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.
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.”
I had used some of their products but not this one.
I thought the page was complete and darned good.
Flash forward to now, when we’re considering giving this product to our son.
Our words-fail-beautiful son.
I went back to the page I’d written and couldn’t find answers to my own questions. I had to contact my former client today with more questions.
Hello, salience. Nice to see you again. Thanks for reminding me a website’s never complete.
Ask yourself of your web copy: after reading it, would you give your products or services to your own words-fail-beautiful?
Does your copy pass the parent test?
Is it time for a re-write?
P.S. I guess I’d consider this my first guest post, but that would be cheating. Really, this post was written by the great Tim Miles for the American Small Business blog which is currently cocooned away awaiting transformation. But this post was too good to hide away and I wanted to link to it for my massive Resource-Intensive List Post. So I stole it and put it here.
Stage 1: Understanding the Mechanics — The untrained copywriter can become exponentially better in a day’s worth of training. It really is that easy. And a copywriter that’s made that minimum effort can get results, right away. That’s why a lot of A-List copywriters will tell you that you don’t have to become a great writer to make money writing copy.
Stage 2: Learning the Psychology of “Salesmanship in Print” — Semi-decent copywriters won’t continue to get better without at least a few month’s or a year’s worth of continued study and practice. That’s because they’re moving from the core mechanics and basic mindset of copywriting, to applying effective sales psychology to their writing.
Stage 3: Becoming a Serious Student of Advertising Artistry — Moving from seasoned, journeyman copywriter to true pro DOES require that you become a better writer. You must become adept at directing the “movie in the mind” of the prospect, and that requires superior wordsmithing along with artistry above and beyond the previous two stages. Naturally this takes longer to learn.
So why should you care?
First, it’s important to know that you can get dramatic improvements and business results from moving through the first two stages. Meaning that it’s worth the limited effort to get better even if you are NOT looking to become a professional copywriter or marketer.
Second, if you ARE looking to become a professional copywriter, you’ll get better faster if you understand what stage of development you’re in and what resources will help you the most for any given stage. That’s not to say the components of each stage don’t overlap, but that they do tend to build one stage on the other, so you shouldn’t spend too much time, say, trying to learn rhetorical flourishes if you haven’t mastered the basics of WIIFM, substantiation and proof, etc.
And with that in mind, here are some solid, mostly free resources to get you to that next level:
Understanding the Mechanics
To me, the basic mechanics of copywriting includes the following:
- Moving from We-We to You-You Copy
- Why We-We talk never gets the
- A quick and dirty calculator to see how much your copy is “we-we-ing” all over itself
- The Carlin Ad-Speak Calculator — how much BS does your copy really contain?
- A Case Study: Speak to the Dog in the Language of the Dog About What Matters to the Dog
- Why We-We talk never gets the
- The Importance of WIIFM and Benefits vs. Features
- Learning AIDAS and/or the Four “P“s of persuasive messaging
- UVPs, Irresistible Offers, and Calls to Action
- Gary Halbert demos the “how to” of creating an irresistible offer as only he can
- Sonia Simone’s 15-minute Guide to Creating a USP
- Charlie Moger on why it should really be the Unique BUYING Proposition
- Brian Clark on why it should be called the Unique STORY Proposition
- The Grok on the importance of Calls to Action
- Writing Calls to Action as Persuasive Links
- Substantiation & Proof Elements
- Do Your Readers Secretly Think You’re a Liar?
- How to Signal Sincerity When Words Alone Won’t Cut It
- The 6 Currencies that Buy Credibility
- Infomercial Proof Elements Guaranteed to Work — Or Your Money Back
- Dave Young’s Video Explains Online Trust and Credibility Builders
- Marketing Experiments Explains Credible vs. Non-Credible Copy
- Anticipating and Answering the (prospect’s) Freaking Question & Objection
- Achieving Clarity and Conversational Tone
So, there’s obviously a bit more to the basic mechanics of good copywriting than JUST these elements, and for you dedicated students, I’ve come up with two entirely FREE resources to cover those:
- Jeffrey and Bryan Eisenberg have graciously agreed to let my readers download a free copy of their highly praised and sought after book, Persuasive Online Copywriting.
- You can download a free, no-email-necessary PDF of Claude Hopkins’ Scientific Advertising right here.
Learning the Psychology of Salesmanship in Print
Sales Psychology is a BIG topic, and I’m sure I’m leaving lots of topics uncovered, but for me, the must-have basics include:
- Understanding The Elements of Influence
- Learning about Temperaments & Decision-Making Styles/Needs
- Understanding the Role of Self-Image in Persuasion
- Understanding the Importance of Persuasive Momentum
- Framing Arguments & Manipulating Context
- Understanding how prospects are Predictably Irrational
Obviously, there is a lifetime’s worth of learning around these topics and any number of “additional reading” books could be recommended. That said, the best FREE resources for this stage are Roy H. Williams first two books in his Wizard of Ads trilogy, The Wizard of Ads and Secret Formulas of the Wizard of Ads, both which you can download as audio and e-books for free at Roy’s Website.
