There’s a reason why the phrase ‘unique selling points’ has the word ‘unique’. But let’s go back a little. As I wrote in one of my previous blogs, the democratization of resources and opportunities required to run a successful business has led to more and more startups coming up in every sector, even the non-traditional ones like ed-tech and online gaming. What this has done is raise the level of competition in the markets. As a result, it is becoming increasingly difficult to sell a product that is not visibly unique. It can be unique in terms of offerings and cost or both, but it will sell only if it is unique. Therein lies the answer to this question.
Competition Isn’t Your Enemy
Yes, competition is growing. Marketing new products is becoming tougher. However, this does not mean that one can’t survive in a competitive industry. There’s always scope for multiple players to thrive in a competitive environment. As Amazon founder Jeff Bezos says, “Great industries are never made from single companies. There is room in space for a lot of winners.”
Competition is always looked at negatively. But the truth is that it is the mother of innovation. Competition forces people to think out of the box and fosters innovation. If you can use the competition to your advantage, it can turn into a driver of growth.
So we know how to sell a product in a competitive industry – make it unique. The question now is: how do you make the product unique? As uniqueness is subjective, every business owner will have a different answer to this question. Let me talk about what I have learned in my journey as a manager, having established an ed-tech startup myself.
The Lessons I Learnt
1) Unique does not always mean better
The biggest misconception among startup managers is that making a unique product means making a product that is better than what your competitor offers. That, however, is not correct. It is not the product itself that must be unique. It is the overall offering, or what you put on the table as a package for your customer, that should be unique.
Your product can be basic or less technologically advanced than your competitor’s but still be unique. How, you ask? As your product is less technologically advanced, it will have a lower cost. You can now add to that advantage by offering a better service package. Now, your less technologically advanced product will become attractive to the section of your industry, looking for cheaper options than those given by your competitor. The service package you are offering will act as an additional offering for them, an added benefit of sorts.
“Microsoft has had its success by doing low-cost products and constantly improving those products,” Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates has said. And he is not the only one who believes in this philosophy. Consider what Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has said, for example: “If you do the things that are easier first, then you can actually make a lot of progress”.
In this manner, you can carve out a section of the industry for your product and create a market for it. To get this right, you must know which section of the industry your product is targeted towards. Every industry has multiple tiers based on cost, features and more.
Thus, positioning is of utmost importance.
2) Branding helps a great deal
Consider Apple, for example. The technology that it uses in its product is not exponentially better than what other top-tier phone manufacturers, like Samsung, use in theirs. But still, as of the fourth quarter of 2021, Apple was at the top spot in the global smartphone market. In fact, it has managed to achieve this when its products are significantly costlier than others? What makes this possible? The answer is branding.
“Brand is just a perception, and perception will match reality over time. Sometimes it will be ahead, other times it will be behind. But brand is simply a collective impression some have about a product,” Tesla and SpaceX co-founder Elon Musk says.
The perception that Apple as a brand has created keeps it going. While this perception is built on the back of the great user experience Apple offers, that experience itself is not unique. Samsung too provides a great user experience, like many other brands. It is the perception of Apple being the ‘best brand out there’ that allows it to charge a premium.
Therefore, branding is important if you want your product to stand out.
3) All-encompassing solutions work
Would you buy an Office Suite from Microsoft or go for individual tools from different service providers? Microsoft, of course, because it provides an all-encompassing solution to all your office needs. It has built an ecosystem of tools and midgets that take care of all office needs.
Similarly, if you have a package that saves your customer the hassle of dealing with different tools, it will be able to compete better in the market, especially if your competitors do not have one. As Bill Gates has said, “Most of our competitors were one-product wonders. They would do their one product, but never get their engineering sorted out.”
Thus, branching out always helps. “Jack of all trades” has a negative connotation, but it is not always a bad option. Sometimes, it can make for a sound strategy.
Two Generic Principles
Before you start implementing the three points I have talked about above, you must follow these two generic principles of business management.
1) Market Research
Knowing the market that you are going to sell your product always helps. If you know what your competitors are doing, you can identify the weak points in their products and improve your own based on it. Sometimes, you will find that a particular segment of the market is underserved, and you can design your product or a variation of it to serve the needs of that particular section.
With market research, you can identify your place in the industry and work accordingly. When there are multiple competitors in a market, you can’t take on all of them in one go. You must choose one which you think you can replace and go after it.
“Figuring out what the next big trend is tells us what we should focus on,” Zuckerberg has said on multiple occasions. Market research can help you do that too.
2) Product Pitch
If you’re working in a highly competitive market with a lot of competent players, it is recommended that you use simple messaging. You should convey the best attributes about your product in a concise manner and in a language that is easy to understand. The aims of your brand and the market that you want to serve must be clear (identifying target demographic through market research) before you start working on the messaging. You must know about the people you are targeting before you figure out what you want to say to them (product pitch). This may look like a trivial point, but it always helps in connecting with the customer.
Apart from these, knowing the most powerful attributes of your product always helps when you are marketing it. The focus should always be on how your product stands out from the rest. That alone can get you the attention your product needs in the initial stages. Once it takes off, the attention must shift to the services that come along, and an ecosystem should follow.
As I end this blog, I am reminded of this legendary quote from the visionary co-founder of Apple, Steve Jobs, that sums it up quite well: “You can’t look at the competition and say you’re going to do it better. You have to look at the competition and say you’re going to do it differently.”
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