Why a ‘Brand Promise’ is better than a USP

The term ‘USP’ (Unique Selling Proposition) has been around for a long, long time. It’s a statement that explains what makes a brand unique from its competitors. It has been around since the 1940’s and it’s time we retired it from active service.

The USP statement explains what makes a brand unique from its competitors. I was first introduced to the term in 1986, while studying marketing at university. It dates back to the 1940’s when Rosser Reeves first used the term at American advertising agency Ted Bates & co. I think we can all agree that business, branding and indeed life has changed a fair bit since then.

Which explains why the term has a few flaws these days.

Flaw #1: It’s not about you, it’s about me.

Your customer doesn’t care about how unique and different you are, they just want to know what you will do for them to make their life better. There’s a useful acronym ‘WIFM,’ which stands for ‘what’s in it for me,’ and which neatly sums up why it’s more important to communicate what you will do for them than why you are bigger, better and brighter than all of your competitors put together.

Flaw #2: It doesn’t tell me why.

The second issue with the concept of a USP is that it doesn’t contain a reason why your customer should believe you, align with you, or trust you. A statement of uniqueness is one dimensional, and lacks an emotional connection with the audience.

Flaw #3: It’s difficult to prove.

When considering what makes a brand different, it’s actually pretty hard in most cases to claim anything genuinely unique. Unless you have made a scientific breakthrough, your uniqueness statement is likely to be vague or insubstantial. And what people are really looking for nowadays is authenticity – so if your brand claim sounds glib or vague, it is not going to be received well by your customer.

The case for Brand Promise.

The advantage of making a promise to your customers is that it comes from the heart, not the head.

A Brand Promise has three elements:

Your Brand Purpose: why your brand exists, and what you and your team believe in.

Your Mission: what you commit to doing for your customers to solve a significant problem they have, and make a difference to their lives.

Outcomes: The benefits and outcomes you will deliver to your customers.

It addresses the three flaws outlined above for a USP in the following ways:

  1. It tells them what you’ll do to solve their problem, and the outcomes you will deliver to make a difference to their lives – so it answers the ‘WIFM’ question.
  2. It explains your ‘why’ – so your audience can decide if they align with your beliefs and values, or if they think you are on another planet. If it is the former – great, you have a potential customer. If it’s the latter – also great, because you have saved both them and you a lot of wasted time, effort, and conflict. That’s because when there is no alignment between two parties, it is a recipe for disaster.
  3. It’s easy to challenge someone on a claim they make about being unique, but it’s much harder to challenge the same person on their beliefs and intentions. Of course, if their actions don’t line up with those beliefs or intentions, you can of course call them out. However as long as you are being genuine when you make your Brand Promise, and you follow up with actions that demonstrate your commitment – your audience is much more likely to believe you.

So maybe it’s time to lay the USP to rest, and to make a promise to customers instead – who in term, can measure our credibility by the actions we take to deliver on that promise.


Justin Cooper is the founder of Brand Purpose .Co, which helps employees, business owners and business leaders to define their Purpose and leverage it through their work, business or brand in a way that inspires, unites and connects the people they work with.