people running in a race

Don’t compete on features – do this instead

SaaS companies – don’t use copy that only focuses on your product features. You need to go a different route. Away from the well-trodden “what we do” path. Towards the greener “why we do it.”

“B-b-but what about our features?”

Of course, you still need to say what you do. However, focusing on features won’t win you customers in the long-term. Probably not in the short-term either. Here’s why.

Your best features can and will be copied

You spend your resources developing, testing and launching your idea. Sure, that gives you a headstart over the competition. Until they reverse-engineer what you did and release something similar. Tripping you up just as you were hitting top speed:

google home page from 1999 looking old and blocky

Here’s a company that wasn’t the first but hoovered up their competitors’ customers

There’s no best feature

Compete on features and you have to show why your version of a feature is better than a competitor’s. The thing is, everyone has different definitions of what’s best for them. Does best mean Gartner Magic Quadrant-rated? Award-winning? Support available on the phone?

Feature fatigue

Listing your features alongside a competitor can work well. As long as you have a superior feature set, of course. However, they’re no good when you’re talking to people who are still deciding if they actually need what you offer.

“New features” don’t scale

New can attract early adopters when you’re launching. However, this stops working when you grow and start targeting audiences who already have a solution. To those audiences, “new” means, “You’ll have to stop using the product you’ve already invested in.”

Feature pressure

You don’t really want to make your team come up with new features every few months. Expecting them to keep inventing the next iPod, iPad, or iPhone. Just to keep you ahead of the competition.

“No one ever got fired for choosing IBM”

The market leaders don’t always have the best features. They’re just the safest bet. Whether that’s because they’ve been around the longest, or gobbled up all the innovative companies. Your features aren’t going to dislodge them any time soon.

“Ok, so tell me more about this narrative”

This isn’t about your mission, values or brand. The narrative includes four main areas:

  • What’s changing in the world
  • Why it’s relevant to your target audience
  • What this means for your target audience if they don’t adapt
  • Introduce the solution

Yours has to be positioned as the definitive narrative. Note “the”, not “a” narrative. Check out how these companies do it:

What’s changing in the world

World is moving beyond fossil fuels

People want to shop online

More and more people are spending money digitally

Why it’s relevant to your target audience

Businesses need new sources of energy

Setting up an ecommerce store means competing with Amazon

People are seeing savings wiped out by inflation and banks printing money

What this means for your target audience if they don’t adapt

Higher taxes on gas and oil, people seeing you as a polluter

It’s not enough to launch a standard website and hope people will buy from you

The government and banks will continue to control your money

Introduce the solution

BP is investing in low-carbon technology, giving you cleaner energy for your business

Shopify gives you everything you need to sell, make money and provide great customer experience (like Amazon does)

Digital currencies give you back control of your money

Why narrative works

Emotion over logic

You’re not doing the hard-sell. Naturally, that makes people more defensive. You’re appealing to emotions. And we know that’s what motivates people to choose you over features.

Otherwise all those perfume/after shave ads would talk about all the chemicals that makes them smell nice. Rather than use ads that say “wear our fragrance and attract people who look like this”.

two young good looking people

Build brand identity

This helps you rise above the biggest problem facing you as you grow. Sameness. You can’t afford to play it safe. Wind in those loud colours. Tone down the copy. File down those sharp edge logos.

Matches today’s consumers

Everyone has their own Netflix series they prefer to watch. Their personalised Amazon home page. Their favourite TikTok or YouTube channels. Nobody’s sitting down together to watch one thing at one time on one screen anymore. It’s all about seeking out a niche that appeals to some people.
Better for your SaaS to be someone’s shot of whisky than trying to be everyone’s cup of tea

It’s not just about cost

Take away the story and you’re competing on cold, hard logic. That usually ends up on price. Build your narrative and you avoid getting caught up in that race to the bottom.

“So… how do we write about our features?”

Sure, you still make a big thing about them. However, the features need to be positioned with your narrative in mind. Showing how your features help you adapt to the changing world. Not just how your features are better. Even if they are.

Using this approach means your target audience buys into your vision. And that’s more powerful – and sustainable – than getting buy-in that’s based on features alone. Particularly when it comes to talking subscription renewal or upgrades.

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