Starbucks Revives The Unique Selling Proposition
The Unique Selling Proposition, or “USP,” is a marketing proposition that originated in the early 1940’s at the Ted Bates advertising agency, some 20 years before what’s depicted on Mad Men. The USP originator was advertising pioneer, author, and agency VP, Rosser Reeves. USP got picked up by agencies all over the world, and quickly became a pretty ubiquitous concept, although the actual use of the term has faded somewhat into advertising history. The approach, however, is alive and well and currently residing in Starbucks “Barista Promise” ads.
Before discussing the ads, it might be worth it to offer up some background to the concept, given the concept is nearly 75 years old. According to the writings of Mr. Reeves, the USP was supposed to give an ad campaign a little extra jolt. Something that would impel the consumers across the line of indecision to preference and, ultimately to loyalty. Back then “Unique” referred to an inimitable feature of the brand and (back then) that usually referred to a rational aspect or feature of the product or service. “Selling” referred to value. Did the unique thing you were trumpeting make a big enough contribution to what we call “brand engagement” today, so that consumers felt the product better met their expectations? Finally, “Proposition” was the promise that if the consumer went with your brand with the certain unique aspect or claim, i.e., the selling point, that they would receive a specific benefit.
Not a bad theoretical foundation. Actually a pretty good one. Even today where process and production re-engineering has essentially changed the rational, functional aspects of most categories into table-stakes, and where the “jolt” consumers feel comes more fluidly and effortlessly when it is emotionally-based, being able to point to a meaningful point of differentiation can, indeed, end up being the critical factor consumers use to choose you versus the competition.
Mr. Reeves had a couple of caveats to all this: The proposition had to be something the competition could not say or – wait for it – was not currently saying, an important nuance. And, of course, the USP had to be important and engaging enough to engender positive behavior toward the brand, i.e., make money, attract new customers – good stuff like that.
Starbucks has been running full-page newspaper ads and TV ads under the heading “Our Barista Promise: Love your beverage or let us know. We’ll always make it right,” which we have to say is a great example of a USP, particularly one where the competition could do it, but isn’t. Talking about it, we mean. Differentiation can come from a brand talking about something that the competition isn’t. And it doesn’t get any more emotional than loving something, be it your car, or your smartphone, or your beverage. If you can do that in a meaningful and engaging way, you’ll wake something up in consumers and you’ll see consumers behaving more positively toward your brand.
All that said we took a look at the Out-of-Home Coffee category in our Customer Loyalty Engagement Index to see how consumers of these various coffee purveyors rated them as to barista-prep of their beverages, which turned out to be the most-important engagement driver in the category. By drilling-down into this driver we can see how satisfied consumers of these various coffee providers were with barista-created coffee beverages, measured against their collective category Ideal (100%). Here’s how they measured up:
Not as much difference as one would like for a truly differentiating brand positioning statement, but certainly well within the parameters Rosser Reeves set for a “Unique Selling Proposition.” Now all they have to do is make it their own. It was Bette Midler who advised, “Cherish forever what makes you unique, because you’re really a yawn if it goes away.” And we think it’s fair to predict that last thing purveyors of caffeinated beverages want in return for its brand positioning efforts is a yawn.
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