Mythbusters: a Product Does Not Have to be Unique to Succeed

Elena Sviridenko

Every once in a while, I’m witnessing a dismissive attitude towards sales opportunities where we can’t see the uniqueness of a product idea right away.

A long-held belief has it that there must be at least something unique about the product for it to make sense and have the right to life. We give up on that product, we know exactly it is doomed to failure, and by no means, we want to be a part of that failure.

A product doesn't have to be unique to succeed

That kind of thinking demotivates and discourages us from productive work, fuels a strong intrinsic resistance preventing us from being the best as we can be, from a professional perspective.

So what do we do? It’s simple: we accept the fact that

  • #1 – We could have overlooked the uniqueness/differentiating point because we didn’t dig deep enough and it’s just not on the surface, being more complicated than a plain feature or capability;

  • #2 – The product may not need any uniqueness at all.

To elaborate on #1, the uniqueness of a product is not about its feature set. It goes far beyond and spans over all those different aspects of the customer’s experience – everything that augments the actual product: services, warranties, integrations, customer care, delivery, etc. Altogether, these elements must create compelling value for a customer and form a strong competitive advantage. This is where the value proposition comes into play. That’s the one to be unique, and that’s the one to encompass the whole product, and not just its core features, in order to achieve true uniqueness.

It’s important to understand that even a unique feature can easily be copied by mature competitors unless backed with a firm and sustainable business model.

As to #2, it is explained by the existence of two generic sources of competitive advantage – cost and differentiation.

For instance, if you make jewelry, you need to find your unique style, carefully choose the technologies of faceting, maybe consider using some unusual alloys, etc. It’s a luxury product. And uniqueness and peculiarity are what makes it sell.

Another example could be Apple Inc. They chose the strategy of product leadership, and completely dedicate themselves to innovation and quality. Their customer wants the best product, top of the line.

But what if you manufacture metal nails? Do they have to be unique? Absolutely not. People don’t want bells and whistles here, they just need a good product at the lowest possible price. The nails are just expendables. No one cares if some particular nails are unique, but people buy them in hundreds and expect nails to be cheap and available in the nearest hardware store.

Drawing on the above, the uniqueness is way bigger than features. You need to consider the overall business model, product positioning, and strategy in the round to conclude whether or not it has the potential to succeed and thrive. Unless those are carefully thought through and validated (guess who can help you with that? That’s right, a product guy), it doesn’t matter if there is a feature differentiation, the product is doomed.

So, do we still dare to look down our nose at the opportunities that don’t seem to be unique?

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