Points of parity for a product are those characteristics of a company’s product that are not unique but are rather on par with competing products. Points of differentiation are those areas on which a company’s product outperforms competing products. The company needs to decide which product features and benefits it wants to match with competing products, and those it wants to differentiate from competing products. It is simply not feasible or advisable for a company to differentiate its product on all aspects.
Though points of differentiation provide a company with its competitive edge over the competition, choosing points of parity carefully is also important. Customers should be able to relate the company’s product with a certain product category, so they can understand at a broad level the type of need that the product satisfies. Therefore, some basic characteristics of the product must be similar to other products in its category. If the product fails to meet the basic characteristics that customers expect from all products in the product category, then customers may not consider it for purchase, irrespective of how well the product is differentiated on other characteristics.
In product categories where there are many differentiation options (such as in the software industry), it makes sense to focus on creating sustainable differentiators rather than on blunting the competition’s points of differentiation. Thus, efforts could be better utilized in creating profound points of differentiation. Additionally, differentiation is not always accomplished through product characteristics. It can be created by offering better services or unique packaging, or by implementing more efficient processes that provide a cost advantage.
Let’s try to understand this better with a few examples..
In the past, the ability of major retailers to provide options for customers to purchase products online would have been a point of differentiation. However, as online shopping grows in popularity and more companies develop their e-commerce capabilities to match consumer demand, the ability to facilitate online shopping has become a point of parity among major retailers.
Similarly, Until recent years, free internet connectivity through Wi-Fi was a point of differentiation for some coffee shops; however, as increasingly more consumers have come to expect this service, the ability to be freely connected is quickly becoming a point of parity in the industry.
A company may choose to match a competing product on a point of differentiation, effectively softening that product’s edge. Thus, if the company achieves parity on all the basic characteristics and blunts the competition’s competitive advantage by targeting its point of differentiation, then even a relatively minor point of differentiation can provide the company with a competitive advantage.