Every day, in advertising agencies across the world, a creative will sit down at their desk and look over a brief. On that brief there will be a range of areas covered off including objectives, audience, budget and key considerations.

The creative will possibly look over these again; they’ll maybe snigger at the clichéd audience profile and then let out a sigh over the budget. But there will be one section that they keep coming back to. That’s the section that defines the USP (unique selling proposition), also known as the SMP (single-minded proposition).

As the creatives judge the quality of their ideas they will use the USP as their barometer. If their ideas can be tied back to the USP then they know that they’re on the right track.

It’s a shame because largely the power of a USP is just a myth.

The USP is based upon the idea that differentiation is the best way to sell a brand. If the USP has been correctly identified, it’s believed that it will help to persuade an audience to buy the product or service.

Because of that, these USPs get stuffed with all sorts of fluffy and meaningless additions. And heavily commoditised category brands will look for other ways of differentiating themselves through their brand purpose or by tapping into social causes.

This is largely because we have deluded ourselves into thinking that people want more than what the product has on offer.

They don’t want a soft drink, they want an experience.

They don’t want a trustworthy bank to look after their money, they want an innovative, equality-driving, freedom fighting financial institution.

This kind of strategic underpinning sends creatives, and ultimately brands, down the wrong paths.

They’re told that the positioning is so influential that it’s the most important part of the ad.

The opposite is actually true.

Evidence-based marketing expert Professor Byron Sharp has used decades of research to dispel this myth.

Sharp has proven that, “Real world competition is largely about competitive matching rather than avoiding competitors.”

He continues, “This doesn’t mean that there aren’t meaningfully differentiated brands that are growing and profitable, but the empirical fact is that most category leaders have a great many very similar rivals.”

What does this mean for brands?

“The main implication is that it isn’t essential for marketers to convince buyers that a product is different before they buy it.

Instead, marketers should focus on achieving the things that do make customers buy a product.”

So what should we be replacing the USP with on a brief?

It might not sound as sexy but a category entry point (CEP) is far more important for a brand than any manufactured USP.

The reason we choose to remember a brand has more to do with the fact that the brand has been linked to relevant buying occasions in a memorable way.

A category entry point is a potential brand entry point.

These are the actual things that people are thinking about when they’re making a purchase decision.

  • “Someone I can trust to look after my money.”
  • “A refreshing drink when it’s hot.”
  • “Something to feed the whole family.”

They call upon relevant memories through these CEPs and if you’ve created the right kind of memories you’ll have increased the chances of your brand being considered.

They also allow creatives to decide which path to take the work. What starts with a CEP for ‘something to do this weekend’ can then end up becoming ‘something awe-inspiring that makes you feel the wonder you felt as a child’:

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