Comparatives, Competition and Noise

It’s challenging for any new idea to break through the noise. There’s such a great deal of information, news, content, advertising, pings, beeps, rings and more coming at us nearly every second of the day. Most of it is noise. No wonder it’s very difficult for most startups to find new and inventive ways to stand out and gain the attention of prospective customers.

To help counter this, sometimes entrepreneurs fall into the trap of using buzzwords to get attention so they can break through that noise. Words such as disruptive, extraordinary, world-class, game-changing and others are used to demonstrate why this idea stands above the crowd, potentially helping prospective customers to see it and want to learn more. Once in the door, startups will often compare themselves to more established companies to try to capture the very limited attention span their potential customers. That’s why you’ll see startups saying things like “we’re the Uber for X”. That referential method (sometimes known as high-pitch statements) can quickly grab someone’s interest and imagination.

But there’s a downside to all of this.

First, the buzzwords you used may not carry any weight and are just more noise. You’ve become part of the problem and you’re not adding any substantive value to the important parts of the conversation. Avoid the noise.

Also, when you compare yourself to your competition by stating something like “we’re like them, only better”, then you’re likely in serious trouble without even knowing it. You’ve immediately become a comparative. This is especially trouble for B2B models where the buyer will tend to be more conservative, may already know a lot about your competition, and is going to probe and poke until you are so full of holes you will sink. You’ve gotten attention but not the type of attention you really want.

Finally, by creating a comparison you are potentially demonstrating why you are NOT unique. Questions of the prospective customer might include “Are you just a slightly better mousetrap?” or “Is this just a copycat of someone else’s business model?”

As Peter Thiel says in Zero to One, “…it’s competition, not business, that is like war: allegedly necessary, supposedly valiant, but ultimately destructive.” Startups should consider ways to avoid comparison and avoid trying to compete head-on. Go back to the basics and consider what fundamental problem that you are solving that no one else is considering. Look very closely at what your customer does today to solve that problem (not the one your competitor solves). They don’t need to say “yes” right away, but you need to take away all their reasons to say “no” or “maybe someday.”

Avoid comparatives and competition. And the seductive buzzwords that may lead you down that not so lucrative path.