Have you ever heard a start-up, or other technology company, claim that there product or service is so revolutionary that they don't have any competitors? Well, I know I have more times than I can count.
I was reading an article recently called Twelve Ways to Ace a Product Demo–or at Least Avoid Flopping by Harry McCracken where he lists one of the twelve ways as "Don’t claim you have no direct competitors." This reminded me of how often I hear that phrase so I thought I'd talk about it further even though I alluded to that point when I talked about the need to Differentiate Your Message.
So often, when I'm developing messages for a company or prepping someone for a media interview, I ask who is their competition and more often than it really should happen, especially with an early stage company, the answer is that there is no competition because there product is new and so innovative.
The reality is if that was actually true this would also mean there is no market and if I was an investor I would thank them for their time and move on. Do you really think these entrepreneurs believe there is no market for their product? That seems unlikely so why do they believe there is no competition?
What I think most people do mean, when asked this question, is that there is no one doing exactly what they do in the same way they do it. That may be the case, but you need to look at how other offerings solve a similar problem as that's how your audience or market will judge your product. You need to identify these indirect competitors, as some call it, so you can use them as a frame of reference but clearly differentiate from them.
Because it's all about how you solve a given problem, I can safely say if you have no competition you also have no market since that would mean there is no problem to solve and I challenge you to show me a successful product that doesn't solve a problem. I guess in some extreme scenarios you may be solving a problem that people don't know they have but that presents a whole new set of issues as you need to educate and convince your target market that they have the problem in the first place then. In the end, it's better to see your competitors for who they are and spend your efforts in differentiating your solution.
As McCraken goes on to say in the context of product demos, "claiming you have no competitors makes you look clueless, or full of misplaced hubris, or both." No one wants to look like that so the simplest way to avoid it is to make sure you clearly answer the question with how you solve the problem in a unique way than these would be competitors.
Don't fight the reality here, identify your competitors and create a compelling message that differentiates you and communicates how you are better. Your next product demo and all you marketing will be better for it.