Product Differentiation: 7 Steps To A Winning Strategy

You have a great product but there’s a big roadblock: your competition seems to be trouncing you at every turn. Product differentiation is one surefire way to accelerate you back into a market leading position. Here are a few thoughts….

1.    Buy your competitor’s product and use it

The key here is to play the part of an actual customer – really use the product and identify the things that work well and don’t work so well. Try living with your competitor’s product for a week and see what subtle issues you can uncover and note them down. Doing this will enable you to quickly identify and note down the strengths and weaknesses of competitor’s products against your own product.

2.    Analyse and score the competitor products across these nine elements:


Form: One of the first things that catches a customer’s eye is the form of the product. The packaging, the aesthetics, even the colour choice can cause the customer to be drawn to your product over the competition’s. Take for example, how Samsung differentiated its flagship line of phones. While Apple stuck to the same form factor throughout the generations of its iPhones, Samsung took a major leap in aesthetics and form product differentiation by introducing the Samsung S6 Edge. This model had a design of usable side bezels for the phone, and while it was a major risk for the company, it truly upset the market and turned heads, and possibly even drew curious Apple fanboys into the Samsung/Android ecosystem.

Features:Pretty fundamental to any product are its features. How does the product meet the needs of the customer and what specific features solve a problem in their lives? Features are also an interesting opportunity to differentiate a product and target a specific segment of the market. With a few tweaks to a product, a tailored variant can be produced for a specific demographic which better meets their needs. A tailored product will inevitably become the product of choice amongst that demographic – beating the competition.

Performance:This defines how your product functions. For phones and other gadgets, this could mean whether these load apps and websites fast or slow. For laundry detergent, this could mean whether a scoop could take out a stain in 15 minutes of soaking, or if it takes longer to clean the garment. It may help to first define how you should measure “performance” in your particular product, and look for these traits in your competition’s equivalent products.

 Durability:Does the product have staying power?! You can find out by putting all of the competitors’ products through 2 weeks of mild, moderate, then heavy use and abuse. Run some stress tests and see how far the product can be pushed before it breaks. It is important to ensure that the same conditions are set for stress tests in order to get an equal gage of how they perform.

Reliability: Can the product can be counted on to deliver, time and again? Is the product still reliably delivering throughout the mild, moderate and heavy use phases of your durability testing? How does the product’s reliability suffer with heavier use?

Consistency: Is the product consistently of a high quality? Are all units in the product line of a consistent quality? Field trip time! Visit a retailer and inspect several versions of the same product to see how product consistency differs. Another measure of consistency for this analysis can be online reviews – are previous customers saying that they are having differing quality of product?

Quality: The overall quality of the product can be measured in the materials that have been used, the product finish and the general craftsmanship of the product.

Design: While this could easily be confused with the “Form” aspect of the product evaluation process, this is a detail that is more fundamental to the product than the Form. The product’s Design integrates into its Features. How does the overall product design come together to deliver a product that is intuitive and delightful to use and beautiful to look at?

Customisation: The sweetest sound in the universe to a person is their name, and the one most emotionally bonding elements that a product can hope to deliver to its customers is to remember their preferences. One thing that will seal in a customer’s loyalty is a product customised specifically for them. Customisation options for products might include customised colours, enabling customers to add their names to the product. 

Using the above to guide you, score the competitor products within the below excel template 

For the product differentiation analysis, it’s best to use an excel sheet – one column per product with the 9 elements of differentiation as rows. One row for the observation and another for the score that you assign to the product for each elements of product differentiation as below:
The ratings system will truly allow you to quantify your evaluation process. If you want, you can ask at least two other members of your core team to also go through the same product evaluation process with you, so that you get a clearer perspective on your own, as well as your competition’s products.

3.      Go to the competitor’s product pages and note down the ‘key reasons to believe’ in the product.  

A brand’s “Reasons To Believe (RTBs) are the specific reasons that the product is good – why it is exceptional and the value that it delivers to the customer. It also outlines specifically what problem is solves or how it makes the customer’s life better.

Some examples of leading brand RTBsAsos: Discover fashion online. You one stop fashion destination.

Apple airpods: wireless, effortless, magical

4.      Monitor competitor products on social media to identify what their customers like and dislike

Social media is a rich source that you can use to find out the pet peeves and things that customers love about your competitor’s products. In years gone by, getting feedback on competitor products was a laborious task that required market research surveys and focus groups. With social media monitoring tools, the costs have become affordable even to the smallest of companies.

