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!

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