Photo by Amy, courtesy of Unsplash

Make Your Product Stand Out with the Strategy Canvas

Published on 12th January 2017

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.[1]

Strategy Canvas iPhone

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.

[1] 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.

Post a Comment or Ask a Question


  • cute says:

    Hi Roman,
    I followed your blog post. They are helpful and informative. Thank you. However, could you please share some info on:
    1. How is your vision template different from “Business canvas”?
    2. Product managers templates to use during the new product development phases (ideation to launch).

    • Roman Pichler Roman Pichler says:

      Thanks for your feedback and sharing the question. I am not sure which templates you are referring to, but if you have Alexander Osterwalder’s Business Model Canvas and my Product Vision Board in mind, then please take a look at my article “The Product Vision Board“, which describes the connection between the two templates.

      Regarding your second question, I like to use the Product Vision Board and GO Product Roadmap to help develop a new product in addition to the Strategy Canvas discussed above. You can find more guidance on templates and tools to bring new products to live in my book Strategize. I would encourage you, though, to try out different templates and tools to find out which ones work best for you.

      Hope this helps.

  • Alex says:

    I still believe that sometimes these tools bring some bias. What if the example chart was drawn in a different order ? The way it’s done there introduces confirmation bias because it gives a visual cue that Apple took off from the flock right there and forever – which it is true – but it’s important to note is that those differentiation could have not been the ones that people wanted and the iPhone would have died right away.
    What happened in my opinion is that people actually liked those differences and a big chunk of the consumers preferred usability in exchange for features.

    I owned a Nokia N95 and it was the best technological piece of that moment by far. The iPhone couldn’t even take a good picture when the N95 had GPS, front and back camera, FM transmitter and so on and on… however Nokia just kept making 25 models a year and just porting the UX/UI across technologies (e.g. same UI for a touch screen as if it was a hw keyboard) instead of leveraging the new opportunities of innovation carried by new tech.

    So to go back to the subject in question, the tool is really useful to visualize strengths and weaknesses but we have to be mindful of possible bias when using it. My 2 cents 😉

    • Roman Pichler Roman Pichler says:

      Hi Alex, Thank you for your feedback. You are absolutely right: No tool can guarantee drawing the right conclusions and generating the right insights; and as human beings, we all have cognitive biases that can cause us to collect the wrong data or misinterpret it. I therefore recommend in my book Strategize, collaboratively creating a Strategy Canvas. This leverages the knowledge and expertise of the development team members and stakeholders, and mitigates confirmation bias.

  • Jay Singh says:

    Totally agree with you. The constant search for ‘unique value proposition’ and ‘revolutionary ideas’ as opposed to ‘evolutionary ideas’ as being the key to success is a non-starter for most businesses.

    You too have a valid point. You cannot play across all fields and any business must decide on its ‘focus areas’. Francis Frei has written some great stuff in this regard – in order to be good, you have to be bad.

  • Roger L. Cauvin says:

    “Factor diagram” seems like a more appropriate term for this so-called “strategy canvas”. I’m highly skeptical of its value. I see risks in attempting to form a product strategy with it.

    The most powerful product strategy is one with a focused unique value proposition. You run the risk of losing focus if you list a bunch of factors or features and try to compete with the competition based on them.

    It’s similar to what I wrote about prioritizing roadmap and product decisions with scorecards and spreadsheets. It tends to distract from the unique value proposition, at least if you’re not careful.

    I can see some potential value in visualizing the competitive landscape and how your product fits based on various factors, and that this information could help you determine what the unique value proposition is (or should be). However, I think a competitive mindshare map comes much closer to mirroring the way Ries and Trout said we should position products.

    • Roman Pichler Roman Pichler says:

      Thanks for your comment, Roger. Like every tool, the Strategy Canvas has its strengths and weakness. If other tools work better for you, then that’s great. You are right that a product’s value proposition is key. But not every product has a unique proposition. Take the Google Chrome browser, for example. It’s a great product. But does it offer a unique value proposition? It does have, however, three features that have set it apart from the other browsers and helped it become successful: superior speed, safety, and simplicity.

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