This article provides examples of how a Unique Selling Proposition (USP) that IS MEANINGFUL, has created massive growth for companies.
These are real examples taken from real companies (some old, some new), whose USPs helped them achieve dominance in their markets.
In the spirit of full disclosure, we at Organic Growth are in the process of defining (or refining) our USP. We are using ideas and concepts that are described very well in two books, which deserve mention. Every entrepreneur should read them. Those two books are:
We also talk about concepts that came from elsewhere, but since we’re not sure where we picked them up, those ideas are presented without citation to the original source.
NOTE: When you click either of the links above, you notice they do not go to Amazon.com, but rather go to HalfPriceBooks.com. Why?
Half Price Books has a fantastic USP, that is represented by a pithy three word slogan that also happens to be their name: Half Price Books.
I buy all my books at Half Price Books unless they don’t have it, in which case I begrudgingly buy it somewhere else.
Now, back to why your USP matters.
In short, when you get your USP right, the market pulls you along.
You achieve what is called Product-Market Fit and you may find yourself having trouble keeping up with demand.
When you get this wrong, you’re just like every other company out there competing for attention and struggling to generate enough sales.
There are several examples below, some of which are dated and over the years have lost market dominance..
Bear in mind, no USP is effective forever. Markets change, companies change focus, etc. But a great USP gives a company a great run.
Examples of Great USPs
7-up: The Uncola
7-up is a CLASSIC example of what is called “against” positioning. They recognized the challenges of going head to head with an established class of product. In their case, the established class was “Colas”.
Their USP was the simple phrase “The Uncola” and I’m old enough to remember how well it worked.
Below is a TV commercial from the 1970s.
The Uncola campaign was rolled out in 1967. By 1972, 7-up was the 3rd largest selling soft drink behind Coca Cola and Pepsi.
In 1986 The Seven-Up Company was merged with the Dr Pepper Company.
In 1987 they abandoned “The Uncola” in favor of a newer and hopefully better one. Sales of 7-Up started a slow steady decline. In 1996 (after being sold to Cadbury Schweppes) they changed their slogan again.
The brand has never reclaimed the market share they enjoyed as The Uncola.
To summarize, after adopting “The Uncolas” as their USP, sales increased dramatically. After that USP ran its course, sales slowly slid. Today 7-Up claims less than 1% of soft drink sales.
Lesson to learn: When YOU don’t know who you are and who you’re for, why would anyone else?
Avis: We Try Harder
Avis was #2 in car rental sales behind Hertz since the inception of the company. In 1962, they decided to turn that disadvantage into their USP.
Their tagline became “When you’re only number 2, you try harder. Or else”.
Those ads were an instant hit. “We try harder” became almost universally recognized as the Avis slogan.
In one year, Avis went from losing $3.2 million to earning $1.2 million. From 1963 to 1966, the market share of Avis rose from 29% to 36% while during the same time, Hertz market share fell from 61% to 49%.
Where is Avis today? #3, with 2016 revenues of $5.6B, behind Enterprise (2016 revenues of $15.3B), and Hertz (2016 revenues of $6.1B).
How did this happen? Hertz and Avis thought of rental cars as something people picked up in airports. Enterprise saw a bigger picture. But…. for while, “We try harder” was synonymous with Avis.
Burger King: Have It Your Way
Don’t misunderstand, I’m not promoting the value of this food. While I’ve eaten too much Burger King in years past, I do no longer as it’s really not healthy.
Having said that “Have it your way” was a brilliant USP, which started in 1974 by the advise of their then ad agency.
Other fast food restaurants offered what was already cooked. If you wanted No Pickles, or No Mustard, you could get it. Then Burger King announced through those four pithy words, it would henceforth be it’s modus operandi, and burger fans responded.
After that USP was adopted in 1974, Burger King grew to the 2nd largest hamburger chain behind McDonalds.
