Differentiate Or Die: Or, How I Learned To Love The USP

September 16, 2013

differentiate_or_dieI just finished reading Jack Trout’s “Differentiate or Die.” It makes me want to tackle every strategic branding and positioning project on Earth. Now.

In 1960, Rosser Reeves introduced the concept of the unique selling proposition — the USP — in his book “Reality in Advertising.” In 2000, Trout’s “Differentiate or Die” lamented the USP’s apparent insignificance to many modern marketers.

Establishing a unique brand position is crucial, Trout argues, primarily due to the mountain of choice facing consumers. And today, that mountain is almost immeasurably larger. But the world of modern marketing seems to be split between those with a Troutian reverence for the USP and those who believe creativity is the almighty higher power.

Writing in 2000, Trout points to this 1997 AdAge article as evidence of the ongoing debate. And after 13 more years have passed, I’d argue not much has changed on that front.

I’ve always enjoyed strategic branding and positioning projects. They’re a ton of work, they’re hard as hell, and they’re among the most intellectually rewarding work you’ll do as a marketer. And just reading Trout’s book — chock-full of advice and examples — made me want to dig into to another of these projects first thing in the morning.

He explains four distinct ways to differentiate to unique audiences: intuitives, thinkers, feelers and sensors. And he offers entire chapters devoted to things that are potential meaningful differentiators — such as being first, being a leader, having a notable heritage — and things that aren’t — price, breadth of product, customer service.

Trout even offers advice for maintaining a difference once it’s established — such as growing wisely rather than greedily and having top leadership directly involved.

“Differentiate or Die” is a quick read and bound to be helpful for all but the world’s most seasoned marketing strategists.