People love to challenge me with "can't win" situations. I don't know how this happened to me, but here's an example....
My Challenge: A shaving mug sold to consumers in retail display racks. A shaving mug is a cup to which you add water and soap, whipping it up into a lather with a brush. "Push button shaving cream" killed the product decades ago.
What to do? If you are anything like me, you go to the barber shop, the only place which still uses (and buys) Shaving mugs. I found out the barber shop was using a makeshift mug, so I asked why they didn't just use the shaving cream people use at home.
The barber explained something that forever changed how I look at both web design and copywriting. He told me people wouldn't pay for something they can do at home themselves. "If you want to sell a shave, people expect professional tools for shaving."
Then I asked why he didn't actually use a professional shaving mug. "Couldn't find any," he said.
Repositioning and repackaging the product in groups of three and five, we then sold them as business building tools for barber shops. Included was a report on how to increase barbershop sales by selling shaves. Using this research insight I managed to keep this "can't miss" product out of a landfill. New Tagline: “When you’re selling a shave, people expect professional tools for shaving.”
The Real Challenge: Don't Sell Ice Cubes To Eskimos
For some reason I can't truly fathom, people think they have to sell ice cubes to Eskimos.
...Some want to contact clients with table-based web designs and get them to buy a CSS-based web design. Why? "Well, because ...you know ...tables are sooo last week." Result: No Sale. That's selling ice cubes to Eskimos.
The reason: Confusing what they wanted to sell with what the customer wants to buy. In the client's mind nothing is broken, so why fix it. End of story.
....Others want to buy a report only 3,267 other people bought the resale rights to, and resell it. Again, ice cubes. There are 500 other -- nearly identical -- resale rights reports out there. And each of those 500 were sold to an average of 2,000 ...for a grand total of One Million people selling a report the customers don't see as unique.
Reason: Not doing the research into 1) The competition 2) Market saturation 3) How customers view products as similar, even when the people selling them don't see the similarities.
I've done the research into who gets spectacularly successful reselling this stuff. (Emphasis on reselling). Joe Polish took generic marketing materials and adapted them to the carpet cleaning market. He did the heavy lifting of figuring out how to apply the generic advice and the market rewarded him for it.
Customer Research Makes the Difference
One frequent mistake is mistaking a swipe file for marketing research. Better: Make good on the broken promises of competitors. With a little research into the competition you can find out exactly what "they" say can't be done -- then do it.
Average copywriters know templates. Good copywriters know research. And the same principle applies to web design.
An especially crucial point when you can buy a website template for $50 - $100 these days. Or install a CMS with a selection of prefab skins for less.
The crux is do not think a website which is only technically unique looks that way to customers. A site coded from scratch can be so formulaic as to look just like a template to site visitors. What potential customers think matters. That the designer spent five hours over at iStockPhoto.com -- not so much.
...A gift basket company had a choice. They could be the bazillionth entry into a me-too marketplace or differentiate. So they did research into niche markets. They repositioned themselves as gift baskets for "hygienically challenged" coworkers. Customers buy a gift basket with mouthwash, toothbrush etc, and send it anonymously.
...A florist wanted to reduce spoilage (wilted flowers). Instead they thought about the gaps in the market. Some research revealed what they saw as a problem was someone else's opportunity. So they repackaged wilted and dried out flowers with melted chocolates as "breakup gifts."
The Crux: Don't do research into what the competition is doing only to imitate. You want to develop a competitive advantage -- not business camouflage. Do research into what the competition says can't be done. When you figure out a way to do it, you'll create a powerful barrier to competition.