Founders are notoriously secretive folks, often believing they must keep their ideas under wraps lest some other entrepreneur nab their golden goose. But having your idea appropriated isn’t a bad thing; it means you’re on to something people want.
Frequently, startups are so sure of their ideas, and so protective of them, that they wait until the last minute to reveal the goods. Unfortunately, 42 percent of those studied in one report learned too late that the market didn't need their products.
The message: When you prioritize secrecy over audience testing, you run the risk of creating something that fails to launch.
At the outset, you should forget about scaling. The key is to first verify a market fit by studying your target customers’ desires. Once you know what they’re really looking for, you can focus on differentiating your product or service from those of your competitors.
A cow of a different color
As Seth Godin positeds in his book Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable, the key to success is an outstanding product -- in other words, one that stands out like a purple cow in a field of green.
So, rather than fret about competitors stealing your ideas, focus on differentiation. Here are three effective ways to do just that:
1. Always keep an eye on competitors.
Comparing your product's features against your competitors’ provides too shallow an analysis because it takes a company-centric view. Instead, continuously examine your peers through the eyes of your customers. What experiences do other brands provide? What’s their appeal? In which areas are they performing better than your brand's?
Monitor how their strategies evolve as well. An analysis of Amazon’s performance this quarter, for example, is a snapshot in time; it can’t tell you how the business might impact your company in the future. By regularly conducting competitive analyses that allow your business to pit its Prime account option directly against Netflix, Amazon found that enhancing its offer with free Kindle books and free two-day shipping made it more attractive.
Of 467 marketers surveyed in one study, 74 percent said they believed competitive analysis is important, but 57 percent said they weren't good at conducting it. So, don’t be part of that 57 percent -- make sure your competitive analyses dive deep into the right areas.
2. Attend to the emotional experience.
So, say that you have found your point of competitive differentiation and developed your marketing message. But will it have an impact? Not necessarily. Your customers care about only one thing: What’s in it for them? They don’t care what makes you different, as long as you’ll help them achieve their goals.
Don’t focus on features alone, then. Instead, emphasize the benefits of those features. Your advantage lies in how your product or service ties into the emotional needs of your target audience. People make decisions on the basis of either logical reasoning or emotional impulses.
The good news is that 90 percent of purchasing decisions are unconscious emotional choices. Competitors may be able to defeat logic with lower prices, but you’ll prevail if you win consumers’ hearts.
Perhaps you’re trying to sell a fuel-efficient car. How will you market it? If you’re targeting parents, you might emphasize the money-saving angle: Fewer trips to the gas station means more money in their bank accounts, so now they can afford more time with their families and leave the environment safer for their children.
Highlighting such benefits will tug at their emotions. Once you have their attention, you can wow them with feature specs.
3. Broadcast your differentiator as early as possible.
Understanding what differentiates your business from competitors’ is half the battle. The next challenge is translating your value in a way that’s meaningful to customers. They must be able to experience the uniqueness of your brand at every touchpoint.
Audit your performance numbers on a regular basis, examining data points from your internal team, external advisers and customers. You don’t have to spend a lot of money on this research -- mobile surveys and A/B tests provide quality input that you can integrate into future campaigns.
Difficult as it may be, don’t take negative feedback to heart unless it becomes a trend. You really want to take a holistic view of how well your messages resonate with your audience so that you can shape your strategies accordingly.
Lots of founders have good ideas. Whether or not they succeed depends more on relevance and execution than on maintaining secrecy until a grand reveal. Emphasizing the differentiators you have that relate to your customers’ emotions is the key to a noteworthy -- and profitable -- product launch.