Hey, you with the “innovative” product! Yeah, I’m talking to you. So you think you’ve got something special? News flash: You and a million other entrepreneurs. Welcome to the marketplace, a crowded, noisy hellscape where originality is as rare as a unicorn, and everyone’s peddling some variation of the same tired goods. So, how do you stand out in this cataclysm of clichés? Enter Defensible Differentiation.
I am forever building products. Nothing gives me shivers up and down my spine more than sitting on a plane and witnessing my fellow passengers using my product. I say nothing and quietly observe without being too obvious. I don’t tell them who I am; I just start asking open-ended, curious questions. Some of the best product roadmaps I have ever deployed have been driven by the personal first-party research I conduct at every opportunity. PocketPC was a great example for those old enough to remember when Palm Pilot and Blackberry were the market leaders. This was long before the Nokia acquisition (another story for another time…). We beat Palm using the Apple Playbook long before Apple was recognized for owning the margin in the mobile space. Pre-Nokia, the Microsoft playbook was to hold and share the margin with the vibrant ecosystem that my good friend Scott Horn built out with his team.
It’s not enough to be different; you must be defensibly different. That means crafting a product, service, or brand identity so unique, so invaluable that nobody else can encroach on your territory without looking like a laughable knockoff. Forget the “me too” mindset; your differentiation has to be so crystalline and deeply embedded in your DNA that even if competitors try to mimic it, they’ll expose their own inferiority.
I’m not talking about some gimmick or a fleeting USP (Unique Selling Proposition) that lasts shorter than a TikTok trend. No, this is about building barriers so high, so unscalable, that your competitors will have a better chance of building a stairway to heaven than matching your prowess. Whether through unrivaled quality, patented technology, or an incomparable user experience, your differentiation should be a fortress, not a sandcastle.
If you’re just another sheep in the flock, prepare to be sheared. Your customers won’t just want you; they should NEED you. That’s when you know you’ve struck gold. When you’ve achieved defensible differentiation, you’re not just a choice but the only choice.
Remember what Oscar Wilde astutely observed to drive this point home: “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.” Apply that wisdom to your business. Defensible differentiation is not about being the best version of what already exists but the only version of what you offer. If you don’t differentiate, you disintegrate. So, what’s it going to be?