In this series we’ve been discussing a number of ways to build unique value into your product. We’ve examined both the peaks and the valleys of this process and now it’s time to start filling in the gaps. Much like your sales process, we have to work on smaller projects in between the whales. Building your unique value proposition is no different. A unique set of features, for example, is a great way to build value but it’s also an approach that comes with risk. It’s for that reason that I recommend using feature set as a great way to differentiate your product…but only for a while.

Even if you aren’t the only subject matter expert on inbound marketing, it’s possible your product may offer a set of features that no other company offers. Going back to our Hubspot example, their Content Optimization System (CoS) is a proprietary web content management system (think proprietary WordPress) that was tied directly into their marketing automation platform. This unique integration and feature set allows businesses to connect their website content and user experience directly to their email subscriber list. This is an incredibly powerful because it allows small to medium sized businesses the opportunity to tailor the content on their website based on the activity obtained from list segmentation and visitor behavior.

Was this a new concept? Absolutely not. One of the first times I used functionality like this was in 2010 when Sitecore launched their marketing product. The big difference is that the licensing and build-out of a Sitecore implementation could easily start in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. That’s not feasible for a company making $2-$5 million dollars a year in gross revenue. What Hubspot did by integrating their two offerings was provide enterprise class features to the SMB market at a fair and reasonable price. And at the time there there was not another platform on the market offering those features.

That’s not true today. In the span of a few years tremendous competition has cropped up in the world up website personalization. In one respect, this surge in competition usually means you’ve got a great idea brewing. On the other hand the better the idea the more competition you’re going to invite into your space. Charles Caleb Colon wrote in 1820, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,” which is wonderful until that imitation starts stealing your market share. With this in mind, when it comes to creating unique value on features alone, remember those features will only remain a UVP for as long as your competition decides not to straight up copy you.

Future Proof Your Features

One way to prevent your UVP from going up in smoke is to do more research before you even begin. There are countless instances where I’ve helped companies on their product where my research quickly showed their features weren’t unique from the very beginning. This is one of the most frustrating places to be because your prospects are going to expect the features they’re seeing in competitive products and you’ve either got to look for another differentiation tactic or drop your price. Decrease your revenue or increase your expenses…both of those suck for the bottom line.

Depending on the complexity of your platform, another way to future proof your feature set is to go deep rather than wide. With the uptick in machine learning, artificial intelligence, and predictive analytics, there may be an opportunity to leapfrog your competition and provide something they don’t have. In a study published by PC Magazine, “Only 21 percent of small businesses have implemented artificial intelligence (AI)-based solutions.” This very much aligns with my experience working in the SMB space and could present huge opportunities for startups in the next few years.

Finally, if your UVP is also something that is difficult to replicate that’s even better. Back in 2007 two employees were sentenced to five and seven years by plotting to reveal one of Coca Cola’s secret recipes to rival competitor Pepsi. If you can develop your product to be so unique and special that the sharing of that information puts people in jail for disclosing it then you may just have a great idea. This may be represented by a complex process or algorithm or might also be backed by the subject matter expertise of your smartest employees or consultants. Things of this nature should be protected as best as possible with the help of a good attorney. Unfortunately, that has become more and more difficult with today’s patent laws but there are many other legal protections that exist.

Wrap-Up

In the end, customers are going to buy your product for many reasons. Many of which are in this blog series. Features are just one of them. An easy way to think about creating value with features is to look at it from an agile development approach. If you size a feature to take 5 days to build, then you need to understand your competition can probably build it in that amount of time or less—especially those with deeper pockets and larger teams.

I would encourage anyone building a new product or enhancing their current offering to think of building unique value like investing in a stock portfolio. Diversifying your holding will be the safest, long-term bet. Start with subject expertise if you can do it, then look at ways to mold that expertise into amazing features that only your company can build. I’d also suggest keeping those major initiatives quiet while you’re in development and build a great PR and launch campaign around their release. This way you can get the most mileage out of those features before your competition has a chance to imitate them.

This article is part of a series about developing a unique value proposition for your SaaS business.