• by William Mougayar
    Venture advisor, 4x entrepreneur, marketer & strategist. I live in Toronto, curate a lot, blog a bit, and help startups.

The Noise in Availability and Differentiating Yourself

different-imageThe decentralized and fragmented aspects of the Internet are becoming almost unmanageable at the content and services levels for end-user applications.

This can lead to a poverty of attention and complexities in managing information, if you don’t adhere to a disciplined usage approach.

Part of the reasons are user-habit inflicted, i.e. we are used to visiting a variety of places. Another part involves following the solutions that already exist, and not having other choices.

Every time a new service is created with marginal benefits, it adds a layer of complexity and potential distraction.

When we add something, if something else is not removed, often we are contributing to increasing the attention deficit because we are bloating the system or our habits.

For example, there are too many social channels, too many options, too many choices, and too much overlap in what we have.

My Facebook stream is becoming like a randomly eclectic newspaper (which is ok sometimes). My Twitter stream is a perfect hit and miss, and thanks to their daily email, it tells me if I missed anything potentially important. Nuzzel and Insider don’t add anything new. I don’t go to Zite anymore since Flipboard acquired it. LinkedIn and Google+ are just fixtures that are there. I do rely on Feedly to pull all the blogs I want to read.

In Search, we have Google of course, and DuckDuckGo occasionally, and that’s a good thing, compared to the 5 mediocre choices we had during the late 90’s when you literally had to try all search services to be complete.

Take email. It is centralized in your Inbox/email client, although its infrastructure is distributed. For the user, it’s a central experience, and that’s good.

Take travel. There are at least 4-5 travel services you need to try if you’re truly shopping around. Same for booking hotels. The differences between them remind me of Internet search prior to Google. You need to try several of them, and that takes time.

Choice is good, when the choices are clearly differentiated. But when the choices are not well differentiated, the end-result is confusion and distraction, and we drown in the marketing of noise, because we can hardly see clarity in a sea of marginal differentiation.

Have you ever been to a street market, farmers market or open bazaar/souk? After a while, most choices start to look very similar from one to another. Attempting to differentiate becomes difficult.

I sometimes wonder if abundant choice is good for the consumer. Choice without differentiation is a distraction of attention. Just because a new service or product is available doesn’t mean that its value is clear.

If you are bringing a product or service to the market, please make sure you differentiate well, and explain how different it is from other existing solutions.

You must be able to nail your value proposition early on, even if it evolves later. It doesn’t need to be perfect, but it needs to be perfectly aligned with your offering.

Yet I still see startups at various stages of their evolution that don’t do a good job at clearly communicating their differentiated value. They keep talking about product features, instead of understanding the real meaning of their positioning.

When I worked at Hewlett-Packard during its peak years as a top admired company, differentiating our products was a religious objective. We had to know exactly how our products were different from the competition’s. We had to know how to present them to the market, with that kind of clarity. If we didn’t differentiate, we didn’t win. And differentiation happened in the selling and marketing steps, because we were given the products we had to sell.

Having too many choices that aren’t well differentiated seems to be a trend I’m seeing in Internet products and services. We must ensure that we are being really clear and knowing how we are different. That pulls users and customers into your direction as they identify with your differentiation.

When products aren’t so perfect, more expensive than others, or drowning in a sea of competition, how you market them and communicate their value becomes really important, and you must put attention into that. Sometimes, the product gets ingrained into a habit, and it connects you with other users, and the differentiation happens inherently via its usage, but that product had to start by being really good. Unfortunately, not all products start by being really good.

Let’s not practice lazy marketing. Imaginatively applying technology to develop great products is not enough. Engineers need marketers to help them bring products to the market, especially in a crowded marketplace where there is always competition for new ideas, whether it’s from another service or to displace an old habit.

Dumbing things down to explain what you are doing is important to get a VC’s attention, and perhaps to gain initial market entry, but it’s not enough to be successful in the long term. You need to follow through by differentiating yourself in the marketplace and by resonating with the emotions and needs of your users and customers. As Nancy Duarte says, “It’s easier to rattle off jargon and keep communication emotionally neutral. But easiest doesn’t always mean best.”

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