Few products are ground-breaking innovations with zero competition. Chances are that alternatives for your product exist. You should therefore ensure that your product stands out from the crowd and that people have a compelling reason to choose it over competing offerings. The Strategy Canvas is a great tool to achieve this, as I explain in this post.
The Strategy Canvas
The Strategy Canvas was developed by Kim and Mauborgne, the authors of Blue Ocean Theory. It was originally intended as a business strategy tool to discover new markets. Luckily, the canvas can also be applied to individual products, as the following example illustrates.
The Strategy Canvas above ranks the first iPhone against its rivals, including the Nokia N95 and the BlackBerry Curve. The horizontal axis of the canvas captures the key factors companies compete on to provide their products. In the example above, there are twelve factors, which range from offering different models to stylish design.
The vertical axis of the Strategy Canvas describes the offering level, the degree to which the competitors offer the factors. Video, for instance, was not offered on the original iPhone but it was provided by its competitors; a camera was available on the first iPhone but it’s quality was inferior compared to the competition; but its media player was better, and the iPhone offered two new factors, a touch screen and a stylish design.
By assessing the degree to which the iPhone and the competitor products fulfil the twelve factors, two lines are created. The dark one represents the value curve of the smartphone industry in 2007; the light one the first iPhone.
When comparing the two lines, we see that the they diverge. This means that the first iPhone was clearly differentiated. Apple achieved this by removing certain features, such as physical keyboard, stylus, and video; reducing some, including voice quality and e-mail integration; and improving others, for example, mobile Internet and media player. Additionally, the two new factors—the touch screen and stylish design—gave the phone a significant competitive advantage and helped Apple disrupt the mobile-phone market.
 The sample canvas is based on Disruptive Product Innovation Strategy: The Case of Portable Digital Music Players.
Applying the Canvas to Your Product
Before applying the Strategy Canvas, you should be clear on your product’s value proposition—the main problem it solves or the primary benefit it provides—and the market segment you want to serve. I capture these pieces of information using my Product Vision Board. (The canvas therefore complements the board in my approach.) Additionally, you should know who your main competitors are.
Start creating the canvas by determining the key factors. Make sure you choose those factors that define the current standard in your market and are used to advertise and sell products, rather than the ones that favour your own product. Product reviews and test reports can help you discover the right factors, since they compare a product against the expected standard. Additionally, limit the number of factors you use to about ten. This creates focus and avoids an overly complex canvas.
With the key factors in place, rank the competing offerings and your own product taking into account the degree to which they fulfil the factor. This is not meant to be a scientific exercise but based on the information you have collected whilst identifying the key factors. Consider if a factor is fulfilled not at all, hardly, to some extent, or fully, and rank the products accordingly.
With the scores in place, represented as dots or circles, connect them to create the value curves. Think about joining up the curves of the competitors to create clarity, as I did in the Strategy Canvas above. While this carries the risk of overlooking some details, it simplifies the canvas and makes it easier to see where the main opportunities are for making your product stand out.
If the value curve of your product is too close to the curve of the competition, then you haven’t differentiated your product sufficiently. You will subsequently find it hard to explain to your users and customers why they should choose your product. What you would like to see instead is a value curve that significantly diverges from the industry standard, like the white-dotted one in the Strategy Canvas above. This is achieved by eliminating, reducing, and raising the appropriate key factors, and by creating new ones. The Eliminate-Reduce-Raise-Create Grid can help you with this.
Use the Strategy Canvas not only for brand-new products. Regularly check if an existing product is still adequately differentiated or if the competition has caught up with it. Take the iPhone. If we consider how the smartphone market has changed since the launch of the iPhone, we see that the competitors have matched the original iPhone’s features. Trying to stay ahead of the competition, Apple has introduced and raised several factors over the years, including the ability to install third-party apps, the number and size of iPhone models, the battery life, and the camera and video capabilities.