Prod512 Logo 400pxI’ve written a lot about the Unique Selling Proposition over the years, mainly because it should always be the foundation of any commercial or promotional announcement. That’s the kind of ‘rule’ one should never break. If your USP is vague, or worse, non-existent, you will fail in your mission to sell anybody anything…ever. If you convince someone to buy a new car, but they DON’T buy it from your client, your client has wasted the cash spent and will likely never spend with you (or your station) again.

A quick refresher first: The USP is the ONE product, feature or service that your client has or does better than any competitor. Here’s a Venn diagram that might help you visualize:

USP Venn DiagramMost times, you will have to depend on the client for their USP. If they haven’t figured out what it is, coach them. To be sure, determining the perfect USP is a labor intensive task, something you are seldom able to do, especially for every client that walks through your door. To get it right, a lot of research is involved -- into the marketplace, competition and the client business itself. If the client has someone competent doing their marketing, they’ll be able to rattle it off immediately. If not, you can offer them a bit of guidance with a short list of USP categories.

To that end, I have come up with a list of 12 USP categories that will almost always fit what they know. Just remember, you can only use ONE. Never let them get away with spewing a list of things. Make them pick one. If they want to know why, explain that every single successful campaign, in the history of radio and television, had only one USP. There are no exceptions.

1. PRICE – This usually means the lowest price available for a product or service. It’s possibly the simplest of all USPs because people of all income levels LOVE to save money.

2. SAFETY – If your client can reasonably claim that their product or service is the safest one available, this one is a natural. Volvo spent years promoting the fact that their vehicles were rated the safest car on the road by Car & Driver and JD Powers. Donald Sutherland probably paid for his retirement 20 times over on their TV and Radio commercials, and all he ever talked about was how safe their cars were.

3. FOMO – Fear of missing out. Ad execs used to call this “keeping up with the Joneses.” The idea that everybody is getting it, or ALL the kids are doing it, are touchstones of this USP. Most kids (usually boys) of a certain age wanted a pair of Air Jordans at one point in recent history. Nike capitalized on that desire in all of their advertising, though it wasn’t always obvious. Of course, the BEST advertising is seldom obvious anyway.

4. SEX – Go to any major high-end car show and notice who presents the cars to the public: women. And not just any women. It is invariably one of the most beautiful women of the area, dressed for an ultra-chic night on the town, or sometimes less, if you know what I mean. Then look around and see who is in attendance. It’s almost exclusively men. Their libidos energize and they see themselves in the driver’s seat of said car, being chick magnets. Of course most of THOSE cars are muscle cars or sleek sport cars. The car company is using sex to sell their overpriced man-toys. The SAME car company will use a completely different approach in one of their showrooms featuring SUVs and sedans, because when it’s a couple shopping, it’s almost never the husband who makes the ultimate choice. It’s not sexist at all, it’s just the facts. The wife has the ultimate say in the end, so her needs and desires are catered to first, last and always. There they will likely use PRICE or SAFETY.

5. HEALTH – This is slightly different from the SAFETY USP in that it’s usually reserved for medical clients like Hospitals, Urgent Care Centers, Pharmacies and even doctors and dentists. This USP has unsurprisingly gotten quite the workout over the last couple of months. Sadly, though not a new word, the term Tele-Medicine has become much better known recently.

6. CONVENIENCE – How easy is it to use this product or service is the question here. It’s NOT about having 18 ‘convenient’ locations, a tag line I personally despise. Snack foods that you can microwave is one example. Another is diet programs that don’t just give you a menu but actual food; they are all about convenience in losing weight. As someone who has lost nearly 80 pounds over the last 3 years through minding calories and exercising, this has a lot of appeal. (I did it the hard way because I figured I’d be less likely to gain it all back if it was too easy.)

7. THRILL – If your client is running a bungee cord leap over the local gorge, this is probably a lock. A skydiving school or a motocross park will light this up pretty strongly. Pretty much anything that is somewhat dangerous to life and limb because that’s where the THRILL lives.

8. STYLE – A client who offers haute couture to women of means or women who want their friends to think they’re women of means, this USP is probably the “go to” choice. Cars hit this one a lot too. While Lincoln spends a lot of time in the LUXURY camp (see below), those sleek cars driving down a long stretch of dark highway are talking about STYLE every time.