Here’s how to use of social media monitoring tools to develop your product differentiation strategy:


  • Create an Excel sheet with four columns: product name, likes, dislikes, topic.
  • Search for the names of one of the competitor products using one of the social media monitoring tools.
  • Select the most relevant customer feedback that is negative and positive and note it down in the Excel sheet as “likes” or “dislikes”.
  • Categorise the customer feedback – is it a delivery issue? Is it about the price? By categorising the customer feedback, you can build a picture of how often the issue persists across multiple customers which will help give a true sense of how valid the issue really is.
  • Rank the top 3 likes and the top 3 dislikes that customers have for each competitor product.


Recommended Social Media Monitoring Tools

Radian6: allows your company to “listen in” to comments across social media, forums, news sites and blogs. It allows you to search for mentions of specific competitor products and automatically categorise those mentions into positive or negative sentiment in order to give a detailed summary of what customers love and hate about competitor products. It provides graphical data on what conversations, topics, and keywords are related to your competitor’s products. It’s pricey, but it’s definitely worth it.

Alternative social monitoring tools: Pulsar and Sysmos do an equally good job although they are less established technologies than Radian6 who are powered by Salesforce.

Free alternative: Twitter’s sentiment search allows you to search across the twittosphere by positive or negative tweet.

5.      Brainstorm and develop specific ideas of how your product could be differentiated.

Now that you’re done with all the product evaluations, analysis and research, you’re ready to take all that you know and brainstorm your way to a product differentiation strategy that will help you grow market share and dominate your category:

The brainstorm should ideally start with a complete review of the work that has been done up to this point. Recap on the competitor’s reasons to believe, product features, as well as the likes and dislikes that customers have of the competitor’s products.
The ratings from the 9 elements of product differentiation and social media monitoring will be very helpful here because the ratings will immediately highlight any product weaknesses among the competitor set – these will be opportunities to differentiate your product. Equally, the rankings may highlight areas where your product is weak against the competitor set and will highlight areas for improving the product to more effectively compete in the market.
Brainstorm based on what you have learned but don’t be afraid to add in wild and whacky ideas for product differentiation… every idea is a good idea!

Now that you are armed with a truck load of ideas for product differentiation, the next task is to prioritise.

6.      Evaluate each product differentiation idea based on the ICE score

The “ICE” Score is a methodology for evaluating new or improved features to differentiate and improve products. It is also used to develop product development roadmaps for tech startups.

Impact – How the proposed improvements may impact your consumer or follower base. If, say, the changes would result in less customers abandoning your product in favour of the competition’s (“Churn”) from, say, 10% to 3%, then the “Impact” could be scored at “4.” If, say, the changes will result in growing your social media following by 2%, that “Impact” could be scored at “1” because social media followers have a lower commercial impact.
Confidence – The rating by which these changes may succeed in pushing the product to more powerful marketing, and ultimately better sales. This is also whether you consider the changes to result in a “win” for your product and company. If you’re very confident of the wins, then rate the “C” higher.
Ease – This points to how easily you’ll be able to implement the changes: Do you have the resources for it? Do you have the machinery for it? The easier it will be for you to integrate the planned changes, the higher the score should be.

 Using The ICE Score

You can use the graphic above as a template to evaluate your product differentiation ideas. It is a really powerful tool to help prioritise ideas on an objective basis – so that you don’t get driven by ‘gut feel’ or emotional bias on the product differentiation ideas


Growth Hackers founder Sean Ellis used the ICE score with to take it from a startup to launching it on the stock market (IPO). He since worked with growing Dropbox, LogMeIn, and Xobni.Sean Ellis talks about the ICE score in the Soundcloud interview above 

7.      Take your top scoring ideas for product differentiation and run an online survey to identify the product differentiators that customers most want.

QuickSurveys is a great service to run surveys online – they have over 9 million survey respondents that you can tap into for your survey. You can define the geography that you want the survey to run, the salary, age, gender and education level of the survey participants.

  • Remember to keep it focused – the goal is to learn what product differentiators the customer most wants.
  • Target your core customers for the survey: Age, location, career status etc.
  • Craft the survey questions and make sure they are as simple as possible to avoid any misinterpretation from the survey respondents.
  • Set the format of the question to ensure you get the best quality data from the survey: multiple choice? Single choice? Avoid using free text fields because the answers will be non-standardised which will make analysis of the results difficult.
  • Run the survey.
  • Collate and analyse the survey responses.
  • Grab the top-scoring product differentiation ideas from your customer survey and now you’re now ready to take the best ideas and implement these into your product!

Job done! You can now confidently launch a differentiated product that crushes the competition which customers absolutely love!