When I compiled my Copywriting Resource post, I was sort of surprised to learn that I couldn’t quite find any content online that really got into the “meat” of the different kinds of Unique Value or, to use Rosser Reeves’ original term, Unique Selling Propositions.

Don’t get me wrong, I ultimately found lots of solid posts that had important things to say about UVPs. But I knew there was something valuable left to say about the subject.

So here’s the deal: UVPs come in 5 basic flavors and understanding that can be a big help for small businesses and advertisers.

Unique Value Propositions can be based on…

1) A True Value-Added Advantage that Really IS Unique

Take note: “true value-added” means the unique part of the product is answering a question that people actually care about. Mazda’s Rotary engine is cool as heck, but there’s a reason it’s only available in one car and the rest of the automobile manufacturers haven’t jumped on the rotary bandwagon. A reason that has nothing to do with patents.  Nobody was asking for a lower-vibrating, higher power-per-liter-of-displacement engine that was even more of a gas hog than the average high performance engine.

Compare that to minivans. When Dodge/Chrysler/Plymouth came out with them in 1984, they set the world on fire. And that means minivans didn’t remain “unique” to them for long. Within a year or two most major manufacturers also offered minivans, and now they’re ubiquitous.

So how many products on the market today have a true, Class 1 UVP?  Not that many physical products, actually. Dyson Vacuum cleaners and their other products probably fit the bill. I’m sure there are more, but truly unique, value-added UVPs are rare for physical products and mature markets.

The very term itself was invented back before over-choice and over-abundance was the norm, and it was invented to help advertise newly-available-to-the-mass-market choices. So where do true-blue UVPs show up the most often these days? New Frontiers. Digital Services, for example. The way Hipmunk displays flights is a true UVP.

So just don’t be too surprised if you don’t come across that many Class 1 UVPs.

2) Specialization and/or Niche-Marketing

The law firm of O’neil & Widelock advertised as divorce lawyers who only represented men. That’s a UVP based on specializing (in divorce law) and niche marketing (to men only). Home builders who only use Insulating Concrete Forms for their homes might be another example.

Most people simply don’t give this kind of specialization and niching enough credit. Check out the ingredients for Excedrin Migraine and regular ol’ Excedrin — they both contain: acetaminophen, aspirin, and caffein. So what’s the point of having a niche version for migraines?  Because it sells better.

People want — and are willing to pay a premium for — products specific to them and their needs, even if the specialization represents no real, objective advantage or gain.

3) An Improved Buying Experience

A car wash service that comes to your home or work. Nothing special about the car wash itself, other than the delivery. But that’s enough isn’t it? These kinds of UVPs are often created by a business man looking to provide X but without the hassle or “piss off factor” that’s more or less standard to that industry.

One Hour Heating and Air Conditioner reflects this brand of “let’s remove the frustrating parts” approach to UVPs. There is nothing special about their HVAC systems or equipment or the type of repair or tune-up work they do. Nothing other than the fact that they guarantee their guys will show up at a precisely scheduled time, such as 9:30 am, rather than an overly broad range of say, “between nine and two.” This eliminates the annoyance of having to rearrange an entier day’s schedule to “be there” for the HVAC guy. And it works.

4) Pre-Emptive Claims

The example for this that I love to use was given to me by my colleague, Chuck McKay: “Visine gets the red out”  Well, yeah, of course it “gets the red out” — what eye drops don’t do that?  But what exactly would the advertising for Murine or Clear Eyes eye drops say in response? “We also get the red out?” The me-too factor prevents the competition from saying that, so Visine’s claim remains unique in terms of advertising and brand-association.

Did you get that?  Pre-emptive claims allow brands to virtually “create” unique status through advertising!

Now the uniqueness likely goes away when evaluated at a conscious, rational level, just as it did for Visine when I asked you to question it, but it remains at an emotional, gut-feel level. And that’s the level that pays off for buying decisions.

5) “Romancing the Stone”

This is a combination or hybrid UVP based on some characteristic that’s not quite truly value added or unique enough to land in the other classes, but that has also been claimed and romanced in advertising. It’s not all smoke and mirrors, there’s a certain factual reality to it, but… neither is it all substance.

Example: Macallan ages their scotch in sherry oak casks.* And they make a big deal of it in their ads. Does it matter? I’m sure it does. Does it matter as much as they want you to believe it does? Only if you expect it to based on their advertising.

In my opinion, the vast majority of UVPs actually fall into this category.

Most of the time, the value of the “value proposition” is debatable, or as much a matter of preference or perceived self-identity and value-association as genuine, objective advantage. But the difference remains real in the mind of the customer so long as it has been properly romanced by the advertising.

Want to see this kind of thing in action?  Well, just look around you.  But if you want to see it done masterfully, check out the J. Peterman website and think of each or any piece of clothing as a brand. Then view the accompanying copy as an attempt to spin a “UVP” around that brand.

So what’s the bottom line on all this?

If your company doesn’t have a UVP, or if you don’t feel as if your UVP has been at all successful in driving more sales, you might just need an ad consultant who understands this stuff to come in and either create a new one for you, or to “Romance the Stone.”


  1. Grimey on 02.24.2012

    This is a marketing powertool post …

  2. Jeff on 02.25.2012

    Thanks, Grimey!