USPs, UPBs and why unique doesn’t always mean unique

Volvo logo

I needed to explain the concept of the Unique Selling Proposition to a PR colleague last week. It’s easy to find yourself getting sucked into sticky waters on that one.

One challenge I faced is that I buy wholesale into Nick Robinson’s assertion that the term Unique Selling Proposition is so inwardly focused one can easily build a marketing strategy around something undoubtedly unique but of no relevance to your target market. As far as I am aware I am the only chartered marketer who can cure a phobia in 45 minutes but I’m not sure that’s much use to my target market.

Robinson, who set up and ran the Marketing Guild when it was very good indeed, proposed instead the Unique Perceived Benefit – ie that specific, measurable difference in your product or service which is truly valued by your target market. It’s this sort of subtle but essential shift in perception that makes Robinson unique.

At this stage my colleague started glazing over but I pressed on. Pausing briefly to paraphrase an old Alan Partridge sketch (“One either is or is not unique, there are no gradations of uniqueness”) I attempted to illustrate that a USP or UPB does not actually have to be unique, merely uniquely claimed. Volvo is a classic example. Although statistics do not support the assertion that Volvo is the safest car on the road, in the late 80s and 90s it was a position that Volvo very successfully claimed.

“What would you say is the safest car on the road?” I asked my colleague, ready to make my point and deliver my words of wisdom.

“Honda?” she replied.

When did that happen?