How is Your Startup Unique or Different?

In a competitive landscape, one of the most important consideration is standing out from the crowd.

For startups, this is crucial because the barriers to entry are relatively low, while new or innovative ideas can quickly be replicated by agile rivals.

It means startups must identify how they are unique and different to position the brand and carve out a competitive edge, even if that edge is minor. If this can’t be achieved, the danger is a startup comes across as just a me-too product.

The problem is being unique or different is not easy. There is so much competition that startups need to be creative, flexible and bold. It is a challenge to make happen but there can be significant rewards for making it happen.

So how do startups discover what makes these different or unique?

It begins with diving into competitive landscape to really look at how rivals have positioned themselves. Who rises above the crowd, and how do they do it? What are the things that every rival claims – e.g user-friendly, intuitive, efficient. etc.? To get a better grasp of where everyone sits, it might even help to create a graph that places companies in different buckets (e.g. free, freemium, premium, SMB, etc.)

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By doing a competitive analysis, a startup can identify the best opportunities to stake a claim on how it different or unique.

A good example of a startup that successfully managed to establish its uniqueness is 500px, which plays in the ultra-competitive photo-sharing market. So how does a startup find a place where it can be seen as different?

For 500px, the magic happened when it positioned itself as the place where photographers could display their most beautiful photographs. 500px is not a place to show your good photographs, but only what you consider to be the best.

By positioning the brand in this way, 500px managed to create a unique place for itself. In the process, it attracted well-known and high-quality photographers who liked the idea of having a place for their best shots. This, in turn, generated significant buzz, which attracted many more photographers who wanted to be part of the community.

One of the most important lessons from looking at 500px is a startup doesn’t have to be significantly different or unique; it just needs to have a slant, angle or approach that isn’t like everyone else. In many ways, 500px has the same features as other photo-sharing services but its ability to stand out has created the impression it is truly unique.

It is not an easy task to be unique or different but it is a competitive necessity if a startup wants to avoid on other marketing techniques such as relying low prices or spending a lot of money on advertising.

So spend the time and energy to focus on how you’re unique and different. Do your homework, do a lot of research, talk to potential and existing customers, bounce ideas off people who don’t a vested interest in your startup, brainstorm and experiment. At some point along the way, you may hit the jackpot when what makes you unique or different bubbles to the surface.

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  • Davender Gupta

    Differentiation is in the “eye of the beholder”. Good customer validation interviews help to figure out the values of the competing or alternative offers, and where to position the startup’s offer. I also like the Strategic Canvas from the book “Blue Ocean Strategy” which provides a more comprehensive picture of what makes a startup distinctive.

  • Shirley Williams

    Just went through this exercise. Totally agree ~it is so important…. and not easy. The reality is, if you cannot speak to how you differ, how do we expect others to. Thanks for the reminder Mark!