The Death Of The USP (And What Is Replacing It)

Just off the coast of Cancun, Mexico sunk deep beneath the water sits a man, perfectly still, watching television with a plate of burger and fries on his knee.

Sculpted from coral-friendly pH-neutral marine concrete, the idea of underwater sculptures that encourage habitation and growth of corals and marine life is certainly unique.

Unsurprisingly, the sculptor Jascon deCaires Taylor has attracted a lot of attention and success from his “unique selling point”

Except that his unique selling point isn’t really unique, it’s simply a combination of less unique  things including:

  • Sculpture
  • Diving
  • Set design
  • Photography
  • Conservation

And it relies on one other thing an end-user (customer) interest in environmental awareness and protection.

Goodbye Product Revolution

One of the biggest marketing instructions you’ll ever hear is:

Define Your Unique Selling Proposition

But if you’re a web design company, photographer, life coach or marketing consultant it can be difficult to figure out how  you’re “unique” compared to all those other people offering the same services as you.

Product revolution isn’t as common place as it used to be. Today we see incremental change rather than “overnight” landscape-changing inventions like television or even a one all-purpose flour (little reference for you Bluegrass fans out there).

As a result, finding a USP is incredibly diffictult.

But that’s not the only challenge.

Sometimes, having a USP can kill sales.

How The USP Killed White Whisky Sales

If you’re struggling to come up with your own “underwater” sculpture concept to blow everyone out of the water, you could find yourself in danger of forcing yourself to create some obscure USP just to “stand out”.

But just because no-one else is doing it, doesn’t mean you should.

In 1971, Brown-Forman Distillers launched the first ever “white whisky” called “Frost 8/80”

No-one else was doing this. It was unique. The company enjoyed much back-slapping over the concept and competitors were worried.

It bombed.


Because there was no desire from the customers for it.

To the consumer, it wasn’t even “unique” (they already had a number of clear spirits such as vodka or gin that happily suited their needs).

The USP alone just wasn’t enough.

So how do you create a unique position that does appeal to your customers?

Well, first you need to understand…

Customers Do Not Buy A USP

Customers don’t buy just because something is different.

They buy because of the story surrounding it.

In 1970, the U.S Postal Service launched the “Mailgram.”   The first electronic mail which allowed you to call a number, transcribe a message and have it delivered to a post-office near your recipient the next day.

It was a unique service, but again, being unique wasn’t enough.  to market the product, they decided to create content that told a unique story to customer.

Over 13 weeks, they tested 2 unique story angles positioning Mailgram as:

  • The High-Speed Letter
  • The Low-Cost Telegram

In short, the “Low-Cost Telegram” story outperformed the “High-Speed Letter” story in sales.

Same product.

Two different stories.

The story matters

The Unique STORY Proposition

Did you know that there are only 7 basic story structures that exist in the world?

Yet consider how many millions of films, books, plays and creative narratives have been made. Think how many vivid memories of different individual stories you hold in your head.

They all appear distinct and yet lay on top of a framework of just a handful of basic plots.

And this is the secret to standing out.

You don’t have to do things differently, you just have to communicate them differently.

Finding Your Unique Story Proposition

One mistake personality entrepreneurs make is because individually, we’re all unique, if we just “be ourselves” we’ll attract the right customers.

That’s not enough.

Your USP can’t come from you alone because you have to be telling a story people want to listen to.

To create your unique story you need to base it on:

  • Something your customer is interested in
  • Something you’re interested in

Let’s take spooky sea sculptor Jason deCaires Taylor.

There’s nothing he loves more than creating a statue, and sinking it to help the eco-systems. And fortunately for him, the government funding the work, loves helping the ecosystem and having something unusual that attracts tourist attention.

For Jason, this is a unique story that works.

But how do you come up with yours?

Get out a pen and paper my friend because we are going to brainstorm the heck out of this…

Step One: What Matters To Your Customer?

To appeal to your customer, start by looking at:

  • What bothers them, what is their problem that you solve?
  • What gets them excited – what are they hot for right now?

I want you to think about not only what is a real pain in the butt to them right now, but what other products or services are they really interested in?

