October 5, 2009

Are You Seen as a Commodity Like a Netbook?

On the surface, netbooks look interchangeable. That suggests you can buy on price.

What if your prospects see you as a commodity too?

Here's what you'll find in today's typical netbook
  • same memory (1 GB)
  • same single core processor (1.6 GHz)
  • same hard drive (160 GB)
  • same operating system (Windows XP; Vista doesn't perform well)
  • same screen size (12.1" or less)
  • same screen resolution (1024x576 or 1024x600)
Blocking Innovation
Two big companies block innovation in netbooks: Microsoft and Intel. If we buy their cheaper products, they lose sales of their more expensive products with higher margins.

Microsoft sets maximum specifications on netbooks. Manufacturers who follow the rules pay about $15 US for a copy of Windows XP. Go beyond and pay four times more: $60. Is it any wonder that even the largest computer makers follow Microsoft's rules? Five "rebels" soon surrendered.

Competition helps. Microsoft faces competition from Linux and Google ChromeOS, both free. Intel faces competition from the AMD Neo and ARM Cortex. Computer manufacturers would rather sell more expensive equipment but want a portion of this growing market.

The Little Differences
Despite the similarities, you'll find surprisingly big differences among netbooks
  • keyboards: generally bilingual in Canada (e.g., Acer,Fujitsu, HP, Samsung, Toshiba), which makes the keyboards more confusing (exceptions: Dell, Lenovo)
  • build quality: plastic, "ruggedized" (for kids) or metal
  • layout and size of keys: the left shift key on the HP Mini is the size of a normal key and so is the right shift key on the Sony Vaio W
  • location of buttons on the trackpad: left/right (HP), bottom (most common), underneath (Dell)
  • battery life: longer weighs more
  • heat: some designs get too hot for comfort
  • reputation or design: you may prefer Sony over Acer, despite the higher price
When products become more similar, the minor differences matter more. You may prefer a particular colour. The placement of a key or the trackpad buttons may truly annoy you. Yes, we can adapt but why bother when we have other choices?

What About You?
You're not forced into sameness the way netbooks are, but you have the handicap of selling the invisible: services.

What makes you stand out from your competitors? Not from your perspective but from the eyes of your clients, prospects and centres of influence. In terms that matter to them.

Minor differences can set you apart. A little is enough to be the one they want.

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