Differentiation Needs To Be More Than Rent vs Own

Digital sharecropping is a thing. I get it.

If you've never heard of the phrase, “digital sharecropping”, then you should check out this 2015 article at Copyblogger by Sonia Simone. The short version is don't build your digital empire on someone else's land. Sometimes people talk about it as the comparison of getting a place – you know, to rent vs own.

I know this is a real thing.

We tell people not to build their entire marketing plan (and all their content) on Facebook because it might all disappear. “You don't control the rules or the playing field.”

It's why we often encourage people to build their content on their own site – where they own & control things.

All of that is correct. 100% correct.

But….

Let's talk about what you really own & control

Let's say you went to the movies last weekend. You paid for a ticket. You watched the movie. It was awesome.

Did you own or control any of it? Nope.

I know, not the same thing. But let's keep going.

Let's say your family wanted Mexican food for dinner tonight. Did you make your own rice? Beans? Did you head out to your garden to get the ingredients? Or did you go to the store (or get take out)?

You didn't control anything about the development of the ingredients, right?

I know, not the same thing. But let's keep going.

You built your own website. Using WordPress (which I love). Open source. You control the application and the code. And then you install it on your local computer and have external traffic pointed to it, right?

Because you want to own vs rent. Right?

Nope. You put the site on a server. One you don't control. One you rent.

Success is a team sport

See what I mean? When it comes to owning and controlling stuff, we rarely own everything. We're counting on someone else's stuff somewhere along the line.

Whether it's entertainment or our meals or our websites, we can't win all alone. We're always going to be dependent on someone else. For something.

So when we make the argument, when we differentiate by saying it comes down to a rent vs own decision, we're making a weak argument.

Because we're being disengenous.

Imagine you tell a person who is already renting a hosting account, that they should buy / own the plugin instead of renting a SaaS, it makes no sense.

It's a poor approach to differentiation. And if you don't do a good job at differentiation, you'll disappear.

Don't use weak arguments

Plugin vs SaaS

I'm not saying you shouldn't go up against a SaaS product. But you need to differentiate with more nuance. Your billing relationship, the rent vs own question, isn't going to cut it.

Highlight the features you bring to the table. Or the success your onboarding solution delivers. The results people have so quickly. All of that is great. Not that weak-ass argument about renting vs owning.

WordPress vs Squarespace

I love WordPress. I choose it a lot. But Squarespace isn't horrible. And the question of who owns the platform is silly if you're not running your own server. You're going to be renting a box to host your WP site. So like I said before, it lacks intellectual integrity.

If you want to differentiate the two platforms, do it on features. Try building a membership site on Squarespace and you might be frustrated. That's a worthwhile distinction.

WooCommerce vs Shopify

This last one kills me. Do you know how many people run retail businesses who also rent their space? Almost all of them. So imagine trying to use this logic with them? When you say, you don't want to rent, they'll look at you funny.

If you're going to differentiate WooCommerce from Shopify, talk about fees. Talk about extensibility or flexibility. Talk about customization. But don't use the rent vs own distinction. It's weak.

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Chris Lema
Chris Lema has been working with WordPress since 2005. Over the years he's been a blogger, a speaker at WordCamps, a coach for WordPress product companies, and the founder of the conference for WordPress business owners, called CaboPress. Today he's the VP of Products at Liquid Web, where he manages the world's first managed platform for WooCommerce stores.