Dare to be different

Dominic Twose
Global Head of Knowledge
Kantar Millward Brown

Back in 1961, Rosser Reeves wrote the book Reality in Advertising which popularised the term Unique Selling Proposition (USP), a phrase he had developed in the 1940s. The concept of the USP is now rejected by many. Most products today are almost identical, it is argued. For many years it has been rare for brands in most categories to be substantially different in function.

However, brands that are seen as different do exist. The Apple iPhone is a perhaps the greatest example of a brand succeeding by being so different that it redefined the category. Launched in 2007, the brand is still seen as massively different. Other examples of highly different brands include Tesla, Uber, and Ikea.

Being meaningfully different is likely to be a useful asset for a brand. Our brand equity work has shown it can aid brand growth, and result in the brand being able to charge a premium. So it is instructive to read what Rosser Reeves wrote back in 1961; "It is true that a good many products are identical," But he then goes on to describe several routes to getting a USP. These are as true today as they were in the 1960s, and include:

Using research to identify product differences, or differences in usage
A few years ago Kantar Millward Brown conducted research for an OTC homeopathic brand in Poland, interviewing both doctors and patients, as well as conducting a pricing experiment in 18 pharmacies. We concluded the way the brand was used was sufficiently different to withstand a substantial price increase. The client increased prices by 10%, a direct benefit to the bottom line; and demand held steady.

The product can be changed
Innovation can be exploited both through improvement of the core brand, and through the introduction of premium variants. In 2009, the Buick brand underwent a complete product line overhaul, with many new models. They have made every effort to be different from what they were; Buick has become a legitimate luxury brand.

You can tell the public something about the product that has never been told before
Rosser Reeves emphasised "This is not a uniqueness of the product, but it assumes uniqueness, and cloaks itself in uniqueness, as a claim." He also argues that while competitors may make the same claim, if you've advertised first and heavily, the USP will remain 'your claim'.

At Kantar Millward Brown we've long seen that one of the most important ways advertising helps build brand value is by framing the brand experience, making the experience more rewarding in either functional or emotive ways. The 'Weave Your Magic' campaign, with its beautiful shots of meal preparation, positioned the butter brand, Lurpac, as a recipe ingredient, and helped establish it as 'a champion of good food'; it was hugely successful.

Can you make your brand meaningfully different?