3 minute read 6 months ago
When R&D = Rip-off and Duplicate
While standing on the production floor of one of the largest manufacturers of domestic aftermarket auto parts in the US, the CEO pointed to a tiny dark corner and said, “There’s our R&D center… you know, rip-off and duplicate”. While I gave a chuckle, I knew this was no laughing matter.
It takes guts to be the pack leader, but more importantly, it takes hard work. The leader in any industry, any vertical, didn’t get there by happenstance. They certainly didn’t become the best by buying the best product available, cutting it open, and trying to make the same thing.
Instead, it all comes down to competitive differentiation. The pack leader has an edge over the rest of the group. That edge isn’t something intangible or easily replicable, it’s the product of doing the work. The pack leader is dedicated to becoming the pack leader and staying the pack leader. The dog out front didn’t wake up and take the spot, but instead worked hard, often for a very long time, to ascend to the position.
Surprisingly few companies have put in focus or effort to develop a true competitive differentiator, much less take the time to actually identify it. Almost all successful companies have one, otherwise they wouldn’t be a pack leader. In many cases the competitive diff just happened — through hard work.
A competitive differentiator has to be protectable, not easily replicated, and tangible. Your company can’t be the best just because you say you’re the best — because my company is the best. You can’t be the the fastest, because I’ll just speed up. And you better not be the cheapest…
The biggest mistake a company can make is thinking hard work doesn’t have to be hard work. Nothing comes easy, but you also can’t buy your way to greatness.
When it comes to your company and the services you provide, becoming the front-runner in your industry takes real, honest-to-goodness hard work. Even I have fallen victim to shortcuts, thinking I somehow might buy my way to success. But shortly after the check has cleared, I’m right back where I started.
Take a look at the marketing agency sector. There are few pack leaders, but plenty of followers. Instead of doing the hard work to cultivate and develop a true differentiator, agency principals all too often take the best muffler on the market and cut it open. There’s no better representation than a marketing agency website — take a look at few different agencies online. They all have the same page structure: Home, About Us, Our Work, Services, Contact. In fact, next to a thesaurus, agency websites are the second-best source of synonyms for “Portfolio”. I’ll bet if you scroll down a bit, you’ll find a clever list of client (many former) logos with the heading “Trusted By”.
While it gets the job done, it’s really easy to be exactly like the next guy. And looking like the next guy won’t get you to the front of the line.
Their Stuff +1
So now that we’ve built the same product as the market leader, what now? For an agency, let’s add a dog. To our About Us page. That’ll make us seem personable, even likable. Everybody likes dogs, right?
Agencies are no different than any other industry. The majority are scared to death of the risks of standing out, so they take the safe route. The safe route also = the easy route, so everybody’s happy. But in reality, they’re all bland. They just built a muffler that’s cheaper than the market leader, but there was no risk involved. There was no trial and error, no costs to research, design, test, evaluate. Instead, it was quick and easy. But now that we look exactly like everybody else, let’s add a dog — a Chief Happiness Officer. Or paint our muffler a different color.
What the Chief Happiness Officer won’t bring is success. Sameness brings mediocre results.
There is no secret sauce, no silver bullet. You do your homework, you work hard, you cross your fingers, and hope like hell it works. Otherwise, you build a business around taking good parts, cutting them apart, trying to manufacture it for less, and settle in at the back of the pack.