On reinventing the wheel

Buzzwords come and go in the digital world, but a rare one that never seems to go out of style is “innovation.” And don’t get me wrong, innovation is tremendously important. That goes for your business in general as well as what you do digitally. If you don’t find a way to differentiate yourself, you’re not going to have a lot of success.

But we all need to remember that in our rush to innovate, we shouldn’t forget that best practices exist and if everybody is doing something, there’s probably a reason. That’s why competitive analysis is a critical piece of the puzzle when ideating on digital products, and why it’s the starting point for everything I do. You can best understand how to succeed by understanding how others are succeeding. Nobody really likes to talk about this because it’s not glamorous and it doesn’t make you sound like a great thinker. But it works.

Are you an iPhone person or an Android person? There’s no wrong answer, but think about this: When Google experienced its first successes with Android, rumor has it that Steve Jobs was enraged. He flew off the handle at the Apple offices, ranting about how Android was “a stolen product.” Was he right? Maybe! But today Android has a stunning 90-percent share of the global smartphone market. Would they have done as well if they’d gone in a different direction? Well, ask the big smartphone manufacturers who did just that and now have a zero-percent market share. And here’s the most insightful part: Google is one of the most innovative technology companies in the world. But they were smart enough to know when to innovate and when to borrow.

Competitive analysis isn’t as easy as it looks, and questions about how much to borrow aren’t easy to answer. But they’re critical questions to address as you build out your digital presence.