Becoming a Serious Student of Advertising Artistry
Once you understand the mechanics and the psychology, you enter the realm of advanced techniques, subtlety of execution, and general artistry. This is where the ad writer has the most in common with the novelist, playwright, movie director, entertainer, and even the stage musician. Here are
- Frameline Magnetism & Closure (aka, Knowing What to Leave Out)
- Short-Form Drama and Storytelling
- Nested Storytelling
- Mental Imagery & Image-based Ad Writing
- Magical Thinking
- Set-ups and Payoffs
- Hooking the Reader /Listener
Most business owners don’t want to draw that sharp line of distinction, and it’s why their marketing efforts blend into the clutter.
Discernible edges and silhouettes allow us to visually identify an object, separating its figure from the background “noise.” Eliminate those discernible edges and break up the silhouette, and you’ll effectively camouflage yourself.
In the top-left picture, you’ll notice how the person’s legs, backpack, and hat all present a solid silhouette, with clearly defined edges. They stand out from the background and are easily identified. But the man’s upper body, clothed by the camouflage pattern jacket, blends smoothly into the landscape. The pattern breaks up his silhouette and blurs his edges into the background of mountainside, snow, and brush. As a result, your eyes end up visually identifying the man by his packback and hat first, and then squint in to find where his shoulder, body, and arms “should” be.
This works the same way for advertising. Like our eyes, our minds also depend on edges and silhouettes. We define by giving parameters, mentally grasping a concept by its boundaries. Without the “edges” of contrasting reference points, a concept or term remains ambiguous at best. To know what a donut is, you have to know the difference between a donut and a danish — to know what isn’t a donut.
This is why grabbing after an “infinite” market and seeking to be all things to all people ends up camouflaging one’s brand and messaging; without contrast it all just blurs into the background.
And that’s a good thing because it makes it easy to stand out — if you’ve got the guts. Want to stand out? Sharply define the edges between you and your competitors. It’s that simple.
The better you do this, the more strongly you’ll turn-off some customers. But wouldn’t you rather powerfully persuade some of your market than be overlooked by all of it?
A Bold Example of Reverse Camouflage In Action
“You don’t want me to be your family doctor.”
Pretty ballsy headline for a doctor, huh? Wouldn’t you feel compelled to read more about this doctor with the courage to so brazenly declare what he wasn’t?
Having gained the reader’s attention, the body copy further explains: “Neurosurgery is one of the few medical specialties for which I am well-suited. I am not warm and fuzzy. I could never be successful as a pediatrician or in a family practice — no one would come back a second time. But I am very good at what I do.”
Dr. Goodman then substantiates his claimed expertise with a list of very impressive professional qualifications and accomplishments, rounded off with some examples of his extreme commitment to surgical excellence and his patients’ well-being.
While his professional qualifications are truly outstanding, most readers would never have read them without Dr. Goodman’s use of reverse camouflage in his headline. Saying what he wasn’t allowed Dr. Goodman to stand out amidst the clutter.
3 sure-fire ways to reverse-camouflage your messaging:
1. Get yourself an enemy and/or reject a reasonable alternative position
Nothing fires the blood quite so much as declaring what — or better yet who — you stand against. But you get no points for tearing down straw men; rejecting a reasonable alternative position puts teeth into your message.
2. Present a tightly focused perspective
Once you’ve narrowed the group of customers that you’re most interested in attracting, focus your messaging to speak most directly to their deeply felt needs, desires, and frustrations. People who don’t share those experiences will feel excluded, but your core audience will feel an instant connection. Both will instantly recognize you. Tim Miles offers a brilliant example of this on his “About Us” page.
3. Explain what costs you’re willing to bare and admit the downside to your offer/product.
What you’re willing to put up with in order to satisfy a passion can be as much of a marker of identity as the passion itself. Stick shifts aren’t as pleasant to drive in thick traffic, but a lot of driving purists wouldn’t have it any other way. Top end kitchen knives require extra care in terms of cutting surfaces and using the right knife for the job, but those are points of pride for Foodies and Chefs. So admitting these downsides is not only the right and honest thing to do, it’s also the persuasive thing to do. And for two reasons: 1) as just discussed, it helps enthusiasts further identify with your brand; 2) admitting the downside boosts credibility — and credibility acts as its own form of reverse camouflage amidst a background of hype and BS.
P.S. If you’d like to learn more about Camouflage, I highly recommend this brilliant piece in the New York Times.
A successful small business that’s survived and even thrived for 5 or 15 years already HAS an identity, history, reputation, etc. So while that business probably won’t have a ready-at-hand Unique Selling Proposition or Purple Cow to provide to the ad writer, it also won’t represent a blank slate either.
