USP vs Unique Mechanism – What’s the Difference and Does it Even Matter?

The terms USP and Unique Mechanism get bandied around constantly by marketers. And in most cases, they’re used interchangeably…

…which makes me think that most people don’t really know the difference (if there even is a difference).

Now, until recently, I too was guilty of flipping between the terms USP and Unique Mechanism – without thinking there was a difference. But it turns out there is a subtle, but important, distinction between the two. 

And this difference has been explained beautifully by marketing legend – Todd Brown – whose infographic I am about to shamelessly rip off…with a couple of edits that helped me get my head around the two concepts.

Todd Brown’s Embarrassingly Simple (but Genius)

Definition of USPs vs UMs

USP vs Unique Mechanism

Let’s start by defining a USP

According to Todd Brown, a USP is a specific and unique BENEFIT offered by your product or service.

Which means that the outcome your ideal prospect achieves from your product or service is an outcome they have never experienced before. And it’s an outcome that no other product on the market can give them.

That makes products with a genuine USP extremely rare. Because, when you think about it, how many products are there which truly offer a new and unique outcome?

Not many, right? And so, there are a few ways we can classify products with a genuine USP:

  • Products with a USP must be the first mover in their market 
  • There is zero competition in the market
  • The product creates its own “Category Class” 
  • You might call products with a USP an “invention” or major innovation 

Here are some examples of products which had a genuine USP when they first came onto the market:

USP vs Unique Mechanism
USP vs Unique Mechanism

Before we move onto defining what a Unique Mechanism is, I want to point out one more crucial point about USPs. Whether or not a product has a true USP is not static or permanent. That’s because – when an innovation proves popular and profitable – it’s inevitable that competitors will join the market…and start selling their own version.

And so, the first-mover’s product no longer has a unique benefit or outcome. At this point, the product’s USP transitions into being a Unique Mechanism. 

What is a Unique Mechanism?

As I showed you in the infographic a Unique Mechanism is the UNIQUE WAY in which a product or service delivers a desired outcome. And that’s all down to your product’s unique features…or your service’s unique methodology.

Which means that products with a Unique Mechanism are far more common than products with a USP. And they exist in competitive markets, where multiple businesses can offer similar (but slightly different) products – with a common benefit.

Here are some examples of products with Unique Mechanisms: 

USP vs Unique Mechanism
USP vs Unique Mechanism

In truth, any product can have a Unique Mechanism. It’s down to you, as a marketer, to identify the most appealing UMs (or create one) based on what you know about your target customer’s pain points and desires…and the product itself.  

There are 4 main ways to think about a Unique Mechanism:


  1. Unique features – does your product come with any unique widgets or product specs, which allow it to deliver a promised result better…faster…or cheaper than your competitors. 

In other words, what are the physical or tangible characteristics of your offering that make it unique and superior. 

Unique features will mostly apply to physical or SaaS products. But they can also apply to infoproducts – if the way in which you deliver your program or course is unique (e.g. if you deliver your course content via a brand new medium like a new course platform or social network).


2. Unique process of methodology – Differentiating by methodology usually works best for infoproducts or done-for-you service providers. This is where you identify the exact steps you take to deliver a promised outcome or benefit. 

In the infoproduct world, you’ll often hear experts referring to their proprietary system, or blueprint. This is a unique methodology.

Now, if you’re selling physical products – it may be that your manufacturing process is unique. For example, I once worked with a sunglasses brand that had an unusual supply chain. 

On the surface, a unique supply chain is pretty darn boring. But we made it appealing by explaining why their unique supply chain allowed them to create better quality products – for a fraction of the price charged by their competitors. 

3. “Name it and claim it” – In some cases, you might end up selling a real commodity item with no clear differentiation from other products in the market. In this situation, you have two options. The first is to “Name it and Claim it”…which means you take a common feature or methodology…give it a name…and then talk about it all the time – as if it’s unique.

Here’s the key with naming and claiming. First, you don’t want to overdo it by naming and claiming everything. Stick to one named feature per product.

Secondly, you need to make sure you’re the only one claiming your chosen feature. Otherwise it’s not unique. 

4. Branding – The second way to differentiate commodity items is through branding. Which is something you’ll see all the time in the fashion industry.

Clothing manufacturers invest huge sums of money in building brand capital, in order to create the perception that their products are superior…when they probably aren’t.

Branding is all about making your ideal prospect FEEL a certain way about your products, without being able to define precisely why they feel that way. 

Here’s a quick of the difference between

USPs and Unique Mechanisms

  • A USP is a unique benefit provided by a product or service
  • Products with a genuine USP are rare – because they require innovation and product development 
  • Unique Mechanisms are the unique WAY in which a product or service delivers a common benefit 
  • UMs apply to most products. In fact, any product can have a UM. But it’s often up to you as a marketer to dig deep and find one (or invent one)

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