Not All It’s Cracked Up to Be
When you cannot make reliable predictions from a rule, there is no reason to believe you have a rule at all
This morning we at the RESPONSE Agency were speculating as to why Kindle so handily outsells Nook and iBooks. At first we were inclined to explain it with, “Kindle was here first.” After all, being first gives you a strategic advantage, right? Even Ries and Trout said so in 1981 in their book Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind.
Except, being first can also give you a strategic disadvantage. It provides an opportunity for a competitor, espying your weaknesses, to outdo you. For every Kindle that remained impervious to a Nook newcomer, there’s a Prodigy or an AOL whose decaying corpse fertilized the ground for a Google. For every Coke that would consign Pepsi to playing catch-up, there’s a Walmart that overtook Sears, a WordPerfect that trounced WordStar, a Microsoft Word that then trounced WordPerfect, a Toyota that’s beating GM, a Redbox that mortally wounded Blockbuster, and so forth.
Or consider Kodak, who recently filed for bankruptcy. Their demise was largely due to competition from digital photography. Which, by the way, Kodak invented.
If you happen to be the first to bring a product to market, will it work for or against you?
You will have to await outcomes before you can answer.
Given that, good luck coming up with a reliable rule as to the advantages or disadvantages of being first. When you cannot make reliable predictions from a rule, there is no reason to believe you have a rule at all.
When Ries and Trout wrote Positioning, not a few naive marketers took at its word the chapter about the importance of being first and rushed out ads claiming first-ness.
A Salt Lake City mall went through embarrassing historical gyrations to claim they were “America’s first mall.” For one thing and of lesser importance, the claim was flimsy. For another and of greater import, no one cared.
Indeed, the mall missed the point. Being first in the customer mind is not the same thing as tapping a customer on the shoulder while he or she is in line to buy a popular widget and saying, “Er, technically, we made one of those before they did.” Land Rover enthusiasts don’t care that Jeep was here first.
Imagine if a company called Caffeine-Cocaine surfaced with a legitimate claim to having mixed a batch of cola syrup before Doc Pemberton did. Do not think for one minute that consumers would abandon their beloved Coke on such a technicality.—SC