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Advice for Entrepreneurs: Part Seven – Sustainable Competitive Advantage

In this seventh part of my occasional series ‘Advice for Entrepreneurs’ I discuss how you can show potential investors that you are able to take advantage of the market which you are addressing.

Creating Sustainable Competitive Advantage

The core objective is to create an obvious and sustainable rationale for customers to buy from you rather than your competitors. Achievement of this in investors’ minds looks different for first movers and market followers:

For first movers: you will need to educate the market and build barriers behind you to stop new entrants catching up. Invariably people will have been spending their money on something else, so you will need to change their mind-set.  Is your product truly novel in customers’ minds, and can you lead the race from the front? Investors love technical novelty, but will people really validate your heroism, buy your product and laud you with market dominance?

For market followers: earlier entrants have demonstrated that there is a market, but are you a conquering upstart or a me-too supplicant? Why should potential customers switch allegiance? Can you build barriers behind you to dissuade further entrants and in front of you to undermine existing competitors?

Market Disruption and the Infamous USP

I like to understand how a company will disrupt its target market. For me this requires some key steps:

  • Rigorous definition and justification of the selected target market: Who do you intend to sell to, how many target customers are there and why have you selected this target market?
  • Target market share: What proportion of the target market do you intend to capture and over what time period?
  • Market entry strategy: How will you achieve this goal in practice? Once the product / service works, how will you scale up?

The concept of Unique Selling Proposition (USP) is much bandied about and generally misused. To be effective a USP should contain three things: uniqueness, a sales trigger and a specific proposition.  It is not just a list of nice ideas – and I suggest that 1 to 3 USPs are sufficient. You also must be able to live up to the claim, such as famously that made by FedEx: “When your package absolutely, positively has to get there overnight”.

And finally…

A three legged stool is more comfortable to sit upon than the pointy end of a stick. So I’m all for ensuring that I have three strong arguments against each competitor in the target market. And none of these three should be price. My rationale for this is twofold: established competitors can always reduce their prices to knock you out of the game, and price competition generally undermines technology-based brands.

The result of this strategy should be a set of clearly articulated statements that position your offering unambiguously in the mind of the customer, making the market your own.


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