“Our competitors are doing it, so we have to, too!”
The excuse is as old as the hills, yet extremely ineffective and troublesome when it comes to product development. Jon Kolko talks about this in his book, Well Designed.
There is a difference between knowing what your competitor is packing into his digital product and copying the features. The former keeps you informed, the latter makes you unoriginal and uninformed. Here’s why:
- Your competitor knows what’s working for him and his brand. That’s (probably) why he’s created the digital product he did. Hopefully he did it to provide value to his consumers and not just to raise the bottom line, but that’s another conversation. If you copy (or mimic, if you want to sound less harsh) what he’s doing, you’re not bringing anything new to the table. And if you’re only building what he’s building, that means you’re not building what he’s not building—and that’s a problem. In the end, the consumer’s needs are lost.
- If your competitor is packing a lot of features into a product that your market doesn’t demand and you mimic all of them, you’ve now made it much harder for your consumer to make a decision inside your product. You’ve also increased the amount of time it takes your consumer to make a decision. If you make it hard for your consumers to make a decision, they’re going to abandon your product and move onto something else.
- The product your competition built has all of his blood, sweat, and tears in it, and each helped shape the final product. Employees, company culture, work ethic, brand values—they’re all there. If you copy it, what’s your product say about your brand? Nothing, because none of you is in it. While your app needs to provide value to your consumers, it also needs to feel like your brand. It’s the reason people choose Nike over Adidas, Apple over Samsung, and Gmail over Hotmail.
- Your competitor’s current product is already outdated. What’s shipped to the public is one version behind what’s currently being worked on and probably shipping soon. If you worry about copying what’s already out there, you’re losing weeks or even months of time that could be spent on market research and product development.
Distractions and signals from the competition will arise every day. If you’re going to build a product that will set itself apart from the competition, you have to learn to recognize which ones matter and ignore the rest. Your final product depends on it.