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Leading and learning: Sara Hill on differentiating for success in the U.S.

By Sarah Hill, Senior Vice President, Advanced Technologies, US, Enterprise Ireland

What defines companies that thrive when expanding to new markets? The key lies in communicating a product’s differentiation and its unique value proposition.

With increasing volumes of new products released each year, international markets are becoming more and more crowded, making it harder for companies to produce a truly unique offer. Yet at the same time, not having a strong differentiator or features that are clearly unique from competitors is simply not an option.

As consumers are faced with more choices than ever, clear differentiation is critical to the selection process. Often the success of a product will be driven by the benefits versus price ratio — where benefits must outweigh price in order to offer enough value to the customer. Managing product differentiation is about appealing to target customers in a way that will deliver the most value, ensuring that the core elements and main differentiators satisfy customer expectations, ideally delighting them, and taking precautions to guard against feature fatigue.

Different is better

In my role as SVP of Advanced Technologies, US, with Enterprise Ireland, I work with Irish technology companies that are entering and expanding in the US West Coast market. A main focus is working with them to develop their presence in the market, build key relationships, and establish partnerships.

A major target for many of the companies I work with is Silicon Valley, an epicenter of technological innovation, and also, an extremely crowded market. Strong competition makes it essential that companies entering and expanding here manage product differentiation to appeal to and serve their ideal customers, innovate without creating feature fatigue, and always deliver on their core offer.

Many of the companies I’ve worked with have found success by sticking to these principles, and a large part of my role is in recognizing their differentiators and communicating them to potential partners and customers. One exemplary company that has managed product differentiation by continuously innovating yet still delivering on core elements, allowing them to win and keep customers, is Taoglas.

Connectivity innovation

Headquartered in Wexford, Ireland, Taoglas is a growing, multinational company that offers advanced antenna products and services for the telecommunications, Internet of Things (IoT), industrial and automotive sectors. Taoglas provides advanced antenna and custom RF innovation products to many of the world’s leading wireless and IoT companies. It has an extensive menu of product and service offerings and is consistently working to develop new innovations and features to stay competitive in these fast-paced markets. Retaining a balance between features and complexity through its product innovations has contributed to its growth and satisfied repeat customers. Producing quality products and focusing on providing great, personalized service has become key company differentiators.

Taoglas invests a lot of energy in developing good relationships with customers and making sure it delivers on their promises, remaining open and collaborative, and providing hands-on service. It ensures that products and services are tailored to their target customers’ needs. Taoglas manages its product differentiation by choosing the right features and focusing on fulfilling the basic benefits these customers value most. Joint founder and CEO, Dermot O’Shea, explains, “We don’t just provide our customers with an antenna, we work to fully understand their unique challenges and applications, and the total value of their product and service.”

This becomes a powerful way in which they differentiate—by seamlessly extending exceptional service through to their products and services. Best-selling expert Seth Godin articulates this integration in Purple Cow, “Remarkable marketing is the art of building things worth noticing right into your product or service.” In a competitive market, service can be a crucial element of success, a way of cutting through the noise and a way for companies to differentiate without overcomplicating or adding too many unnecessary features to products. Taoglas has been able to continually deliver on their promise to customers.

A smart fleet mentality 

Another company I work closely with is ProVision, who has a software product for commercial fleet operators to digitally manage driver safety and fleet-wide risk data. Using a combination of smart cameras, telemetry and autonomous/collision avoidance technologies, the software platform (CameraMatics) allows fleet managers to manage fleet risk and compliance in real time.

As ProVision prepares to enter the US market, managing product differentiation will play a large role in determining customer adoption, satisfaction and loyalty. Its new product has added features to differentiate against competitors with other camera bases solutions. These features were added to make the product more relevant and appealing and gain new customers in a new market.

ProVision’s innovative solution augments existing products to provide the most relevant solution to its target customer. In order to keep customers satisfied in the long term, it must ensure new features don’t add too much complexity, maintain high utility, and that its core offer is successfully delivered.

Two examples of how ProVision manages product differentiation to keep this balance include customer feedback for product enhancement by relevance, and focusing the product to execute best in class user experience, in other words, ‘making risk management easy’.

ProVision has engaged in a trial experience with various fleet types to gain market research and valuable customer feedback on the utility of its product. As Rust, Thompson and Hamilton noted, without market research and customer feedback, “too much weight will be given to capability, and the result will likely be products with too many features.”

The insights to be gained through these trial engagements will help the company tailor its product features toward what customers value most. Secondly, ProVision has chosen to focus its product around a clear message, “Transforming Fleet Risk Management”. This is its product promise and key differentiator.

ProVision takes precautions against overwhelming customers by not attempting to present all aspects of fleet management in the product at one time. It leads with the core of what customer value most —reducing risk and improving driver safety — and follows with the more complex data as an underlay, making it easy for customers to implement and gain buy-in from potential users within an organization.

Differentiating in the US

As part of my role, I help Irish companies entering the US market create a simplified product message where target customers can easily understand the value of the offer. By managing their product differentiation and prioritizing the balance between staying innovative, adding new and unique features, and complexity, Taoglas, ProVision, and many other Irish companies can be well positioned for a successful market entry.

It’s important to always remember who you’re creating a product for and that the true promise of the product is delivered. By delivering on the basics, solving the main customer needs, companies can better ensure repeat business and prevent against losing their market share.

All too often, companies are distracted by adding peripheral and augmented features and they forget what customers care about: that there is an increase in benefits relative to cost and that the core and expected features of the product are upheld. This is when a product differentiation strategy will produce the best results with the highest chances of market success in the US, and beyond.

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Feb 1, 2019

Leading and learning: Sara Hill on differentiating for success in the U.S.