So copywriters either have to FIND something remarkable and relevant to write about, or they have to consign themselves to gawd-awful horror of ad-speak: “in business since… with fast friendly service… for all your ____ needs.”
Bottom Line: ad consultants (and owners without advertising help) have to play Iron Chef — they have to whip up that gourmet dish, not from scratch, and not by following a predetermined recipe, but by making use of whatever ingredients are already on hand.
So let me share two practical techniques you can use to make that happen. They might not sound practical, because I’ve given them weird sounding tags like “Philosophize the Action” and “Do the Philosophy,” but they do work, and to quote Murphy’s Laws of Combat: “If it’s stupid but it works, it ain’t stupid.” At any rate, here are the promised steps:
1) Philosophize the Action
Frist, ignore whatever the business owner tells you about what she or the business stands for. Ignore the mission statement. Instead, ask the owner what tangible, viewable, verifiable thing or action she insists on regardless of whether they can charge extra for it, or can promote it as value-added to the client. Something they do just because they simply refuse not to do it, or to do it any other way.
Put another way, actions speak louder than words, so focus on the actions. But make sure it’s actions motivated by some inner value rather than profit, convenience, etc.
You’d think this sort of thing would be rare — business men being in business to make money and all, you’d think they’d be loath to put effort into a non-profit making effort or add on — but rather than rare, it’s almost universal; I’ve never not seen it in a privately owned business.
Why is this and why does it matter?
Businesses are owned by people, and people can’t help but express their values. I’ve seen this done by various owners insisting on:
- Providing extra training for their techs,
- Answering phones within 7 rings,
- Paying well above market pricing for higher quality materials or parts
- Putting in extra bracing, padding, key ingredients, etc
- Using only this mechanism and not the more popular, economical one
- And so on.
The thing is to dig until you FIND that sort of thing. THEN figure out what values that commitment communicates, which brings us to…
2) Act on the Philosophy
Now that you have seen an action that’s insisted on even when it costs the business owner to insist, you can take that the value that the action expresses and use it to flavor other aspects of his business.
So if answering the phone within 7 rings is the action you dug up, then perhaps the values at play are responsiveness and human warmth. So see if you can’t bake in better responsiveness and warmth — or expressions of the same — into other interactions and touchpoints with the company. For example, a contractor might make a commitment to get quotes out in 24-hours and to provide customers with the names and e-mail addresses of the techs handling their accounts. That sort of thing.
This is different than a from-scratch ingredient because it was already on-hand, even if it was hidden at first — and also because the values are already deeply held by the owner, meaning that the suggestions are more likely to be implemented with vigor than suggestions dreamt up “from scratch.” Meaning that the ads can promise these points of difference with confidence.
Once you’ve gone through step 2, you can now attempt to build some sort of messaging, USP, or campaign around the uncovered value and new points of differentiation.
And since this is Practical Tactical Tuesday, you know I’ll make sure to give you an example. So here’s a case study from the Great Tim Miles that perfectly illustrates this technique. Go read it — you’ll be glad you did.
P.S. If you’ve never seen Iron Chef, you should check out this short clip of the opening credits. It’ll explain a lot : )
“The longer it takes to explain an idea, the smaller it seems” — Lee Clow
Great ads can deliver an idea like “Winning the Battle of the Short List” in less than 30 seconds. Or in the example below, in 9 short lines and less than 64 words. Better yet, great ads make you feel the truth of the idea in your gut.
How do they do that?
Usually with drama. Take this magazine ad I ran into over at the Sell! Sell! Blog:
Totally different experience than reading my blog post on the same subject, right?
And they created that experience through short-form drama. They sucked you into a story — smack in the middle of a mini drama — before you even realized it. And while you were mentally playing out that drama, they sucker punched you with the emotional truth of the idea. Here’s how:
1) The image of the ad has a high degree of story appeal. The guy is looking at you and he doesn’t look happy. So what’s that all about, right? Apparently there’s trouble in River City, and where there’s trouble, there’s a story. So curiosity obliges you to read the copy to figure it out and get the scoop.
2) The copy speaks directly to you, the reader. You are indeed being addressed by this man, and — boom! — at that instant you’re now inside the drama.
3) The copy makes it immediately and painfully obvious that you’re walking into a tough sell. A very tough sell that get’s tougher with each line of copy from the prospects mouth.
So once you finish reading and finally pop out of the mini-drama, the emotional truth of the message hits home. There’s just no denying the truth of that final “Moral.”
The Beauty of Short-Form Drama
So what’s the moral of THIS story?
Moral: Great ad writers do use short form storytelling and short form drama to cause people to realize the truth of your message on an emotional, gut-feel level. Most advertising fails because most ads aren’t written by ad writers capable of persuading through short-form drama.
What kind of persuasion is your ad writer baking into your ads?