Brand story

Why you don't need a USP, you need a USP.

Have you already found your WHY? Or are you still looking for your USP? Since the legendary Rosser Reeves gave birth to the USP in 1940, everyone knows that without it, nothing works in marketing, advertising or anything else. Everything and everyone needed a USP, just as today everyone asks why. That's why Rosser Reeves is still legendary today and was supposedly even one of the role models for the official Don Draper. Mad Man Don Draper, but who wasn't in the advertising miracle years on Madison Avenue ... The famous Howard Luck Gossage perhaps - but he worked in San Francisco. Perhaps it's all just a legend about a legend anyway, because Rosser Reeves' statement "No, sir, I'm not saying that charming, witty and warm ad copy won't sell. I'm just saying I've seen thousands of charming, witty campaigns that didn't sell." also come from Don Draper? Who knows ...


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Because charm and wit are not enough, and even then products differed less and less from each other in their performance, Rosser Reeves invented the USP. You know what you have: a good story.

Why does everyone actually say the USP? It is called the unique selling proposition. Or the Promise, or the promise. Well, some don't say Unique Selling Proposition, but Unique Selling Point, and then it's right again. The main thing is that you have him/her/it - US*P therefore ...

Besides, The Why has become the new USP anyway. Simon Sinek famously found the why and he also wrote recommendable books about his discovery. Is it just a coincidence that he also started in advertising?

In advertising, one invents far less than is widely believed. You find a lot of things, some of them even before someone else has lost them, I've been told. The why is such a fine example. In the 1940s, St. Viktor Frankl wrote about his time of hell in a concentration camp: "The motto under which all psychotherapeutic or psycho-hygienic efforts had to be directed towards the prisoners is perhaps most aptly expressed in the words of Nietzsche: 'He who has a why to live, endures almost every how.'" This sentence remained his guiding principle for logotherapy throughout his life.

And the most revered Ingeborg Bachmann wrote in Malina about the same Nietzsche sentence: "I have an inkling that it is from the brown exercise book on the first page of which I wrote on New Year's Eve: Whoever has a why to live, endures almost every how."

If we have a why that we have to live, that lives inside us and wants to be brought into life, then we have our inner USP, you could say. That is our unique selling point, our unique sales promise with which we sell ourselves the meaning of our existence. That is our motivation.

When I think about all this with my recovering Mad Man brain, I have a strange thought: Maybe USP doesn't mean Unique Selling Proposition anymore? Since the dear people, i.e. us, don't buy products and services anyway, but what they want to be - the story associated with a brand - it's no longer about the product promise, but much more: about the why of a brand, a company, an organisation.

So how about we dig out the/the/the USP, dust it off, polish it up and rechristen it? Rosser Reeves will probably make a pack of Haustetschn for me where he is now, but just for fun:
Unique Selling Purpose
Unique Sensemaking Purpose
Unifying Sensemaking Purpose

Would that be something?

I know: Purpose is currently one of the colourful pigs being herded through every buzzword village, but it is now correct and important. Purpose in business - a cause - is even the most important thing of all. Provided that this purpose is everything positive that one interprets into it unspoken. Similar to "I want to change the world". No one has Genghis Khan's concept of changing the world in mind.

Unifying Sensemaking Purpose - that's a bit bulky coming out of your mouth, isn't it? But you get used to everything, with a little practice even to Unifying Sensemaking Purpose. It worked with supercalifragilistic-expialidocious and deoxyribonucleic acid, but with authenticity almost everyone stumbles over their tongue. If need be, we can continue to say USP as before, but mean something new. Is it actually called the, the or the Purpose?

I have to say: Now that I have played around with Rosser Reeves' venerable USP and shaken the waddle tree vigorously, I have really acquired a taste for it. Now the oats are pricking me - but how!

So, how about we rewrite Edmund Jerome McCarthy's marketing mix from the 1960s? My suggestion: let's add two P's to the four P's of Product, Price, Place and Promotion - People and Purpose. Deal?

And while we're at it, we could also contradict Steve Jobs in a wash, namely in terms of "... make a dent in the universe". How about we don't make a dent in the universe, but rather dent the many existing dents, one by one, but let something shine for it? Our Purpose, for example. In that glow, I swear, we would find our why in no time.

If every person, every one of us, every company in particular, redefines its USP, the door to a whole new story would be a little bit open for all of us, wouldn't it? Just a little bit wide, wide enough for a refreshingly different light to come in than before.

In this light, all of us - every company, every organisation - could send positive signals to others, give confidence impulses and support everyone else to do the same. Each of these impulses would be a real unique selling proposition and altogether really more uniquer than selling, I think. It might even result in a tomorrow that has the makings of a new, a better story for all of us, one that is about all of us and multiplies our strengths instead of, like the old selling story, dividing us in defeating, outdoing and outdoing each other.

When we do this for each other, we do it for ourselves at the same time. It is about everything. It's about the whole - about our why, our purpose, about our inner story and the painful yawning emptiness that arises when it is missing. Many feel this.

And so that people don't say that I only dare to attack icons who are no longer on earth, I'm going to finish off by taking on my grandmother. Anyone who knows her knows that it is not a good idea to contradict her. Trust me on this one: Not only do I know her, I know her badass right hook that comes out of her little sleeve faster than Lucky Luke can pull (who is known to pull faster than his own shadow). So I'd rather not disagree, but allow myself an updated edit of your cri de guerre, dearest Omama. Something like this has already worked very well elsewhere, for example with the USP. Or with "Pygmalion" and "My Fair Lady", right?

So let's call it "New Story. New Glory." on our premiere announcement, open the gate of the World Theatre and raise the curtain. The play that then crosses the stage is about how a new story makes us infinitely stronger as people, teams and as a society. And everyone wins.
And I firmly believe that in the not too distant future, my grandmother, old Story Dudette, who has quite a few annual rings under her eyes but is younger at heart than Billie Elish, will take this remix to her heart and stop saying what she already calligraphed Rosser Reeves on his Lucky Strike package: "No Story. No Glory."