Volkswagen is another example of positioning against a well established category. Volkswagens first came to America in 1949, and in that first year sold two (2) cars.
Volkswagen was selling small cars into a market where big luxury cars and powerful muscle cars were what the big 3 car makers were pushing, and what Americans were buying.
Volkswagen did not fit that model.
How does a company successfully compete head to head against an entrenched competitor, let alone three?
By creating a new category in which they can be the market leader. Through popular ads, Volkswagen defined the small car market.
A Volkswagen ad from that era is below. The Volkswagen was not just a small car, it was a car that used a small amount of gas, a small amount of oil, zero antifreeze, etc.
Volkswagen made small cars cool.
If you doubt the popularity of the Volkswagen during that time, bear in mind that the common name of the car was The Beetle, or The Bug. However, neither of those names was ever an official Volkswagen name. Within Volkswagen, that car was simply the Type 1.
In 1972 (Feb 17th to be precise) the Volkswagen Beetle surpassed the Ford Model T as the car model with the most units sold. Volkswagen held this position for 25 years before being dethroned by the Toyota Corolla.
Milk Duds? Really?
I can remember as a kid, going to the double feature at the Saturday matinee, and totally “falling for” the Milk Duds USP.
Bear in mind, the USP of a product has to speak to the prospect. The average Milk Dud buyer was (maybe still is) 10 years old, and had experience with various types of candy. Milk Dud kids were as sophisticated a buyer as exist in any market.
Milk Duds couldn’t compete head to head with candy bars, so they became The Longer Lasting Candy, perfect for movie theaters.
Which is exactly why we bought them.
My first exposure to Dyson vacuums was in the early to mid 1990s, when in a search result I saw the words “This product REALLY sucks!” in the description in the search result.
Even though that had nothing to do with what I was searching for, I clicked it, and was amused to discover it was a webpage about a vacuum cleaner.
Some years later I used one for the first time and was very impressed. I can now personally attest, that product really does suck.
The bagless vacuum cleaner that doesn’t lose suction.
Dyson is a great lesson in the importance of your USP not being hype. If your USP makes claims your product doesn’t deliver, it won’t do you much good.
In their early days, Amazon was “Earth’s’ Biggest Bookstore”. It was very convenient to search for a title, buy it, and have it show up a week or so later.
It was effective. The growth of Amazon has been nothing short of amazing, by any reasonable standard.
Amazon now is so big and so pervasive, they no longer get by with just one USP, but if I had to pick one, it would be “Convenience”.
I’ve known people who even order laundry detergent from Amazon.com because going to stores is less convenient.
What is Apple’s USP?
Exceptional User Experience
While other platforms have caught up (are catching up), Apple defined ease of use for computers and other electronic devices, and per some people, still do today.
As recently as 3 weeks ago, when I asked a group I was meeting with how to do something on my Windows 10 laptop, someone suggested I throw it away and buy a Mac.
As another personal example, years ago I picked up an Apple TV remote in order to select something to watch on the TV and said to my daughter “How do you operate a remote that has only one button”? After a truly impressive eye roll, she showed me. Very quickly I realized Apple got it right, and everyone else is still doing it wrong.
That one button (and the ring around it) allowed me to do EVERYTHING I needed to do.
Google is another very good example of “It Ain’t Bragging If You Can Do It”.
There are a variety of reasons why Google produced (and continues to produce) better search results (compared to other search engines), but they are beyond the scope of this article.
What is the Google USP? It’s their mission statement.
To Organize the World’s Information and Make it Universally Accessible and Useful
As someone who understands SEO, I ask you to focus on the word USEFUL.
As a user of Google, I might rephrase their USP to “Helps me find stuff”, and like many others who use the Internet every day, Google.com is generally my first stop online when I’m not sure where to find what I’m looking for.
You should now understand the power of a great USP.
The next step is to look at it from the perspective of what is called The Customer Factory.
Or, if you wish, jump straight to how you craft yours.