Point of Difference (POD): The reason why people should visit your site over every other.
Every successful site has a hook to it – something that differentiates them from the competition. Something that elicits the following reaction (quoting Rae Hoffman from her Performancing interview):
“Oh, yeah, widgetworld.com – you guys are the ones who have the [insert something others in that niche aren’t doing here]”
A POD is different from the core basics any site should have – quality content, good usability, community value, etc. And here’s where many webmasters trip themselves up – they consider these basics (quality content, community value and personal opinion are the most common) as being a point of difference in themselves.
Let’s be clear – quality is not a point of difference UNLESS you’re working in a very immature and undeveloped niche, where you have little competition and you can establish yourself just by being one of the first and by being good. Even this advantage evaporates quickly once the competition increases.
Personal opinion is rarely a good POD – unless you happen to be very entertaining, very interesting, very popular or very important to a group of people, your opinion isn’t worth squat at the beginning.
For us mere mortals, we need to build a strong track record before we can differentiate based on our ‘opinions’. No, seriously, if you don’t fit in one of the four above categories (if you are, you’ll know because you’ll have people telling you), you really need to find something else.
Community is NOT a POD
Community, like personal opinion, is a factor that develops over time and therefore isn’t a ‘primary’ POD. Startups who emphasize the community aspect take note – unless you’re migrating a whole community from another site / forum (relaunching a forum on a new domain, for example), community is NOT your best selling point. In fact, it’s not even a selling point – if you’re forced to talk about how people can ‘network’ and ‘share ideas’, you’re just telling me to get out of my IM and sign up to a new forum. Double the effort in shifting over, not to mention that all my ‘like-minded’ friends aren’t going to be there, so you’re telling me to run two virtual networks of contacts, AND make new friends?
Being First as a Point of Difference
This works best in growing niches – by staking claim in a niche early on (or in a subniche) and building towards being the ‘first in mind’, a webmaster can use ‘being first’ as a POD.
Of course, the catch here is that not only do you need to supplement this advantage with quality, but you also need to stay ahead of the competition in terms of innovation lest someone overtakes you.
Example – Arseblog. One of the earliest blogs on Arsenal FC, and still the first name that comes to mind when you say ‘Arsenal blog’. Once the niche became somewhat saturated, the owner started a weekly podcast as a means to differentiate himself from the competition (the football blogging niche in general is very slow on new tech adoption).
The all-in-one POD
Trying to please all people will not work straight from the start. Unless you have a first-mover advantage, the smartest route to doing this is to focus on being very, very good at one thing before moving on to the next.
And even then, this approach requires an enormous amount of time, energy and money to be successful (unless you play the Wiki-card, and with the number of Wikis popping up, that’s not enough to set you apart in itself).
Now that we’ve looked at PODs that don’t always work, here are a few examples of brilliantly-executed PODs:
The PopCrunch Show – In terms of branding, this video show is a masterstroke. It sets PopCrunch apart from the hundreds of celebrity blogs out there, and gives the site a strong POD which they can now use to build their brand.
Matt Cutts – Matt’s smart and knows a lot, but that’s not what got people interested in the first place. His unofficial status as Google’s spokesperson gave him massive initial credibility and a POD that no one else could really match.
SEO Book – Oh, yea, seobook.com, that’s the guy who wrote the book on SEO, right?
What is your Point of Difference?