Your Biggest Competitive Advantage Might Not Be Your Product
If you build it, they won’t come. If you build it and market it really well, you’ve got a shot.
I’ve spent many years working with tech companies from Google down to pre-seed hoping to succeed in the marketplace.
This is my takeaway: almost all of them are thinking too small about how to win.
Being product people, they start from a belief that competitive advantage is a direct result of product features.
“My product features are better than someone else’s, therefore hockey-stick growth.”
The truth is that product merit is in the eye of the buyer. And buyer perception and product reality are two different things. And nobody is paying all that much attenton.
To succeed, you need to get people’s attention and lead them to perceive that you’re better.
Simply reciting your feature descriptions is not enough to accomplish that. Here's a better way.
I call it Advantage Stacking. It’s a simple process of looking beyond your product advantages to find the most powerful sources of market leverage available to you.
This technique presupposes that you’ve thought through product positioning and have a clear sense of who your product is for and why it’s the best option for those people.
Once you’ve done that, it’s time to go wide and consider every possible source of advantage available to you.
Here's list of different types of advantages I’ve seen companies use. This is by no means comprehensive, but it’s a great jumping-off point.
- Incumbency: Leverage your established position in a known category.
- Entrenchment: Highlight how deeply interwoven your product is with customers' businesses.
- History: Use your years of experience in an industry or category to build credibility.
- Ubiquity: Capitalize on your widespread recognition within a category or job type.
- IP: Talk about patents, concepts you pioneered, books, or other creations you’re responsible for.
- Virality: Create opportunities for your product to organically appear in people's lives.
- Distribution: Establish effective ways to get your product in front of a multitude of buyers.
- Ease of purchase: Ensure your product is more accessible than competitors'.
- Notoriety: Promote your credibility as a provider within your industry.
- Price: Offer competitive pricing compared to other options.
- Displacement: Be a high-value, low-cost alternative to existing solutions.
- Efficiency: Provide a lower cost of ownership than your competitors.
- Iconoclasm: Give voice to unspoken frustrations with the status quo.
- Trendiness: Attach your offering to a top-of-mind cultural shift.
- Current events: Link your offering to a specific news event or change.
- Authority: Share deep knowledge about a topic of interest.
- Data: Reference proprietary information about an industry or problem.
- Insight: Offer a revelatory new interpretation of facts.
- Ad budget: Invest in paid media to reach a wider audience.
- Celebrity: Leverage existing fame to promote your product.
- Endorsement: Obtain public validation from well-known third parties.
- Visual identity: Develop a distinctive, consistent look and feel for your brand.
- Brand voice: Craft a unique and unconventional style and manner of communication.
- Founder story: Use the founder's biography or point of view to lend credibility to the product.
- Specialization: Appeal to a niche population with specific needs.
- Subcultural appeal: Resonate with a particular group of people who share a cultural affinity.
- Accreditation: Meet verifiable criteria to satisfy high demands within a specific group.
Here's how you use this list.
The first step, like I said, is to distill down your most distinctive and resonant product advantages. The stuff your buyers value most.
You probably have no more than three of them.
Then, use the list to uncover your most distinctive and resonant non-product advantages. (Again, stuff that your buyers care about.) Maybe you have a famous founder. Maybe you have a built-in distribution channel that your competitors can't access. Maybe you "wrote the book" on something.
Boil it down.
Then, look at your product and non-product advantages and decide how you'll use them.
Maybe it's time for a founder brand play. Maybe it's time to pour more juice into a partner GTM.
Go where your best advantages take you. And go hard.
All for now.
P.S.: If this is interesting, I have an Advantage Stacking workshop built that can be run in less than a week and generate crisp thinking and useful new strategic ideas. Hit me if this interests you.