So for example, let’s say that you teach authentic online marketing. Your customers problems might be:

  • Not enough sales
  • Not enough enquiries
  • Hating all the insincere, over the top marketing advice

And you might also know that at the moment they’re really interested in:

  • Blogging to advertise their business

Then we move onto Step Two:

Step Two: What Matters To You?

Next, you can layer your story with the story elements from your life and what makes you unique. So it could be:

  • Geographic location
  • Target market
  • Your background
  • Your passion
  • Your vision or goals for the business
  • The way you work
  • Why you do what you do
  • Your character / personality

You don’t need all of these, but a with a couple from this list and you should start to see your unique story position emerge.

So for example, let’s say that in the above examples, you have a background in journalism, and your target market is Chiropractors. You could start putting together a unique story for your business such as:

Creating newsworthy blogs for chiropractors
Chiropractors : get free advertising with a blog your customers and journalists love
How to make the phone ring by hitting the headlines

These aren’t taglines as such, but show you how you can start to form the basis of your unique story.

I’d love to know how you get on with this because it’s one of the biggest challenges I see people struggle with in a bid to “stand out.”

Free Story Webinar Next Week

If this has got your creative juices flowing, but you want a bit more help pinning down your unique story, I’m running a free webinar on Tuesday 21st February (Pancake Day!).

To find out more about it, join the Fast Copy Friday Newsletter. You’ll receive a link to join the webinar AND:

  • 30 instant headline templates
  • A quick copywriting tip every Friday
  • A one-time product discount just for subscribers

Sign up below:



  1. says

    Hey! Now you’re making me think about my USP, and I’ve only recently just made it. lol. But then I wasn’t worried when you said to create something both myself and my customers are interested in. I still need to lul it over, but your point about case studies and proof is a great idea!

    Thanks for sharing the post

    • harrisonamy says

      USPs can take awhile to emerge, and lulling things over isn’t a bad idea. :-) But this gives you a way of kickstarting the brainstorming part! :-)

  2. says

    I am soooo relieved to read this post. I have always struggled to write a (traditional) USP. I could never sum up what makes me different in one sentence. Mind you, I can be a bit verbose at times.

    I’m really looking forward to your webinar. I love the practicality of the information you provide. My job for the next week (once the content for week #1 of my online program is finalised!) is to dig out the notes I wrote following your (fabulous) Personality Entrepreneur course & work my way through my new USP

    Best wishes,

  3. says

    Thanks Amy… I’m always a believer of the execution of the idea or plan.. That whether it’s creating a USP or using the KISS method if you’re true to the idea, concept and method you have a chance at success… For me it’s about trying to tip the scales in your favor to succeed and if you can find a TRUE USP your half way there…

    • harrisonamy says

      Hey Mike – lovely to see you here.

      There’s a lot to be said for executing an idea rather than incubating it till it’s perfect. :-)

  4. says

    Great article Amy – and very timely. I’ve recently started working with a client who helps businesses tell their success stories through the eyes of their customers. We interview the customer, then create a case study that outlines how the business we are working for delivered excellent service and business benefits to them.

    Since I’ve been writing these case studies I have really begun to appreciate how a ‘good news’ story is so much more engaging and compelling than a standard press release or testimonial quotation, never mind a list of USPs.

    I’ve also recently been inspired to start writing short stories in my spare time, and I can see from what you’re saying here that there are ways of using my creativity to bring clients stories to life in a new way.

    Thanks for inspiring me today =;-)

    • harrisonamy says

      Hey Gareth – I love good case study stories and the proof that they show prospective customers is incredibly valuable (but often overlooked)

      One of my companies doing this at the moment is The Shed Shop. They pick out great customer stories that are fun and really show the “human element.”

      As a result the company not only stands out as unique, but is able to charge a lot more than other shed companies (because they are positioned as being an additional room to your house rather than a shed).

      And way to go with the short stories, it’s a really good discipline to learn for being concise and engaging. :-)

    • harrisonamy says

      Hi Eric!

