When founders confuse awareness with comparison

January 16, 2022

Early markets are hard — like ships in a fog, it’s difficult to know who else is out there, and dangerous to assume you’re on your own.

Founders often highlight how much their customers love their product — it is usually pretty easy to validate that this is true. Often these are well-written products that solve real problems.

The problem is that this can cause founders to confuse awareness with comparison.

Most people want to have their problems solved — it’s not really their job to define a market, establish grading criteria and pick winners. That’s not to say that they don’t — but many don’t. If a product works, then it is sometimes enough to just pick it and move on.

The situation for founders is very different. Especially in early markets, it is easy to find customers who are not aware that solutions to their problems exist. Early markets usually lack formal definition and thereby make it hard for the more diligent to find and compare similar solutions.

If your customers are selecting you largely based on their lack of awareness rather than on the basis of having compared your solutions with others and found yours to be the best — there is much yet to be done.

Scalable defensibility is a critical attribute to winning the comparison war

The reason it is important to know the difference is how it impacts your growth. If early sales success is largely driven by customer need rather than product differentiation, sales will likely stall as the market matures and opportunities tend toward compassion sales.

The simplest way to know is to ask customers about the review process they undertook in deciding to trial or use your product. If they didn’t undertake a comparison of similar solutions or didn’t at least have established selection criteria you shouldn’t weigh their decision heavily and you need to understand how well inoculated you are against churn.

Comparison fuels non-linear growth

Comparison isn’t a bad thing. As a market matures and functional criteria emerge as table stakes, so do opportunities for users and prospective users to share solutions — especially ones that win comparisons.

Another risk confusing the awareness phase with the comparison phase is that customer acquisition costs can kill you. Awareness sales tend to be linear and scale linearly. If costs of sales scale linearly with sales, products that nail word of mouth will eat your lunch.

Knowing where you are in the Awareness vs Comparison transition of market evolution is critical.

This post was created with Typeshare