Being “first-to-market” with a new product or concept is always advantageous, but it doesn’t always produce industry leadership or even long-term success.
- Henry Ford was America’s automotive pioneer, but, while Ford Motor Company has been successful, they’ve never been the top car producer.
- Coca-Cola lead the development of cola carbonated beverages, but for decades has been in a neck-to-neck struggle with Pepsi-Cola for industry dominance.
- Research In Motion innovated the Blackberry technology to cellular telephones and gained a huge market share, only to lose much of it to other smart phone concepts.
- MySpace quickly rose to leadership as the first major social networking site on the internet, only to fade somewhat behind Facebook.
- Kodak, with countless new patents, once owned the camera and film markets, only to fade into virtual oblivion with the development of digital cameras, and ceding the film market to Fuji.
- Yet, Kleenex became their industry leader with the introduction of facial tissues, and their brand remains so popular that most people use their brand name interchangeably with “facial tissue” as in “hand me a Kleenex.”
- The same goes for Xerox with their introduction of photocopy technology, leading to many people routinely speaking about “xeroxing” something when they really mean “copy.”
- Once obscure Wal-mart grew and thrives in a mature market of big-box stores to become the place that almost everyone hates but shops there anyway.
- McDonald’s created the national fast food chain concept, building their reputation on consistency from location to location, and giving them burger dominance while many people don’t see their food as best-available.
- Google is the leading online search engine, so popular that its name is used to describe the general search process, as often stated, “I’ll Google it.”
So what’s the difference? Why do some companies turn being first to market into a lasting lead and others don’t. There are two components to lasting success demonstrated by these companies:
- When you have something new, don’t expect your initial lead to keep you in front of the pack. Whatever degree of innovation got you your initial boost, you must maintain it and work diligently to improve your product or service, innovate new uses, and stay ahead of technology. But, even that won’t always work. Ford and Blackberry didn’t maintain a uniqueness to support their initial surge to leadership; they became “another car company” and “another cell technology.” Coke has traded top sales back and forth with Pepsi for decades, and while about equal in the U.S., they dominate the international market. But, they’re subject to public whim, a formidable hurdle. Kleenex and Xerox have each become household words, with the former having few ways to improve their product and the latter constantly innovating. Kodak simply didn’t jump into digital technology early enough to capitalize on their brand name to the greatest degree. MySpace stuck with their niche, which is still profitable for them, but Facebook developed a better mousetrap. (In a similar manner, LinkedIn holds a commanding lead in paid subscription social networking with their unique capabilities.) Wal-mart has succeeded in convincing the public that they have quality merchandise at the lowest prices (which is not always the case), and they are in no near-term jeopardy of losing their #1 status in retailing as they continue to emphasize price drops. Google continues to hone its search technology which maintains its loyal customers who rely on it to quickly find what they want on the web.
- It’s the second factor that ultimately makes the difference: turning first-to-market into first-in-mind. When your brand replaces a noun or verb in ordinary speech, you’ve attained the pinnacle of continued growth and success. Around the world, people ask for a Coke, a Kleenex, or a Xerox copy on a daily basis, keeping those brand names constantly in mind. So, it’s really the positioning and marketing of your brand and it’s uniqueness that will keep you separate from your competition in the minds of your marketplace. What many small businesses overlook is the reality that anything you offer can be branded, and both can and should be treated as though it was a packaged product. A brand must have a promise behind it, something the purchaser can rely on. The Nordstrom brand means excellent, hassle-free customer service, and few retailers can match the loyalty of their customers who are willing to pay among the highest prices for their merchandise. They’re trusted so much they operate a bank and issue credit cards in their brand name. No one else has been able to match the technology and reliability of Xerox copiers, and that was shown by a marketing experiment years ago that failed: at about the same time, Xerox introduced desktop PCs and IBM introduced photocopiers. Neither product line took off because both business and consumer buyers saw each company as trustworthy in the product line with which their names were already associated. Xerox had promoted its copier brand and IBM had promoted its PC brand so well that people didn’t have confidence in their new cross-over lines. Remember that there are very few Microsofts in the world; it’s rare to gain such dominance that you’re virtually unstoppable. Yet, even MS hasn’t succeeded in all its goals: the Explorer browser now has well less than 50% market share as Firefox and others have eroded their penetration.
So, while both factors are important, you don’t have start out ahead of the rest of the field. If you focus on your branding and how you promote it, you can come up through the ranks like Wal-mart by emphasizing your uniqueness and constantly improving your product or service. Regardless of what success you attain, you can never rest on your laurels. Seek out and embrace every advancement possible and incorporate them into your brand strategy. While you may never achieve Kleenex or Xerox status, working tirelessly towards the goal of becoming first-in-mind in your marketplace must be a part of your underlying plan. The question is: what is your brand strategy, or do you even have one? Think about what a clear mental picture you have of each of the brands mentioned above. That isn’t by accident. Your potential customers must see you just as clearly, regardless of when or how you entered your market.