One of the challenges of investing in a great user experience is the concern that it can be easily copied — you do a lot of work to find the perfect experience and then your solution is out there in the world for anyone else to copy. So if UX can be easily commoditized, you just invest in it as a commodity, right? Wrong, dude, wrong.
Defensible de-shmensible, who cares?
You should. If you're pushing for an awesome user experience or a great team to support that UX, then you're probably asking someone to give you some budget for it. But no one wants to pay for a lot of work on something that a competitor can look at and copy. 'Defensible' is just some PowerPoint jargon used to say, “We can keep others from copying the same thing we're doing.”
Done right, UX is confoundedly defensible
Okay, I'm going there. I'll use the easy and oft-cited example of Apple. The iPhone UX seems pretty darn easy to copy, right? But as Jeff Veen notes in his Startup2Startup talk, mimicking the UX of another well designed service will not lead to the same success because the mimicker doesn't understand why it's designed the way it is:
What's fascinating is how Apple's has taken this one step further to ensure the material components of the UX aren't easy to attain:
What Apple does is use its cash hoard to pay for the construction cost (or a significant fraction of it) of the factory in exchange for exclusive rights to the output production of the factory for a set period of time (maybe 6 - 36 months), and then for a discounted rate afterwards… Apple has access to new component technology months or years before its rivals. This allows it to release groundbreaking products that are actually impossible to duplicate.
— via Business Insider and the related Quora Q&A
The key to defensible UX strategies is looking from the outside-in
In Subject to Change we talk about George Eastman's idea to radically simplify the highly technical world of photography in 1888 into, “You press the button, we do the rest.” All the complexity and “source code” of a camera went from the camera box itself off to a factory where Kodak did all the heavy lifting for the customer.
By looking at what customers really wanted — a way to capture an image or a memory — and designing for just that, the complexity and the protectable parts of the operational solution were moved behind-the-scenes and became a competitive advantage that Kodak could invest in and protect for years.
The really cool thing about investing in user experience is that the competitive advantages you create are hidden in plain sight.