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Business Needs a USP?… Or is that a UVP?

Everywhere we go  we come across people telling us that we need to have a USP or Unique Selling Proposition for our business. But just what do they, or we, mean by that. Why does  the way we sell things need to be unique. well, there’s lots of answers to that question, I guess.

Lets break the phrase down into its individual words and see what that might tell us.

We’ll begin with “Unique”

According to one dictionary I checked with online here is a definition of the word “unique”

“existing as the only one or as the sole example; single; solitary in type or characteristics”

Now, I don’t know about you, but I’d think that making any single business or selling method “unique’ using that definition would be impossible. Seriously, we are selling things. It could be goods or services. What it is doesn’t matter. We are selling so we need to stick to the rules. And there are plenty of those. The lawyers and law makers have made damned sure of that. We must comply with the laws relating to contract and tort for a start. (if you don’t know what a “tort” is don’t be concerned for now I’ll explain that in a minute). So being “unique” in anything we do in business would not be any too easy. In fact, I’d think it would almost easier to consider or own uniqueness. Just think about that. We are all unique since there has never been in the past or now who is exactly the same as us. Nor will there ever be. The multiplicity of cells and genes that make you and me will never be repeated.

So, having something be “unique” in these circumstances probably won’t happen.

Now, lets consider “Selling”.

Again, I went to the Internet and grabbed a definition of “selling”.

“To exchange or deliver for money or its equivalent. 2. To offer for sale, as for one’s business or livelihood”.

There are two possibilities here. We can exchange things. Or we can offer as part of our business. Just the very fact that we have two options surely makes any chance of uniqueness unlikely. Then, too, as I mentioned with uniqueness, we all do things differently. Maybe that’s what is meant by being unique. Do something differently from anyone else. Now that’s a definite possibility. Until we learn from Wikipedia that some of us think that selling is just a part of marketing. Not so sure about that. We put eggs and flour into a cake. But we can also use both of those ingredients for different purposes. So is selling merely part of marketing? Yes it is, but it’s also something else. And if its part of marketing, then it can’t be unique, can it?

So, “selling” probably can’t be unique in and of itself.

Now lets look at “Proposition”

Once more to the Internet for a definition

“the act of offering or suggesting something to be considered, accepted, adopted, or done. 2. a plan or scheme proposed. 3. an offer of terms for a transaction”.

Oops. Now we are in even more trouble. Here we have three alternatives. It might be the offer of a suggestion. Or a proposal. Maybe a set of terms  Me, I can’t see how anyone could work out how any of these could be done in isolation. Surely, in the very act of doing anything at all we must make choices. And, by making choices, we may very well be close to being unique. Well, that’s a win for us. The way in which we do anything will be the way we do things. No one else can possibly do anything the way we do. Forget selling and business for a moment. Think of the way you place food into a spoon. Your arm and hand actions as you transfer food to your mouth. The way your mouth opens and closes. No one else does it exactly the same way as you do.

So, maybe we will be able to meet the criteria for a proposition.

But it’s unlikely that we could satisfy the definitions of the combined “unique selling”.

What to do, then? Here is where I offer an alternative course of action. If we accept that “selling” is the stumbling block, then what else might we substitute in its place?

What about “value”

Back to the Internet for a definition

“Important and lasting beliefs or ideals shared by the members of a culture about what is good or bad and desirable or undesirable”

At last. Something we can work with. A value is something we all have and need in our lives. As a general thing. But also because we are each one of us unique. It follows then, that how we each view value will be different. It will be unique. And this uniqueness is where we will be able to differentiate ourselves from our competition. By offering a value to our customers that is unique will make everything we do in our business unique.

My proposal (notice the sneaky way that I’ve used that particular word here in this post) is that the whole concept of a Unique Selling Proposition is pretty much unworkable. There are just too many businesses out there for any of us to be truly unique in the way we run ours.. Instead we should be adopting a Unique Value Proposition. This is something that we can definitely make our own.

BTW, and before I forget. The Law of Tort is the whole slew of different laws that make us liable for damages should we do the wrong thing in life and our business. So Torts include things like claims for damages, product preparation liability, occupational health and safety issues etc. I hope that clears that up for you.


As usual, I’d value your thoughts on this

Please add you comments below so I can see and understand what you think on this essential topic




Comments (2)

  • Sharyn Sheldon October 28, 2013 - 2:05 pm Reply

    Hi John,
    I completely agree. I actually think about value when I think of the term Unique Selling Proposition, so I guess it’s time to update the language to match what we should all be thinking. I’d even go so far as to say it’s your Value Proposition alone, without the word unique. There’s nothing really “unique” out there. It’s more a matter of being tuned in to your market’s needs and providing what they want. Unique could just mean borrowing an idea from another industry and applying it to yours. But let’s try one step at a time. I’ll start using “value” from here on in :)

    • John Harmer November 19, 2013 - 3:58 pm Reply


      Thanks for your comment. Like most, I only considered USP for years. Then I read a book on UVP that changed my thinking

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