Most companies compete for only 24% of the value opportunity of a category.
If the category king earns 76% of the category’s total value, that means everyone else is left to fight over the remaining 24%. Within that remaining 24% is a barrel of brands all trying to “out-better” each other. “We’re cheaper! We’re faster! We’ve got this feature! We’re free for 30 days! We’re free for 31 days!”
On the Pirate Ship, we call this The “Better” Trap.
“Better” Is A Trap
Companies, entrepreneurs, writers, creators, and marketers fall into The “Better” Trap any time they compete on features, price, and “brand.”
This comparison marketing drives down margins collectively and competitors are stuck fighting for one tiny sliver of the pie. Words that end in -er and “most/more-than” statements imply comparison. Because in order for something to be fast-er or smart-er or cheap-er, something else has to exist to give it meaning.
Here are some easy-to-spot examples:
- Faster (faster than...what?)
- Smarter (smarter than...what?)
- Cheaper (cheaper than...what?)
- More economical (more economical than...what?) Most efficient (most efficient compared to...what?
What’s really happening here is the company is making the unconscious, unquestioned, unconsidered, undiscussed decision to carry their brand into someone else’s category and try to convince the world that their product is “better.” It happens all the time. And it’s always a disaster.
Rather than falling into a never-ending comparison competition, category designers focus on creating a different future.
3 Steps To Avoid The “Better” Trap
Strategy isn’t about “better” vs” worse.” It’s not about competition—it’s about finding ways to be different.
1. Don’t be “better.” Be DIFFERENT!
The need to draw a product or feature comparison is irrelevant when you’re the Category Queen/King.
For example: Elon Musk doesn’t talk about Tesla in the context of gasoline-powered engines, American car manufacturers, and legacy brands. He talks about Tesla in the future: a world where gasoline doesn’t exist and clean energy saves our planet.
To see if your product or service is truly different, ask yourself these questions:
- Are you competing on features, price, or brand?
- Do you believe a “better product” strategy is the key to success?
- Do you believe the best brand wins?
If you answered “yes” to any of these, you’re in The “Better” Trap—and it’s time to escape.
2. Focus on the future.
Instead of having a conversation with customers and investors about the past, you want to have a conversation about the future—specifically, the future potential of the category.
- How do I want to change the world in some meaningful way (big or small)?
- How would that change generate net-new value for people?
- What can I create as a new and differentiated category of product, service, or offering to provide that value?
Let’s look to Clint Carnell, the CEO of HydraFacial from 2017 through 2021, as an example.
Using a new kind of technology, HydraFacial created a DIFFERENT facial experience leaving customers with freshly hydrated skin—meaning their “glow” would stick around for weeks (as opposed to hours). But Clint Carnell’s mission as a CEO wasn’t just to create a product customers loved. He was also on a mission to help blue-collar, primarily women aestheticians (the vast majority of whom earn mid 5-figures per year) double their earnings by giving them the ability to provide this new, transformational (more expensive) facial experience.
And he succeeded.
Many of the top aestheticians working for HydraFacial now earn six-figures per year. Talk about a transformation!
3. Force a choice. Don’t invite a comparison.
Now that your thinking muscles are warmed up, we urge you to ask this very important question:
What are you DOING with your marketing?
- Are you forcing a choice? “We are a different thing altogether.”
- Or are you inviting a comparison? “We’re like everybody else, PLUS some more.”
The answer to this question is the seminal difference between marketing that’s stuck in The “Better Trap” and category marketing. Oftentimes, people are just trying to be “better” than the next guy or gal. And they end up spending their whole lives fighting for one tiny sliver from the remaining 24% of the pie as a result.
But more times than not, it’s the DIFFERENT product that wins (at a new and different game it invented).
Because when you focus on creating a different future, the need to draw a comparison is irrelevant. To further set yourself apart, you’ll want to learn how to use the 8 levers of radical differentiation.