“Developing expertise or assets that are not easily copied is essential; otherwise you’re just a middleman.” I find this a compelling Seth Godin quote for several reasons:
1) In today’s environment of almost-perpetual online visibility / presence and accessibility to lower-cost technologies, the opportunities to copy are greater than ever before. Even Apple is not immune to this. Copyrights and patents really only mean something if you have the resources to enforce them.
2) Products and services are getting commoditized quicker. The market for most offerings moves from qualitative differentiation to undifferentiated price competition at a pace that has never been seen before. We see this most in consumer electronics, but also in previously-premium services like graphic design, website design, etc. A matter of supply catching up with demand. Just browse through some of the services offered on Fiverr some time.
3) We’re seeing the increasing “commodification” of ideas and offerings that, previously, did not have economic / commercial value in the market. Entire new satellite industries grow around an existing industry – for example, we now have “social media consulting for small businesses” (check the term in Google Search).
4) Rapid innovation means that the next disruptive offering is just around the corner to upstage yours. And, that next best thing also becomes yesterday’s news in a matter of months, if not weeks.
5) Business ecosystems are more technology-based – even for small businesses. For example, consider how marketing has evolved to be more social or how supply chain models have become almost fully-automated (and not just for the Amazons of the world). Every aspect of a business’ ecosystem is easier to duplicate, thanks to this lower-cost automation.
A “middleman” is typically someone who’s simply repackaging and reselling offerings – whether they involve professional advice, products or other services. (S)he is even more susceptible to all of the above phenomena than someone who is able to create unique value-add with their offerings such that they cannot be copied.
So, what about your venture or business? What unique value-add are you bringing to it to prevent becoming a middleman? This needs to go beyond your “unique value proposition”. How can you become “un-copyable”? And, since no one can really truly avoid getting copied forever (unless what you’re selling isn’t really wanted in the market), how do you ensure constant re-invention and evolution to keep a few steps ahead?
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