9. FUN – Something most music-based radio formats call for, along with amusement parks and other entertainment venues like trampoline centers and indoor skydiving facilities. (Yeah, they might go for the THRILL USP, but you can only have one!) Don’t forget, there is “kid” fun and “adult” fun USPs. As long as it’s fun for someone, it works.

10. ROMANCE – Jewelers will fit in here, along with cozy restaurants and river cruises. Obviously, this one gets a lot of action around Valentine’s Day, and rightfully so. If soft lights and a quiet atmosphere dominate your spot, it’s the consumer’s clue that ROMANCE is in the offing.

11. LUXURY – When the customer’s outlet for a product or service is higher (sometimes MUCH higher) than the competition, this USP screams for attention. Most consumers are willing to spend a bit more if they think the experience will be dramatically better. Lexus means Toyota with a luxurious slant since it’s the same company, and their advertising demonstrates it perfectly. My local Lexus dealer is all over LUXURY, while local Toyota dealers are much more invested in the PRICE mantra.

12. MODERN – This USP works well for many tech companies, especially if it’s a service or product that’s been around for a long time, but the client takes a much more sophisticated application. One Dating Service might tout their AI approach to matchmaking over a panel of psychologists evaluating information for making perfect dating profiles. It’s a MODERN approach.

This list is NOT comprehensive, although I think it covers most USPs. Those clients who can rattle off their USP right up front usually have incorporated it into their printed material like letterhead, business cards and signage. That’s almost always a dead giveaway to what the USP should be. They’ve done the research. They LIVE their USP every day. However, if they have a phrase like that in all their materials, it might not be the best USP. If you look at that phrase and think, “that really doesn’t mean much to me as a consumer,” I would be willing to bet that it’s just some random thing that they think best describes their business and not the result of a smart marketing analyst. Just beware.

That brings me to the second point of this column that I have seen some commentary about from folks in the imaging business of late. Too many times we’ll fall victim to lunging after the low-hanging fruit and not really giving the whole USP thing enough thought. Our work ends up being trite, which is almost as bad as not having the right (or any) USP.

Trite: adjective(of a remark, opinion, or idea) overused and consequently has little import; lacking originality or freshness. SimilarHackneyed, banal, clichéd, platitudinous, vapid, commonplace.

Nearly everything that is created by artistic folks like us can be trite, including art, music, cinema, dance, speech, even food! (Watch just about any Gordon Ramsey cooking show for proof of that! He seems to find it everywhere.) Sadly, radio and television are NOT exceptions. As most of us were trapped at home over the last couple of months, we all saw and heard phrases like: These trying times…Now, more than ever…We're here for you…In today's difficult times…At Home Edition…Doing our part…Do your part…These uncertain times…Together, we can…We’re in this together…(sigh) ad nauseam.

Really? The best and brightest minds of our industry had a completely blank slate and they ALL came up with the same phrases? Again an again? That boggles the mind…oops, another tired old phrase.

OK…I should probably cut the copywriters a little slack. It’s not every day a pandemic strikes the world, so they ARE “unprecedented times” to bring up another seeming favorite, but why does it seem like everyone is cribbing notes off of everybody else’s homework? Plus, it’s really easy to be critical without offering solutions, so let me make a suggestion.

One of the problems with all this “difficult times” rhetoric is everybody is trying to take a sensitive approach using the HEALTH USP. It makes sense in a way, because people are/were scared about the possibility of death for themselves or loved ones from an unseen agent like a virus. Concern and sensitivity make absolute sense on the face of it. However, while all USPs can fall into one of the above categories, there’s nothing keeping you from initially using a different one from every other copywriter out there, even if it seems a little weird at first. Roll with me.

Instead of using HEALTH, consider THRILL. Getting the virus is pretty damned dangerous, so use a little reverse psychology and talk about how thrilling it could be to wander around without a mask. Clearly, you’ll have to bring it back around to being more sensible by the end, but it gets you away from all the clichés floating around. ROMANCE might work up front if you talk about having candlelight dinners, alone with your loved one. (Forget the fact that you want to scratch out his/her eyes after being cooped up together for weeks on end.) STYLE might work if you raise the idea of having your mask match your bikini. FOMO could work too as you talk about being the last person on your block to catch the virus.

OK, these are all a bit silly, but they will make the listener tune into your message, even if it’s because it is so outrageous. All I hope for here is that you don’t let the severity of the situation stop you from being creative. Outrageous works and is anything but trite.