Sunday, April 12, 2009

Four Reasons Why First Mover Advantage Won't Give You Brand Leadership

I'm going to disagree with Jack Trout, the Godfather of brand strategy. I don't think first is best anymore. I think it used to be. Planning to be the first won't give you brand leadership. Here's four reasons why.

1. Savvy Consumers

As the shopping-scape gets more complex and cluttered, consumers try to regain control over their purchase experience through information gathering. They want to see catalogues, comparison shop online and read consumer reviews. They want to be in control. If you go shopping for a laptop, you are asking questions such as 'can I burn a DVD? how heavy is it? how long will the battery last?. I don't think you are asking 'who invented the laptop?'.

2. Information Transparency

I sat down to write some ad copy for my online store selling home-wares. I posted the copy. My copy and layout was far better than any of my competitors. Within the next 48 hours, all of my competitors had copy and pasted my ad and updated their sites. The years I spent in ad agency meetings, marketing lectures and sales workshops all handed over to my rivals. Blue-sky thinking has to provide a return on investment. I spent too long on the ad for the benefit it provided and the sales it transacted.Copyright, trademarking and intellectual property is very hard to protect. Speed is everything. Copy/paste is very effective.

3. The Early Bird Doesn't Always Catch the Worm

The first time I saw an iPhone the proud owner was so eager to show me the horizontal/vertical view. Big deal.
I was one of the first people in New Zealand to buy a Palm LifeDrive. 4GB hard drive, mp3/mp4 players, removable storage, WiFi AND horizontal/vertical view. It was like a new creature from outer-space. The Palm LifeDrive turned out to be a terrible product for Palm (and me) and was killed off quite quickly by Palm (and me). Palm couldn't get all the innovation into a product that was also a phone, so they left the phone functionality out.

I wouldn't consider the iPhone a 'blue-sky' product. It's an evolution of existing technologies combined well. Apple is 'out-combining' other companies and is more relevant-for now. How long since you've seen a 'this site is best viewed in Netscape Navigator' web page? Make sure the worms haven't moved.

4. 'I Am the Greatest' Muhammad Ali Arrogance

I've seen too many companies dismiss competitor threats based on 'we're number one in the category' logic. Little guys are hungry and they're coming for your market share. Right now and from directions you don't expect. Competitors can find out who your suppliers are, what your trade terms are and what volumes you are trading with a few emails and an industry report or two (-either that or they'll ask their friends on Face Book).

Keep an eye on the outliers, not just your top two or three competitors. Look at other industries, other countries, other technologies for ideas. Then take them. Copy/paste. Tweak them and recombine them to stay relevant.

First mover advantage may be useful if you want into the Guinness Book of Records, but it won't give you brand leadership. Sorry Jack.

1 comment:

Brandanaman said...

While I don't disagree with your commentary Courtney the issues you raise don't negate the first to market principle. The reason first to market does help is because of the way our brains interpret information. First impressions count. Once we form an opinion it is very difficult to alter the perception even if the first impression is wrong. Don't confuse a first to market with product pioneering. Like many of the early pioneers in this country, seldom do pioneers reap the fruits of their labours. That reward goes to the followers. Ironically many of the so called new products are actually not that new at all. People like Callum Davies of Hell worked for 15 years before his enterprise took off. The same can be said for Ross McCallum of Kapiti Cheeses and the founders of Starbucks.
I think the point you aptly make is that there is more to creating a leading brand than being first to market.
If you are interested in learning more about 'first impressions' I have a chapter on the subject in my book I hope to publish next year "The Skeptical Brain".
I like your thinking; keep up the commentary.