From USP to UPS

by
July 28, 2011

In my previous blog, “How to sell when you have no USP”, I explained how marketing has moved from the concept of the USP on to the feature/benefit approach.  How it then went from product-centric marketing to consumer-centric marketing.  And how this led to the next stage – the shift from Customer Relationship Management (something that’s done to you, whether you like it or not) to Permission Marketing (something that’s done with you, in a way that you do like – hopefully).

Shoot for the heart

The next logical step for marketers who want to get ahead of the competition is actually not logical at all.  As Seth Godin says in “Permission Marketing”, this approach is “just like dating”, which should give you a clue.  Smart marketers, the ones who really understand branding, have started to shift their focus from the head to the heart – they’ve gone emotional.

This tactic has actually been steadily gaining traction for about the last 20 years (the trends I’ve identified tend to overlap, because some marketers are way ahead of others).

In my previous post, “Stop talking about your USP- you haven’t got one”, I quoted from “The Economist Guide to Management Ideas and Gurus”.  The author, Tim Hindle, makes the point that “Uniqueness is rare, and coming up with a continuous stream of products with unique features is, in practice, extremely difficult. Philip Kotler says that the difficulty firms have in creating functional uniqueness has made them “focus on having a unique emotional selling proposition (an ESP) instead of a USP”.

Fashiontainment is where it’s at

John Hegarty, in his recent book “Hegarty on advertising”, argues that product functionality has become considerably less important when building brands, remarking that “the issue with brands today is not about whether ‘it’, the product I’ve just bought, works – I expect ‘it’ to work – but what ‘it’ says about me.  ‘It’ becomes a fashion statement.”  Elsewhere he explains that “the future is going to be one where brands look increasingly at how the two worlds of entertainment and fashion are merging.  Brands need to become part of those worlds – where fashion sits alongside the need to be entertained.”

The work of Hegarty’s agency, BBH, provides an object lesson in how successful ad agencies and their clients have been doing this for donkey’s years.  See BBH’s work for Lynx/Axe, Levis, Wallis and Haagen Dazs.

The ultimate driving machine goes soft on us

Perhaps the best example of the change that has occurred is BMW.   In the 80’s the ads created by WCRS were focused on discovering USPs.  The agency had a technique they called “product interrogation”.  This involved an annual pilgrimage to Munich to ‘interrogate the product until it confessed to its strengths’.  One such trip became part of the agency’s folklore.  Copywriter and self-styled “brand architect” Robin Wight spent half a day pounding away at a BMW engineer to understand why six cylinders were smoother than four. Eventually the engineer explained how a glass of water on the engine of a Mercedes would be de-stabilised by the imperfections in the balance of the engine.  But with the BMW, the engineer said, neither the glass nor the water would move.  This resulted in the famous “Shaken.  Not Stirred” ad.

Now, however, the ads have moved away from the product.  Interrogation to discover features and benefits has been replaced by interrogation of consumers.  And what have they found?  To quote from a recent BMW commercial they realised that “what you make people feel is just as important as what you make….and at BMW we don’t just make cars, we make joy.”

Love is Ben & Jerry’s, Apple, Lexus…

If you want to understand more about the thinking that has led to this more emotional approach to marketing read “Lovemarks” and “The Lovemarks effect” by Kevin Roberts, CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi.  The book is an extended advertisement for the work of his agency (very irritating), but he does make some good points.

He argues that brands “are out of juice” because “they can’t stand out in the marketplace, and they are struggling to connect with people.”  The answer is get “up close and personal” with consumers because, “people think with their hearts”.  He quotes the words of neurologist Donald Calne: “The essential difference between emotion and reason is that emotion leads to action while reason leads to conclusions”.

He explains how his agency recognised the need to give brands “emotional resonance”.  You do this by investing them with “mystery, sensuality and intimacy”, thereby creating what he terms a “lovemark” – a brand that people not just respect, but love…passionately.  It all gets a bit sickly sweet, but you get the general idea – marketing has become the business of creating deep and meaningful love affairs between consumers and products/services.

I feel the need to send a package and share the love!

UPS is a great example.   You can’t get more logical than logistics, but their “We love logistics” campaign makes the world of bar codes, fork lifts, shipping schedules, conveyor belts, supply chains and cardboard boxes romantic and sexy.  The lyrics are pure features and benefits – “when the parts for the line come precisely on time…that’s logistics….carbon footprint gets reduced, bottom line gets a boost…that’s logistics…with new ways to compete, there’ll be cheers on Wall Street….that’s logistics…there will be no more stress, because you called UPS…that’s logistics.  But the tune (“that’s Amore” originally sung by Dean Martin) is pure emotion, and the stuff of lovemarks.  That’s genius.

So, marketing has come a huge distance since the 1940s – all the way from USP to UPS.