Sustainable competitive advantage: the essence of any startup

sustainable competitive advantage the essence of any startup

We don’t need to tell you how important it is to have a sustainable competitive advantage (or a couple of them). No matter what industry you are in, what your business goals are, the size of your company, etc – we all compete and try to differentiate. Those who don’t – get bankrupt and quit the game. It is especially viable for start-ups or companies that are trying to enter a new market.

But the question is, how to determine your competitive advantage? How to start developing it? That is exactly what this article is about. Learn your strengths, discover the weaknesses of the rivals, gain a competitive edge, and we will aid you on the way. But first off…

Why would you need a sustainable competitive advantage?

Besides all the obvious benefits that sustainable competitive advantages bring to the table, we would like to focus on a single point. One of the main things that distinguish a sustainable advantage from the ‘’regular’’ one is its long-term differentiation that lowers the risk of losing the dominant position in the market. 

nike vs reebok sales graphic

Long story short, the more unique and well-managed your business is, the harder it will be to copy and steal the market share. As Pankaj Ghemawat pointed out in his article on sustainable competitive advantages, Nike has lost its leadership in the 80s due to its too easily copied strategy. It was as simple as using cheap labor and investing in marketing & product development. It has provoked an unfavorable situation for Nike that gave birth to a countless number of copy-cat competitors, as described in the very same article: “Reebok’s sales and profits expanded fivefold in 1985, while Nike’s actually declined.”

Such disturbing losses from Nike’s side only make it more exhilarating to find out…

What is sustainable competitive advantage really about?

A sustainable advantage, is more often than not, synergetic and interactive. It may consist of different kinds of characteristics combined in one that endure your business (not one by one).  The more elaborate it gets the better it is (and the harder it is to decipher for the competitors).

A truly sustainable competitive advantage is like an entire collage of your organization’s strong points. It is not only unique due to your original strategy, but it also includes the unique corporate culture and working team, your location, and the current state of technological advancement. To discover what is so special about your organization, just answer these two questions:

  1. In what way does your company exceed the competition?
  2. Why and how so?

If you have no trouble answering these questions being both consistent and true to yourself, then skip to the next part of this article. You already know your sustainable competitive advantage, so develop it further, and cling to it as long as it stays viable.

But if you struggle with giving an answer, simply read all the following basic competitive advantages, think of how your company is doing regarding all the mentioned characteristics, and try drawing a picture of your sustainable differentiation. The following competitive advantages make up for a nice batch of your sustainability components, especially for a start-up.

sustainable start up build
Start-up sustainability essentials


As simple as it is if you are one of the lower-end providers that actually manage to deliver quality, both your demand and brand loyalty are bound to rocket sky-high. It is a great competitive advantage but it is usually viable only for the more developed businesses, rather than start-ups, due to a high market entry barrier.

Successful Branding

Unlike the first one, this competitive advantage exploits emotions, not reason.. People are getting more and more attached to specific companies, their images, products – their brand. Creating a consistent and original one is quite an achievement but developing and curating it, is yet another demanding task to complete. Fortunately, we could give you a hand with that. If you have no brand, begin with a head start with our brand specialists.

Product Differentiation & Creative Product Ideas

The more unique your product or service is, the harder it is to copy, the more power you have with pricing, and the easier it is to build your customers’ loyalty. The way to the differentiation is quite demanding in terms of both money and time. It requires a deep understanding of the market you are in and the competitors alongside what they offer. A start-up with a low-experienced team may not strike right to the point from the first try, so it is recommended to look for marketing specialists to quickly gain a competitive edge.

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Corporate Agility

Living in times when technological advancement is progressing like never before, we all understand how fatal it is to keep one’s business agile. By agile we mean quickly reacting to all the market levers and the consumer’s problems. This advantage is quite open to interpretation. It could be used in a wide range of cases: from swift and to-the-point communication with the customer to the changes in product development according to the consumer’s feedback. How, when, and why would you implement agility to your business – is your advantage to develop.

This must be more than enough for you to start thinking and looking for the hidden uniqueness of your company. Having all the information you need to find the gem that is a sustainable competitive advantage within your own organization, you may ask yourself…

So what strategic recommendations would you give to develop a sustainable competitive advantage?

Diving into the topic of sustainable competitive advantage development, you need to have a keen understanding of your uniqueness. Once you do, try putting all of your efforts into centering your business around it. In addition, here are some tips on how to strategically wrap your company around your most precious competitive advantages.

1. Investigate your sustainable development goals. First and foremost, take your time reviewing and supplementing the SDGs. While doing so, you should go through the situation on the market, your corporate strategy, your customers, and the business model. Try to squeeze out all the benefits you can detect; implement changes if necessary.

PRO TIP: while reviewing your business, don’t focus too much on its monetization and profitability. Think bigger: try to include environmental or social responsibility. It may not only add to your public image and brand but also bring some new colors to the corporate culture. A real business doesn’t just generate profits, it generates impact.

2. Mix the advantages. The more you combine into the cluster of your sustainability, the more viable it is. Conduct several brainstorming sessions to determine all the advantages that form your company’s uniqueness.

3. Review the rigidity of your target market. The more progressive and interchangeable it is, the more frequently it transforms. Constant technological advancements create more opportunities for gaining a sustainable competitive advantage. But the trick is that it’s actually a double-edged sword. In this kind of market, it is also much easier to lose your competitive edge. The inability to constantly innovate and catch up with the trends will bring you down. But if you are in a quite rigid market with the classic tangible assets, it’s not that bad of a situation. You can turn the tables.

4. Explore opportunities outside of your organization. Networking, partnerships, collaborations – it all comes as a huge benefit to your company in the case of the subjects having similar goals and ideologies. Synergy works in a variety of ways.

5. Stay vigilant. Monitor the competitive environment constantly and look for sudden changes or shifts in technology to sprint right ahead of the competition and try forestalling the competitors. If you are lucky enough to spot such events and succeed with timing, it will be more than great for your sustainability.

6. Keep an eye on your own organization. Besides monitoring the market and your competitors, you definitely shouldn’t snooze on your company. It needs monitoring and measuring, too! Keep track of your KPIs, company budget, and all the other organizational essentials. That is the very least you can do to make your businesses more sustainable.

By implementing sustainability in the key aspects of your business, you will gain the head start you need to enter a new market. It will serve as a huge benefit regardless of your experience or position in the market. Sustainability is what grants you a fixed leading position regarding your competitors and a powerful brand image. Of course, it comes for a price that is more derived from marketing experience and dedication, than time and money.