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February 9, 2010

Obama, Giant Lollipops and Unique Selling Propositions

If you’ve been involved in sales and/or marketing for any length of time, you’ve probably heard the term “Unique Selling Proposition.” But just in case you haven’t, let me explain what a USP is.

A Unique Selling Proposition is what makes a business unique and/or different from all other businesses in its category. For example, the USP for a high-end restaurant, might include the exclusive clientele it serves, a specialized menu, white glove service, as well as other exclusive amenities.

Two Classic Unique Selling Propositions

To further illustrate what I’m talking about, following are two examples of the most famous and successful USP’s in the history of advertising:

You get fresh, hot pizza delivered to your door in 30 minutes or less – or it’s free.

That USP allowed Domino’s Pizza to take over and dominate the pizza delivery market. And it clearly differentiates Domino’s from its many competitors.

Here’s Another Classic

When your package absolutely, positively has to get there overnight.

When they developed that USP, almost overnight, Federal Express (FedEx) became the dominant force in the overnight delivery industry. How dominant? It’s safe to say, the term “fedex” has permanent residence in the American business lexicon.

So, why is having a USP so important? Because with tens of millions of websites on the Internet all vying for attention, and thousands more signing on by the minute, if your business is the same as everyone else’s in your field, you might as well be invisible.

And if you don’t differentiate your business from the rest of the pack, I can almost guarantee, you will be invisible.

Giant Lollipops

Allow me to tell you a true story. When I was a child, I remember my mother taking me to the new doctor in town, Dr. Vosburgh to get some type of childhood vaccine. I was petrified. Like most kids, I hated needles. And each time the doctor tried to vaccinate me I’d pull away.

After failed multiple attempts to vaccinate me, the frustrated doctor said, “If you sit still while I vaccinate you, I’ll give you a lollipop, afterwards.”

“I’ve got lollipops at home,” I defiantly replied. “Not like mine,” the doctor responded teasingly. He then reached into his desk drawer, and pulled out the biggest lollipop I’d ever seen in my life. I’m not kidding.

That lollipop was so big and round, it could have easily covered up my entire face. It was a giant white lollipop, flat like a pancake, and it had a rainbow of different colors swirling all through the middle. Needless to say, I let the good doctor stick that needle in my arm.

Anyway, that new doctor quickly became the most popular doctor in town. All the kids liked him. And for some strange reason, I didn’t mind getting vaccinated anymore after that.
I was too young to realize it at the time, but that doctor had a Unique Selling Proposition – giant rainbow lollipops. And they worked like a charm!

Barack Obama’s USP

Here’s a more recent example of the importance of a USP. Before he was elected the 44th president of the United States, then candidate Barack Obama wisely positioned himself as the candidate of “change.” He captivated the nation with three little words, “Yes, We Can!”

Whenever he appeared on the campaign trail, huge crowds repeatedly chanted “Yes, We Can!” Hip-Hop producer and founding member of the popular singing group Black Eyed Peas, even created a viral video around the phrase. Needless to say, it was absolute smash hit online!

That catch phrase not only caught on like wildfire in America, people around the world soon began chanting “Yes We Can!” That catch phrase, along with his message of hope and change was Obama’s USP. That’s what made him different.

Obviously, he had other important qualities as well. I mean, you don’t get elected president of the United States simply because of a catch phrase.

That being said, you could reasonably argue that without that simple catch phrase, Obama might not have gotten the attention of millions of Americans. And as a consequence might never have been elected president.

And here’s an interesting bit of irony: Reportedly, Obama hated the “Yes, We Can” phrase when it was first presented to him by his campaign manager, David Axelrod. Obama thought the phrase was corny.

However, instinctively savvy Michelle Obama told her husband the phrase would work. Obama eventually gave in, and the rest as they say is history. Such is the importance of having a Unique Selling Proposition – and an instinctively savvy wife!

Unique Selling Proposition Defined

This is what brilliant advertising executive, Rosser Reeves wrote in his book, Reality in Advertising:

“Each advertisement must make a proposition to the consumer. Not just words, not just product puffery, not just show-window advertising. Each advertisement must say to each reader: “Buy this product and you will get this specific benefit.”

The proposition must be one that the competition either cannot, or does not, offer. It must be unique – either a uniqueness of the brand or a claim not otherwise made in that particular field of advertising.”

That’s an accurate and profound observation. However, it’s not enough to just have a USP. You have to flaunt it. You have to constantly remind people what makes your company unique. You have to tell them over and over again everyday – until they get it. And when they do get it, you have to tell them some more.

You Have to Flaunt Your Uniqueness

Unfortunately, many businesses don’t communicate effectively enough how they’re different from the competition. They expect consumers to just know that they’re different. And as a result, consumers assume that your business is just like every other business in your field.

You see, unless you tell them differently, consumers generally perceive one lawyer to just like the next, one mechanic to be like the next, and one plumber to be like the next. And if you haven’t told them otherwise, why wouldn’t they? Indeed, why shouldn’t they?

By demonstrating how you’re different on a consistent basis, the value of your business will rise in the eyes of your target audience. And when your business value rises, so too will your profits. The two go hand in hand.

By the way, a Unique Selling Proposition doesn’t have to be an material object like a giant lollipop, or a sequence of words like a catch phrase. A USP can be virtually anything that makes your business unique and interesting.

Another Effective USP

For example, a friend of mine, who is a website designer has a very interesting and gutsy USP. Before meeting with prospects for the first time, he builds actual turnkey websites with the prospects company colors, logo and even some basic content. These websites often take up to a week to build.

But here’s the kicker… his prospects don’t even know that he does this. The completed-in-advance websites are a complete surprise to them, when they actually meet. So, in essence, my friend is taking a huge gamble, using his valuable time building websites without so much as a small deposit.

When I asked him why he invested so much sweat equity into building websites for free, he told me that since he started using this technique, his prospects are so impressed with his designs and initiative, over 70% of them end up purchasing the websites on the spot – over 70%!

That’s some closing ratio! He said his conversion ratio is twice as high as it was before he started building websites in advance. I guess you can’t argue with success.

So there you have it – the importance of having a Unique Selling Proposition. So if you haven’t done so already, get to work on developing an effective USP for your business. I’m not promising it will get you elected president of the United States…but hey, you never know!

About the author:

David Jackson is a writer, marketing consultant and entrepreneur. Which online services can you trust? Find out here: