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The Unique Selling Proposition

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Benefits and Features
Features are the attributes, properties, or characteristics of your product or service.  Benefits, on the other hand, are what you can do, what you can have, or what you can be because of those features. 

People buy benefits–not features.  This is one of the most important lessons you can learn in writing copy. 

For example, people don’t buy a power drill for its impressive specs; rather, they buy the holes that the power drill makes.

When writing copy that sells, therefore, you want to keep your eye firmly on the benefits.  The best way to distinguish benefits from features is with the following exercise: 

Begin by stating the feature.  Then follow it up with the sentence, “What that means to you is . . .” or the phrase which means that you can. . . . ”

Feature:  Intel’s new microprocessor for mobile PCs has a speed of 2 gigahertz.

Benefit:  which means that you can play online games wherever you go

Feature:  The Mobile Intel Pentium 4 Processor-M laptop is a 2–GHz system.

Benefit:  what that means to you is, you can take it with you on your summer vacations and road trips so you can listen to MP3 music files, entertain the kids with DVD movies, store your digital photographs, and stay connected with family and friends via e-mail.

One of the cornerstones of writing sales-pulling copy is the unique selling proposition (USP), the thing that sets you, your product/service, or your business apart from every other competitor in a favorable way.  It’s the competitive advantage that you proclaim to your prospects, customers, or clients.

Three of the best-known USPs are these:

Avis Rent A Car:  “We’re number two.  We try harder.”

FedEx:  “When it absolutely, positively has to get there overnight.”

Domino’s Pizza:  “Fresh, hot pizza in 30 minutes or less.”

More than just slogans, these USPs convey the idea that no other company, product, or service compares with theirs.

Amazon.com proclaims itself “Earth’s Biggest Bookstore,” a claim that has been accepted without question by the media, both online and offline. 

Its USP implies that it has the best selection of books; in essence, “if you can’t find it here, you can’t find it anywhere,” thereby distinguishing Amazon from all other bookstores. 

Although Amazon.com is indeed the largest online-only bookstore in the world, Barnes & Noble is “the world’s largest bookseller,” if you include both on-and offline markets.  Amazon.com has managed to blur that distinction by achieving top-of-mind positioning with its USP.

A USP positions your offering as being different from, and consequently more valuable than, your competitors’ offering. 

It distinguishes your product or service from everyone else’s, and in a world that’s flooded with products and services of every kind, creating a strong USP is absolutely imperative. 

It gives your reader a specific and compelling reason to buy from you instead of your competitors. 

It not only establishes the direction of copywriting, but is the undercurrent of all marketing efforts as well.

There are online companies whose USP is clearly conveyed by their domain name.  Lowestfare.com (which claims to provide the lowest airfares in the air travel industry) and Internet-AudioMadeEasy.com (which claims to enable people to easily add streaming audio to their websites) are examples of these. 

One way to develop a USP is by starting with the words, “Unlike most of its competitors . . . .” then filling in the blanks about what differentiates you or your product offering from those of others. 

For example, Unlike most other fat-burning products, ABC Product makes you lose up to 5 pounds of pure body fat per week–without the use of stimulants that may be harmful to your health. 

Another way to develop a USP is to highlight a feature or benefit that only your product or service contains or features.

Serious Magic, a software company, sells a product called Visual Communicator.  Its USP is that it enables people with no technical experience to create with ease–in minutes and with out any video editing–video presentations for websites, DVDs and PowerPoint that have the professional look of a TV newscast. 

The specificity of the USP (“people with no technical experience,” “professional look of a TV newscast in minutes,” and “without any video editing”) is compelling and serves to differentiate the product from other programs offering video creation capabilities.

The possibilities for crafting a USP are endless.  The key is to adopt a USP that fills a void in the marketplace that you or your product can genuinely fill.  Remember, too, that a USP can even be used as a headline or as an underlying theme or branding mechanism for all copywriting.

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