If You Are Not the Winner Do This


Someone has to be the the winner.

Someone has to be Facebook. Or Uber. Or Google.

In our connected economy, we have a winner-take-all dynamic. It’s easier to consolidate and see a clear winner arise from leveraging a business system.

However, what we see and are aware of is based on a success bias. We don’t see who is second or has lost along the way. I’m not sure studying the outright, asymmetrical winners is helpful to everyone else. A 1/99 ratio where 1% takes 99% of the winnings doesn’t leave room for replication.

If everyone can participate like the winners then there’s much to learn. We can simply persevere through the same business roadmap laid out by the winners.

But, that is far from the case in the trenches of business today. You can’t simply copy what a forerunner or market leader has done. Their barrier to entry comes from a consolidated position over time from efficiency, especially after they won the lion’s share of the votes early.

So, you have two choices:

  1. Be first
  2. Be different

Being first has its own risks with great rewards. If you innovate too far ahead of the market you may only be setting up the success of the second mover who learns from your mistakes and capitalizes en masse.

Being different can work well for premium products and services especially well where price sensitivity and comparison become difficult for the buyer. Your differences create unique positioning that keep you from commoditization traps. I prefer to design around being different as a strategy. It works well in a world of too many options and scarce attention.

Design Around Differentiation

If you are being compared as an option, then you are not different enough in your proposition.

Sure, you can insist on being better, and this favors buyers. Comparison becomes an opportunity to move the conversation away from value and towards price. That’s what’s left if there is not clear differentiation, simply price. That’s that natural place for a buyer to focus when they can’t see what is special about you or your offerings.

That signal, price comparison, can be your motivation and trigger to work harder at designing a different product and positioning it accordingly.

Here are some strategies to implement towards the hard work of differentiating:

  • Value. What is the output, the result? Can you integrate the experience, product and service in such a way that the value is what becomes the primary focal point, not the rudimentary parts?
  • Positioning. Are you able to affect the perception of how you are seen, especially in comparison to your competition? What word do you want people to think in their minds when they think of you? Make that the essence of how you communicate, frame and connect with buyers.
  • Price. Can you price higher and be worth 10x the amount? Instead of asking how much you can squeeze out, ask how you can be at the top of the pricing ceiling and make your customer so happy they are eager to pay you. They feel they got the deal.

Differentiating has its own work and you have to care enough and focus on driving the experience so high that price becomes a secondary issue.

Imagine the impact if you did the hard work of design and delighting people.

Published by Don Dalrymple

I partner with founders and entrepreneurs in startup businesses. I write and consult on strategy, systems, team building and growing revenue.

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