Are you taking a me too product to market? If you are (which is likely), make sure you have a competitive advantage.
(Editor’s note: This post has no connection to #metoo or the issues related to that nomenclature).
A friend made an off the cuff remark to me the other day. He said he’d like to quit his job at a software company and start a burger restaurant.
He explained that he was sick of his office career, loved to cook, and considered himself a burger aficionado.
He wanted to know what I thought of his idea from a marketing perspective.
I pointed out two things.
First, I acknowledged that people love hamburgers – that’s good. Burgers are the most popular restaurant food in America.
Then I asked if he’d heard the In and Out Burger chain was coming to our area. They’re not here yet but it’s already making the news.
I said a friend told me Shake Shack had the most incredible burgers she’d ever eaten. I asked if he’d tried 5 Guys Burgers and Fries or Freddie’s Steakburgers. Of course he had.
And what about the dozens of restaurants, sports bars, and brewpubs in the area that all served great burgers. Yep, he loved those places.
So how are you going to be different? How are you going to compete with chains and actually make money?
“I don’t know,” he said.
I looked at him sternly. “Until you do, don’t quit your software job.”
Me Too Products
Product ideas that startups take to market tend to fall into two categories. Both have their challenges.
The first is when they bring a new, innovative product to market. This is a product that solves a problem in a new way. It’s a unique idea seeking to change the current marketplace.
When White Castle started building out the first hamburger chain in the early 1920s, it was a new, innovative idea.
A me too product is just what the expression implies. It’s a product or business idea that’s jumping into a competitive market where many similar products are already available.
My friend can’t go back in time to when the hamburger was a new type of restaurant food. If he opens a burger restaurant, he’s saying “try me too”.
Are Me Too Products Worth Taking to Market?
Consider that in 1948 when the McDonald brothers opened their burger restaurant, they were a me too business. They weren’t the only place around selling hamburgers.
But they created a competitive advantage. They developed what they called the Speedee Service System that became the foundation for the McDonald’s burger franchise.
They served a good burger. But what really clicked (and inspired Ray Kroc to franchise the business) was they served these burgers faster and cheaper than anyone else. Their efficient, consistent preparation is the stuff of legend, as dramatized in the movie Founder:
McDonald’s demonstrates important aspects of how a me too product can be made wildly successful.
First, there is the advantage of me too. You’re dealing with a type of product that’s already known to be popular. You don’t have to test the market or educate clients on why they should care.
This, taken by itself, is a serious advantage. When you’re taking a new innovation to market, you have to test its viability, discover your customer base, and educate people so they understand its value.
The disadvantage of a me too product is that you’re entering a space that already has fierce competition. This means that even though you have a similar product, you have to clearly distinguish it so you have a competitive advantage to leverage.
We talk to a lot of eCommerce startup hopefuls with me too product ideas who think they can jump into the market and get a small slice of the profitability pie. They make the build it and they will come assumption based on the misguided notion that the vast reach of the internet will allow an almost infinite number of businesses to access paying customers.
This isn’t true. In reality, few startups can directly compete with more established brands and turn a profit.
My friend can make a wonderful burger, but if he’s basically doing the same thing as Freddie’s and Five Guys, he won’t be able to do it and make money. He simply can’t compete with a franchise organization that operates with low profit margins.
Can he sell burgers? Almost certainly. Can he make money at it? Tough.
Not unless he differentiates his product to the degree that he’s offering a unique variation. Then he must establish that people will pay a premium for his offer.
Most Businesses Are Me Too
You’ve caught the entrepreneurship bug. You’d like to start your own business.
To make this move, you need a business idea. A solution to offer, a product people will pay for.
As you start out, you’ll seek an innovative idea that’s unique and new. You’ll hope to have an “ah-ha moment” when you recognize a problem that still doesn’t have a solution. You’ll create your product and own a new market space.
Just know you may wait for a very long time for this idea to come.
In fact – in all likelihood – it will never come.
Truly innovative ideas that allow you to develop an offer that actually has no existing competition are a rarity. Or, more accurately, innovative ideas that actually have a viable buying audience are rare (people come up with unique, off-the-wall ideas all the time, but they don’t work if nobody will pay for the product).
If you want to start a business, chances are you won’t do it with a completely original product idea. Instead, you’ll have to play the me too game.
In this game, you will have competition. This means you have to establish how you’ll stand out. Can you offer:
- Better service?
- Lower prices?
- A premium or bespoke offer people will pay more for?
- A new benefit other similar products don’t deliver?
- A brand story people will be drawn to?
- A more efficient delivery system?
The key understanding here is that if you’re going in with a me too product, you must have a way to distinguish yourself from the competition. A unique variation on the product type that gives you an advantage.
If you don’t have a distinguishing feature that allows you to stand out, you’re facing such a difficult task in overcoming the competition that it’s probably better not to jump into the market.
Can my friend create a better burger? Difficult in such a saturated market, but then again the difference isn’t always dramatic. A long-time San Francisco burger joint had a simple value message right across the top of the restaurant:
Can he come up with the next popular food trend and become the next White Castle or McDonald’s?
That, of course, is the million-dollar question – that only pays-off with the right answer.
One thing we know is that question is not: Do you want to be a successful, rich business person?
Because we know the answer to that question is yes.
Then everyone else screams me too!