Look beyond your USP to create packaging that sells

by | Mar 18, 2019 | Creating Emotional Connection, Strategically thinking through the design process

A USP (“unique selling proposition”) was developed by Rosser Reeves in the 1950s. One’s USP is the one line that states what you do that is different than what your competition does. Well if that’s the case then why you need to look beyond a USP to a Unique Selling Mechanism to create packaging that sells?

Rosser Reeves


USP – The “Go-To” marketing tactic

Reeves’ conception of the USP was brilliantly simple: “Buy this product, get this specific benefit.” So clever right? 

Except for the fact that today’s consumer is constantly bombed with a plethora of:

  • marketing campaigns,
  • marketing messages,
  • advertisements,
  • benefit statements,
  • claims, and promises.

Whether these messages be online, on packs, television, radio, billboards, in store, online, direct mail, email, magazines, flyers, all of them screaming out “I’m different! buy me!”

Fact is: Whether you like it or not, your marketing message is based on an idea or a positioning. it is focused on an angle or hook.


You are set up to be easily copied

As Harvard professor Michael E Porter, developer of the Five Forces Model has said, when a company’s business strategy is based on one primary element, such as service, price or breadth of inventory, then that sets themselves up to be easily copied. This applies to most of us.

Therefore, with the above said, one would think that a USP makes even more sense in today’s highly competitive market? 

This blog post will argue that today a USP is not enough! You need a Unique Selling Mechanism!



Uniqueness today is rare

Uniqueness in business today is rare, and becoming harder and harder to differentiate oneself. As a result the USP still remains the go-to marketing tactic for marketing and selling individual products. Albeit it’s becoming more difficult to create one.

Unfortunately, in today’s highly competitive market place, too many brands fall into the category of “Me Too.” There is nothing really unique about them. They are all things to all people.


When you attempt to be known for everything, you don’t become known for anything.


When your a USP should be a USM

A USP is your ‘unique selling proposition.‘ As we said earlier, it’s what is it that makes your product special? The problem is to create uniqueness of sorts and set your self apart from your competitors on the shelf, takes something a little stronger than a USP.

In an earlier blog post, we discussed the marketing principle of “unique selling mechanism”. That’s it! 

Our objective ultimately is to appeal to both emotion and logic.

Our product marketing and therefore our packaging design must capture both the heart and the mind of your target consumer. It must stir their emotions and captivate their intellect.


The BIG Question…

Here’s the BIG question that today’s consumer wants to know…

  • What’s the “WHAT” that makes your product different from any other similar product on the shelf. 
  • What is your USM – Your unique selling MECHANISM?


What is a Unique Selling MECHANISM

Your Unique Selling Mechanism is the unique piece, part, component, aspect, process, or system behind your product or service.

It’s the WHAT that delivers the Primary Promise for a customer.

It’s the THINGIMAJIG within your product or service that gives your customer the result they are looking for. It’s the reason why your product works.

unique selling mechanism


  • In economics, the market mechanism is a mechanism by which the use of money exchanged by buyers and sellers with an open and understood system of value and time trade-offs. 
  • In pharmacology, a “mechanism of action” is the specific interaction through which a particular drug produces its biological effect.
  • In marketing your unique selling mechanism is the “secret sauce”, the one key ingredient, process, technology that sets you apart from all others because it gets you the result it promises.


Knowing what they already know

To discover your secret ingredient often requires you to really understand what your target consumer already knows.

At Jam we often quote the famous author of Breakthrough Advertising, Eugene Schwartz, said: 

Knowing what your prospects knows in advance of a sales pitch is just as important as knowing who he is or what he wants.

At Jam&Co use a strategic marketing design tool we call the Nescience Loop©. to help our clients discover “what their target consumer already knows”. This is one of our USM’s. Its one of the tools that we use that is specific to us and how we work.

nescience loop



What is that something in your product that is actually unique?  What is the secret ingredient?

Here are 9 key questions one can ask to get a sense of your Unique Mechanism.

  1. What’s been clinically or scientifically proven?
  2. Whats the particular processes that work?
  3. What if any rare historical ingredient with historically documented benefits does it include?
  4. Does it have a unique framework that can work across body types to deliver its result etc.?
  5. Does it have a unique process, system or methodology?
  6. Is there an element of your product that you take for granted but could be meaningful to your customers?
  7. What is an element of your product that your competitors don’t mention about theirs?
  8. What can you claim as unique or special about your product?


Emotional triggers

emotional triggers

Using emotional triggers in your copy and in your packaging design or messaging is an age old marketing concept to get your customers to want to buy from you.

But it’s not easy to focus on just ONE emotion. And that emotion must support the KEY Message at the core of your marketing message. It must support your Unique Mechanism. Once you are clear about your KEY Message and the emotional pull it has, you can paint the picture of how you want your target consumer to feel.

As the internet marketing guru, Rich Schefren has said, ” A weak marketing idea will almost immediately be dismissed by prospects as simply more of the same. It’ll cause “mental opt-out

This same message applies to product packs on a supermarket shelf. Your pack needs to strike your audience as new, unique, and different. As something they find startling, arresting, and compelling. Something they have to stop and want to find out more.

You’ll need a design based on a Key Message that cuts through the noise and clutter and makes your pack stand-out in a sea of sameness. Your product packaging must have a HOOK!

You must have a hook that appeals to your target audience’s emotions AND their intellect.