      So great to see you over here as well as Facebook :-) I’m trying to put in more practical steps for people to take away and use. It might mean fewer posts on here, but they’ll be worth the wait (hopefullly) :-)

  5. says

    Hi Amy,

    This article is very timely for me as I’m in the process of developing some products and services. Just yesterday I was reflecting on the whole concept of USP and how to position myself in the field of love, romance and relationships. What I’ve come up with as a result of your article is simply ‘The Psychology of Relationships’ (given that I am a psychologist) – and to focus on the psychological triggers that make or break a relationship. On the one hand it was an a-ha moment; on the other hand I’m wondering whether it’s unique enough. Not sure at all.

    • harrisonamy says

      Hey Mia – Thanks for dropping by and sharing your story.

      I’m fascinated by psychology and relationships so I really like the angle you’ve chosen. That seems like a good combination from your interests and expertise. Something that might help you take your story further is to think about your audience.

      What are other people in your field offering and talking about? Or, more importantly, what are they NOT talking about that you could step in and cover.

      And, just thinking off the top of my head, do your customers tend to come to you when they’re looking to save a relationship? People tend to turn towards relationship help when there’s a problem, so you might fill the need of providing psychological triggers and understanding for when love is on the rocks?

      Again, just off the top of the head thoughts, but I think the key to completing your story lies in the conversation your customers are already having with themselves.

  6. says

    Great post Amy! I’ve been going through this process myself for a new project I’m working on, and it’s thrown up some interesting results which I’d love your thoughts on! As you know, I live on a dairy farm in rural Wales, and my passion is helping biz owners with up-to-the-minute marketing strategies like web and social media marketing. When I tested the ‘country’ biz angle on a group of biz ladies who all live in rural Wales, interestingly most of them did NOT recognise themselves as rural businesses! They felt that part was irrelevant! What are your thoughts on that? I’d love to know :-)


    • harrisonamy says

      Oooh, Tanya – I’ve just finished catching up with The Archers today so I’m in the mood for this! (I also grew up with a lot of farmers’ kids so am very passionate about the country).

      It’s interesting that they don’t recognise themselves as businesses, and very important.

      It can be tempting to “educate” customers, but I would say if they don’t think of themselves as a business, don’t tell them they are.

      Instead, what are their concerns? Are they interested in being more attractive to acquire supermarket contracts? Or wanting to know how they can increase their unit price? Or wondering how to place their products in new shops further afield from their local area?

      Reference for other Archers Fans: Tom Archer had to drag Tony and Pat kicking and screaming through the social media, website and rebranding for Ambridge Organics but you don’t want to do that with your customers.

      In telling your story, you’ve got to create something that is already partly in your customers’ minds. If they don’t know they need these marketing tactics, you need to focus the story on the results that they know they DO need.

  7. David says

    Your article was an interesting story until I got to the example for chiropractors… I don’t see anything unique about it.

    Why not take those “story lines” and give an example of the final product that would uniquely replace a USP?

    • harrisonamy says

      Hi David – thanks for your comment!

      Deliberately, those aren’t taglines for specific products, but a way to start shaping a unique core story for your business. Once you have that, it’s much easier to then think about the different kinds of services and products you can offer. So in the example above, rather than simply offering marketing advice, a company can begin to cavre out their story by blending together the different elements of target market, method and results.

      If it seems simple, it is! Too many people get bogged down by trying do something compeltely different, when you can get higher quality enquiries by putting together a message that appeals to your target market that no-one else appears to be telling.

      Your photography site is beautiful, but I notice you don’t have an About page, which would be a perfect area to combine your own unique message of your specialty in Magazine style images, plus your unique location in your Flour Mill. And people need to know about you! :-) If I’m going to go for a photoshoot I’d want to know about the friendly face behind the lens

      And just thinking now, with celebrity-lifestyle being very popular at the moment, I’m definitely seeing a unique posistioning for “magazine style” photography.

      You could increase value and package your portrait shoots so that they are “cover shoots” for example where models go “on location” at the Historic Flour Mill.

      Again, nothing really complicated there, but you can start to see a story you may not see with other photographers in your area.

      Just some off the top of my head thoughts! Thanks for sharing yours :-)


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *