What in Hell is the U.S.P.? And Why Do You Need One? Redux
By Madigan Pratt, President of MP&A Digital & Advertising
Every so often it's a good idea to step back and review the real definition of the U.S.P. While the Unique Selling Proposition is one of the most basic and important components of a hotel's marketing program it is also one of the least understood. Consultants and advertising agencies are developing varying definitions of the U.S.P., some of which are quite far from the original.
"Today, the U.S.P. is perhaps the most misused series of letters in advertising. It has been picked up by hundreds of agencies and has spread across the country. It is now applied, loosely and without understanding, to slogans, slick phrases, strange pictures, mere headlines – in fact, to almost anything which some writers consider slightly different from what they find in competing advertisements."
I didn't write this. Rosser Reeves, Chairman of the Board of Ted Bates wrote it over 50 years ago in his seminal book, Reality in Advertising. It was required reading for everyone, like myself who worked at Bates.
The intervening years, and decades for that matter, haven't added much clarity to the situation as the U.S.P continues to be one of the most misunderstood terms in marketing today.
So what exactly is a U.S.P.? In reality it is a way to get leverage for your hotel over competition and to let targeted consumers know you represent the superior choice. A strong and clearly articulated U.S.P. well executed throughout all aspects of marketing and communications will lead to above average occupancy and revenue.
The U.S.P. or Unique Selling Proposition is best defined by describing each of its three parts starting from the back:
- Proposition – Each brand must make a proposition to the consumer. In essence that proposition must say, "Buy this product and get this benefit."
- Selling – The proposition being made or the benefit being offered must be one your target market wants to buy.
- Unique – The proposition must be one the competition either cannot, or does not, offer. It must be unique – either a uniqueness of your resort or through a claim not otherwise made.
While on the surface it may appear to be easy, developing a marketing concept that is truly unique, actually sells your hotel and is benefit oriented is no simple matter. That's especially true in today's hyper competitive hotel industry.
But it is possible to develop a U.S.P. – something that goes beyond mere puffery, something that is true and can be supported by facts and something that actually sets your hotel not only apart from, but above competition. Here are examples of four of our hotels, each with a strong U.S.P.
The Somerset on Grace Bay, Turks and Caicos - This a 5-star condo hotel in Turks and Caicos is situated on what was recently proclaimed the second best beach in the world. With accommodations ranging from 1 to 5 bedrooms, a beautiful beach with tranquil, reef protected waters The Somerset is an ideal resort for friends and family vacations.
The U.S. Travel Association published research that said traveling together as a family strengthens bonds and creates a lifetime of memories. It states, "Many adults report that family vacations are clearly remembered decades after the fact. Sixty-two percent of the adults surveyed said their earliest memories were of family vacations taken when they were between ages 5 and 10, and these memories were significantly stronger than memories of school events or birthday celebrations."
Armed with the right product and the right message we created the U.S.P. telling guests to "Create Treasured Times at The Somerset on Grace Bay.
Jamaica Inn – This is an independently owned luxury hotel where guests are but a few steps away from its lovely, private, crescent shaped beach. Recognized as one of the best hotels in the Caribbean, Jamaica Inn has been a haven for movie stars and other guests who are in search of the perfect place to relax.
A wealth of TripAdvisor reviews indicated Jamaica Inn indeed delivers a relaxing vacation experience. Our challenge therefore was to develop a U.S.P. that would position the hotel as being uniquely qualified to deliver that benefit. After considerable internal discussion Jamaica Inn's U.S.P. was approved – "Jamaica Inn – It's Time to Unwind."
The Reefs, Bermuda – The Reefs is one of numerous luxury hotels in Bermuda. Over the years it has consistently delivered a superior product and excellent service. The hotel is perched on limestone cliffs overlooking the ocean with every room having a view of the ocean.
Our research conducted among past guests and travel agents indicated that the location, the views, the ocean, the staff and the fact is was in Bermuda all contributed to the property offering a sense of security and a calming effect on guests. It was a hotel where guests were made to feel very comfortable.
This benefit was translated into its U.S.P. – "The Reefs, Come Feel Perfectly at Ease."
Bolongo Bay Beach Resort, St. Thomas – Another benefit highly sought after in a beach vacation is to just have fun. That is something Bolongo Bay has specialized in for years. Family run, this resort offers free non-motorized water sports, a weekly snorkel booze hunt and Iggies, one of the top beach bars in the Caribbean with live entertainment 365 days a year.
Although the hotel did talk about all the different fun things to do there on vacation there was no overarching benefit being communicated until it adopted its U.S.P. – "The Caribbean's most entertaining beach resort."
Each of these resorts possess something few of their competitors have – a strong and motivating U.S.P. If a traveler is looking to create extraordinary family memories there is one resort that should be in their consideration set. If they just want to have fun there is one that should always be at the top of the list.
Having a strong U.S.P. doesn't guarantee you will make the sale since there are so many other factors involved. What it will help you do is be included in a consumer's consideration set when they are looking for a hotel that delivers that benefit. And being in the consideration set is the first step in making a sale.
It's not easy developing a strong U.S.P. There's much more to consider than meets the eye and oftentimes it takes someone from the outside, someone with a fresh perspective on your hotel and competition to identify what is truly unique about your hotel. But the effort can be worth it for once you have a U.S.P. you will have a sustainable competitive advantage.
While there's a lot more to advertising the U.S.P. is still the foundation upon which all your marketing messaging should be built. It is also something that should help guide and prioritize product improvements. And without that strong foundation all the features you are trying to communicate about your hotel will be lost in a tidal wave of advertising clutter. You'll be invisible.
So, what is your U.S.P.? Does it really fit all three criteria outlined above? Do you offer a real benefit? Is it something people are looking for and hopefully willing to pay a premium for? Is it really unique, or is it just puffery? Your answer does have a significant impact on your bottom line.
What do you think?
Madigan Pratt is President of MP&A Digital & Advertising, an award-winning agency helping luxury hotels attract and retain profitable customers. Principals with over 60 years of collective experience at some of the world's largest advertising and direct marketing companies lead the agency's team of marketing, creative, public relations, Internet and social media professionals.More from Madigan Pratt