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What does USP really mean?

June 1, 2007
A Unique Selling Proposition (USP) is important for all businesses ..

A Unique Selling Proposition (USP) is important for all businesses ... so why don’t many of them have a clue?

Story by Jim Poole, MBA Managing Partner, Focused Evolution, Inc. and Chris Gross, MBA Managing Partner, Focused Evolution, Inc.

A unique Selling Proposition (USP) is a marketing concept that defines a product’s competitive advantage: what’s being sold, to whom, and why a customer should purchase this offering over another. USP is a term that is often used, but not necessarily understood or properly utilized. A well-crafted USP should combine benefits with emotion to result in a clear understanding by the customer of a product’s perceived value. There are thousands of dental products competing for the time, attention, and money of dentists. A clear, simple USP is one way to break through all of the noise, and its goal is to create a compelling reason for the customer to purchase.

Imagine yourself the marketing vice president of an automobile manufacturer. Your product development team has built a new luxury class automobile for the domestic market, and you’re responsible for the launch strategy. What customers are you going to target? What opportunities exist in the competitive landscape? Is there really a need for another luxury automobile? What are the overall economic trends? What are the geopolitical trends (gasoline crisis, eco-friendly awareness)? Will you compete directly against another car or are you competing for discretionary funds (vacation home, early retirement, college educations)? The answers are the foundation of your USP.

To develop a differentiated USP one needs to possess intimate knowledge of numerous variables, including the target customer, competition, the channels to market, macro trends, and micro industry trends. Most important is knowledge of the company - can it do what it’s promising to customers?

Creating a USP in the Dental Market

Below are questions that need to be answered in your quest for a successful USP.

Know the customer
Who is the target market?

  • Demographics (age, gender, years in practice, specialty, location, size of practice)
  • Psychographics (behaviors and lifestyle choices; which dental publications do they read, what dental websites do they browse, what are their lifestyle goals?)

What is the target market’s buying behavior?

  • How does the target market make purchasing decisions in the product category?
  • Where do they find information on the product category?
  • Who influences their purchasing decisions on the product category?
  • How long is the sales cycle in the product category?
  • Are they price sensitive?
  • Are they early adopters to new products/technologies?
  • What is their typical brand switching behavior?
  • What are their discreet, unmet needs in the product category?
  • How do we stimulate the target market to try the product?
  • What experience must they have with the product to reinforce the value?
  • What service elements are critical in the execution of a purchase?

    What is the target market’s new product adoption cycle?

    • How does the target market like to be trained on a new product technique?
    • Does the target market like to be trained without his/her team with the expectation that he/she will train the team on the new product technique?
    • What is the path from initial product usage to full confidence and implementation?

    Know the competition

    • How are the competitors positioned in the market (premium, quality, service, ease of use)?
    • SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) of each identified competitor
    • What is the brand awareness and brand equity of each competitor?
    • What are the predicted countermoves of each competitor?

    Know the channels

    • The dental industry possesses several channels to influence purchasing decisions (Key Opinion Leaders, continuing education, laboratories, manufacturer sales representatives, dealer representatives, etc.)
    • SWOT analysis of each sales channel
    • Current trends and channel dynamics
    • Opportunities for strategic partnerships

    Know yourselves

    • Mission/Vision
    • Corporate strategy and goals
    • Current market position
    • Capabilities - must deliver your customer promise
    • SWOT
    • Brand equity
    • Profit Targets

    Dentists don’t buy products; they buy a network of experiences. If their experiences are positive, dentists will return to the products. There are five experiences in the purchase/usage of any product or service:

    • Purchase experience
    • Usage experience
    • Service experience
    • Billing experience
    • Marketing experience

    What makes the USP key?

    The USP is the focal point of a product launch and sales execution. All activities need to be consistent and reinforce the product’s positioning. Commercial success is predicated on five principles:

    • All sales and marketing messages must convey a consistent theme
    • Customers must appreciate the message
    • The message must be clear, undiluted, and concise
    • The product must deliver on the USP
    • There are no unnecessary steps in the experience; all activities accomplish added value.

    So what does a USP mean to you in the field? Let’s say that your company is launching a new PVS to compete in this burgeoning market. Impression taking continues to be one of the root causes of poor crown fit, resulting in compromised marginal integrity and recurrent decay. Your product solves this problem by being error proof, provided the technique is followed accurately. Your new PVS and technique solves a problem of which dentists and labs are keenly aware. Therefore, there will be little need to educate your target market on the problems; you simply need to focus on your solution.

    Your product has great functional attributes (tear strength, wet ability); proven clinical efficacy through clinical trials, beta testing, and market surveillance; limited patient discomfort (quick set time, good taste); and a proven technique that mitigates human error and results in the perfect impression every time. So how will product development success be leveraged into commercial success? By building a strategy around the USP.

    What are you selling?

    You are selling a solution to the problem of poor dental impressions that results in clinical failures and patient dissatisfaction. We have developed a world-class PVS and impression technique that is clinically proven, easy to use, and error proof.

    Who are you targeting?

    Dental teams throughout the U.S., beginning with those that are performing the most crown and bridge procedures.

    Why will they want to buy your product?

    Our product and impression technique improves satisfaction for patients, dentists, dental assistants, and lab techs.

    How will you utilize your USP?

    You will deliver a clearly articulated USP to your target customer that highlights your solution, and back it up with data and information regarding the product attributes if necessary. You will understand the competitive landscape and be able to respond to customer questions reinforcing why your product is superior. Most importantly, you will ensure that your customer properly executes the new impression technique through hands-on, in-office training, a technique DVD, and a clearly illustrated technique guide. It is your responsibility to train your customers. Many salespeople make the mistake of believing that their sales cycle ends when their customer purchases their product. In fact, the sales cycle begins when the customer purchases the product. Word-of-mouth is a powerful influence in this industry, and a dissatisfied customer can become a real threat to your success and reputation. Spending a little extra time with your customers to ensure their satisfaction will pay long-term dividends for you, as customers will spread the word about your product. Make sure the message they spread is consistent with your message.


    To get a dentist’s attention, your USP must be distinct and compelling. There are a myriad of influences reaching dentists on a daily basis. If your USP is not distinct, they will ignore it. If your USP is not compelling, they will not try your product. A clearly defined, targeted USP can make your job easier. Let people know how great your product is. Good luck!

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    Focused Evolution, Inc. is a strategy consulting firm focused on the dental industry. Our mission is to deliver pragmatic marketing strategies through our passion, professionalism, industry experience, and customer intimacy. Put the power of organic marketing to work for you. You can reach the authors at [email protected] (top photo) or [email protected] (bottom photo).

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