When it comes to product development, one question that often comes up is whether or not to copy a feature from a competitor. The traditional approach to competitive analysis has been to compare the features of one product to another, with the assumption that more features equals better product. But customers don’t want more features. They want their job done better. So what’s the real value of competitive analysis from a Jobs To Be Done perspective?
When analyzing competitor features, it's important to understand how that product is getting the job done for the customer. This is a fundamental key to understanding what your customers truly want. To illustrate this point, let's take a look at the classic example of the iPod versus the Zune.
When the iPod was first released, it had a relatively simple feature set compared to other MP3 players on the market. It allowed users to buy music from a store and download it to their hard drive, as well as create playlists. However, when streaming services like Spotify and Pandora came on the scene, they completely changed the game. These services allowed users to stream music that was related to what they had listened to before and what they liked. This was a great new solution for those trying do the same job that the iPod was fulfilling: to create a mood with music. Unsurprisingly, these products were a huge success.
If you were analyzing the competitors and you were looking at the iPod's feature set, you would have missed the opportunity to eliminate the need for a music store and playlist creation altogether.
But sometimes a competitor has a good launch. So how do you avoid the feature copying pitfall and determine when a competitor’s recent feature launch is worth incorporating into your own roadmap? This is the time when it’s helpful to have a firm strategy in place. Ideally it’s one that everyone has already agreed upon. This strategy should include the customer you're targeting, the job you're trying to help them get done, and the struggles you're going to focus on in that job that will drive growth. This way, when a competitor launches a new feature, you can quickly assess if it's targeting the same customer and job, and determine if it's a good strategy to adopt or not.
Finally, it's important to remember that company strategy is about competition. The origins of the term, whether it's in chess or military strategy, is a plan to beat your competitors. And when it comes to product development, customers don't want the product, they want to get the job done. By understanding the job they want to get done and focusing on that, we can create a better product and outcompete our rivals.