Imitation cannot be a product development strategy.

Original author: Jesse Weaver
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If something worked for one company, it does not necessarily mean that the same will work for another.

YouTube recently announced major changes to the YouTube Premium subscription platform (formerly called YouTube Red): they unsubscribe and open premium content for free (but with ads) to all YouTube users. Edition of USA Today published an article on this titled " Not all are willing to pay for a subscription. Do not believe? Ask YouTube . According to this article, people are tired of subscriptions - or quoting an article: “Users have said their word. Enough already these subscriptions.

There are many subscription services - and it is likely that we can reach the saturation point. However, I don’t think that YouTube Premium’s problem was precisely this: people will pay almost for everything that gives what seems to them valuable and fits into their view of the world - for this they are even ready to go into debt. Therefore, credit cards are so popular.

I think the real problem with YouTube Premium was that they decided to repeat what other video streaming services are doing.

YouTube has built its strategy around what others have been doing, and is now faced with a truth that is too often ignored: imitation cannot be a development strategy.

Imitation is everywhere: we as designers, developers, businessmen and product managers focus on successful methods, analyze the work of competitors - and as a result, we often apply an imitative approach to the creation of a product. If something works for others, it should work for us - so it seems to us. The catch is that often such imitation does not work - at least not in the way we expect.

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Your product, the scope and method of its use, as well as the place that you occupy in the minds of people, are unique. Users form an idea of ​​the brand and product due to many different factors. There are no identical brands - and never will be.

By copying someone else's product, the company assumes that the replicated feature was successful for the competitors and that the original product was developed to achieve the same goal as the new imitation product.

YouTube followed the development of the streaming video market and drew attention to what seemed like a new formula for success: create high-quality content with famous personalities, make paid access to it - and pay for it. So does Netflix. So does Amazon. So does Hulu.

But everything is not as simple as it may seem at first glance. Netflix succeeded because they distributed content from subscription from the start. The service has always been known for its quality content, even when they delivered video to DVD in small red sachets. Hulu subscription works because they are the streaming equivalent of television: if you don't want to pay for the cable, but you want to watch cable shows - subscribe to Hulu. Amazon Video works, because their users have already paid for the Prime subscription to which the video was added. I doubt that without this, a subscription Amazon Video would take off.

At first glance, it seems that all three companies have done the same thing. In fact, each service has developed its own offer for premium content, aimed at the users of this service, its use options and company features. And YouTube did not.

YouTube has never been known for premium content or paid content - it has gained popularity just for the opposite: free content is not of the highest quality. As you know, one of the tasks when searching for a market niche for a product is to secure a certain image behind it in the heads of the audience. And after that it becomes very difficult to change something - it can be even more difficult than the original task. And YouTube has established itself as a place where you can watch short videos for free.

YouTube has never tried to use the Netflix model - it is not typical for it and does not correspond to the role that this video service plays in the lives of users. Therefore, the recent change of approach on the platform has little to do with the desire or unwillingness of customers to pay for another subscription.

Imitation as a product development strategy is attractive for many reasons. For example, because it is easy: you do not need to understand anything - just copy. And this approach seems less risky: after all, others have already tested the idea, and it works. But in reality this is a delusion: imitation is as risky as an attempt to try something new - and perhaps even more risky.

There are many risks here. Firstly, it is a narrowing of the focus of attention. Inspired by imitation, you can stop paying attention to the unique, valuable features of the product. This can lead to excessive focus on competition, not customers.

For many years, I led product development at a company that worked on a streaming video service. And so many times in meetings I heard: “Well, that’s what Netflix does.” I wanted to remind every time: we work not for a competitor’s customers, but for our own customers, and they, however much we want to think, are completely different, they are attracted by the unique characteristics of our own service.

The result of such inattention may be the risk of losing opportunities. Focusing on imitation, you stop considering options that affect the distinctive features of the company and its customer base, you miss the chance to do something impressive, unexpected. And after all, it is precisely this that must be paid attention to first and foremost - to the unique advantages, for the sake of which customers first of all came to you. By focusing on this, you can exponentially increase the value of a product by increasing customer attachment to specific features that make the product unique.

Try to sort out in your mind not the most successful elements of the product, for the improvement of which simply did not have time. If you look from the outside, it may seem that all of them are an integral part of your product, because in general it works.

And one more risk that I want to mention is the imitation of "past the goal." By copying someone else's product, the company assumes that the replicated feature was successful for the competitors. In addition, it is assumed that the original product was developed to achieve the same goal as the new imitation product.

The easiest way to determine success is by obvious signs such as a business model (for example, that this is a subscription service): the cash flow entering Netflix speaks for itself. But often much less is imitated: for example, specific functions, the approach to conversion, and even the layout and style of a particular screen. Determining how much these details really contribute to success can be much more difficult. And even harder to know the true business goals behind the original idea.

Remember your own product. Try to sort out in your mind not the most successful elements, for the improvement of which simply did not have time. If you look from the outside, it may seem that all of them are an integral part of your product, because in general it works. And I, again, countless times I heard statements like this: “Well, we know that [competitor X] does a lot of tests, so this should work.”

We all become victims of imitation. Look at least how similar the interfaces of most applications are. What opportunities do we miss by imitating each other?

In previous work, we tried several times to imitate the Netflix service. Not surprisingly, the results usually did not meet expectations. The reason, as you probably already guessed, was that we are not Netflix. First of all, we differed from a technical point of view, and the possibilities we had were different. But more importantly, the behavior and goals of our users have never been the same as those of Netflix customers: there you come to relax, have fun and relax. Our content was enticing, informational, - I want to discuss it, “digest”. But Netflix does not focus on this behavior.

We have repeatedly found that the most successful features we had were those that we developed ourselves — those that would be irrelevant for Netflix users, but on the other hand, they perfectly corresponded to our unique audience and perfectly fit into our product image.

Paying attention to the market situation can be useful: it helps to inform and inspire the development team. But try not to fall into the trap and do not imitate your strategy. Always keep track of what is unique in your product and your audience. Play from your strengths - this is the best way to reduce risks and achieve more.

About the translator

. The article is translated in Alconost.

Alconost is engaged in the localization of games , applications and 70 languages. Language translators, linguistic testing, cloud platform with API, continuous localization, 24/7 project managers, any string resource formats.

We also make advertising and training videos - for sites selling, image, advertising, training, teasers, expliners, trailers for Google Play and the App Store.

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