when ‘relevant,’ ‘outstanding’ and ‘decisive’ are just as good can be frustrating and wasteful.”

I know you are inclined to believe me now. Not so fast. I haven’t done my job yet. What I suggested so far is that a singular USP (my concept) doesn’t exist. I then need to propose something better and helpful. 

Spoiler alert! I am going to incorporate a strategic management concept in a quest to find a better way to explain about the USP. I took 2 concepts from Richard Rumelt’s book – Good Strategy Bad Strategy: The Difference and Why It Matters, namely strategic advantage and design of coordinated action.

Are you still with me so far? 

Ways to add value to product or service
Ways to Add Value to Product or Service

Strategic advantages

The advantage is rooted in differences, which is what this post is about. How can a company identify asymmetries in the market that can be turned into important advantages? No one has an advantage at everything. Some companies could excel in customer service. Others could excel in collecting and using customer data. The critical point is you must press where you have advantages and avoid the area that you do not. 

As I mentioned earlier, the advantage can hardly come from only one activity. When you search for the company’s advantage, it won’t come from one source. The advantage likely comes from a system that has multiple activities knitted together. 

Design of coordinated actions

What if I tell you a strategist is a designer, would you believe me? Think about it, every business encounters different and complex problems. You cannot expect that one action could solve everything. More often than not, your response to any challenge is most likely to be a combination of multiple actions. A good strategy coordinates policies across activities to focus the competitive response

Take a look at Walmart. They have a complex, tightly integrated system from sourcing resources to delivering goods and services to customers. A new company cannot merely copy some parts of the Walmart system and expect to deliver the same results. This is because Walmart designed the system with multiple parts that work together. If a newcomer wants to copy Walmart, they would have to copy the whole system – which is not possible.  

Good strategy is design, and design is about fitting various pieces together so they work as a coherent whole.”

OK, I am ready to introduce a new explanation of the USP. Com’on in. 

Introduce a new explanation – Unique Value Offering

I came up with a new, same-same-but-different term to explain how USP should work. It’s about delivering value to customers. And, by value, I mean it’s a total sum of your offering. For example, when a customer buys something from you, she gets a total sum of value that incorporates everything from the first contact on the website to after she receives the product. I called it “Unique Value Offering or UVO“. What you are looking to find from your business is a total sum of a uniqueness that only your business can offer. If someone wants to copy it, he has to take over your company because copying only part of your system would be meaningless.  

Unique Selling Point
Value Proposition vs Unique Selling Point (USP)

I will break UVO down into 3 main components. 

Product Features

We need to be on the same page first that the idea is not to promote product features. People don’t buy into the features. And it’s the old way of doing marketing. However, you need to understand how you can offer product features as a solution. Your product must have something sellable. If you sell mattresses, you have to look into the foam in the mattresses to determine if the foam has an advantage that can be used as a solution.   

Product Benefits

Once you identify that your product does have a feature that could change someone’s life, you have to spell it out as product benefits. The product benefits are the thing you make a big deal of in your marketing. In the mattress example above, you are not selling mattresses. Instead, you are selling a solution to help solve insomnia. When you do content creation, you may touch on insomnia as an issue. You can go even further to explore what it means by having insomnia e.g., memory loss, insecurity, etc. 

Emotional Connection

You must have heard a famous quote from Maya Angelou:

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Making people feel is a core idea behind a successful brand building. What you have to do is to understand your customer’s problems. According to Donald Miller, there are 3 types of customer’s problems:

  • External problem: It is a physical problem that customers have, and companies try to solve. If you own a restaurant, the external problem you solve is hunger. 
  • Internal problem: The mistake most companies make is they try to solve customer’s external problems. However, customers buy solutions to their internal problems. Ask yourself this question – what frustrations do your product resolve? Take Apple as an example. They don’t sell phones and computers. They sell tools that help their customers become a better version of themselves.  
  • Philosophical problem: People want to be involved in a story that is larger than themselves. You can win your customer’s heart if you could give customers a voice in a larger narrative, giving them a deeper sense of meaning. 

The above three components can be used to design your UVO. It’s a better way to build brands. It’s also difficult for someone to copy it because it is a total sum of your greatness.


Strategy in Bytes helps businesses create differentiation marketing strategies to  drive growth and increase profitability.

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