Part of “Marketing 101” dictates that a big key to marketing is making sure that the value of your offering (your value proposition) has something that the other guys don’t. You need to have some kind of competitive advantage.
This can be as simple as just doing something different from, or better than, your competition. Nothing at all wrong with simple, after all, and maybe even being “better” wouldn’t require that much extra effort or expense.
But the big question is whether or not what you think is your competitive advantage is actually a sustainable competitive advantage. In other words, how difficult would it really be for your competition to replicate what you’re doing? Or do it better?
One of many examples can be found in the concept of “aluminum-free deodorant.” I remember seeing a new brand on the shelves a year or so ago and thinking that was a neat idea. As more and more health concerns around how having aluminum in products could result in us ending up with aluminum in our bodies began to mount, a product that was aluminum-free definitely had some appeal. Enough appeal to allow aluminum-free brands to even command a higher price than traditional deodorants that contained aluminum.
While I applauded the idea, I wondered at the time how hard it would be for the established brands to reformulate their deodorants and offer their own aluminum-free products. I had my answer almost as soon as I asked the question. If you’ve been on the deodorant aisle lately, you know that if you’re looking for an aluminum-free deodorant, you’ve got plenty of brands to choose from.
I’ll go ahead and predict that “aluminum-free” will become the new standard in deodorant.
That being the case, where’s the competitive advantage in being “aluminum-free” if everyone else’s product is made with an “aluminum-free” formulation as well?
The big strategic question you have to ask yourself is this: “Is your competitive advantage sustainable?” Really, truly, sustainable?
Incidentally, this isn’t just good advice for the seller, but for the astute investor as well. Here’s what Warren Buffett has to say about the matter:
“The key to investing is not assessing how much an industry is going to affect society, or how much it will grow, but rather determining the competitive advantage of any given company and, above all, the durability of that advantage.” – Warren Buffett
So a great strategic lesson to reflect on constantly is this: If your competitive advantage isn’t sustainable, it isn’t a competitive advantage.