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Being First To Market Doesn’t Always Mean Win

Al and Laura Ries * make the point that being first to market with a new product or invention doesn’t mean you win. You also have to be first in the market’s ‘mind’ for that product.


This is done by ‘positioning’ your brand, such that when a prospective customer is thinking about a particular ‘product category’ need they have – quench thirst – your product brand comes into their mind and consideration set. McKinsey & Co. showed that brands that are in the top three positions in the consumers mind/consideration-set, will get 70% of the sales opportunities.

So how do you ‘position’ your new, innovative product or service?

1. THE EASIEST WAY TO GET INTO A PERSONS MIND IS TO BE ‘FIRST’

  • The first person to fly solo across the North Atlantic was…. Charles Lindbergh. Almost everyone remembers this. Now name the ‘second’? It was Bert Hinkler, who was faster, used less fuel and was a better pilot! But who knows him?
  • On the other hand ask people who invented the computer and chances are they’ll say IBM. But IBM didn’t invent the computer – Sperry-Rand did. IBM positioned themselves in the markets mind- Speery-Rand didn’t. Duryea built the first automobile in America. Most people think Ford.
  • Even brands that are currently first in their market category can lose out as market categories evolve. Coke missed the change in the ‘thirst’ market. They continued to see the market in their own ‘brown liquid’ product terms. As a result it missed being first in an ever increasing number of market categories. Snapple created and won the ‘fruit-flavoured teas’ market category position. Gatorade created and won the ‘sports drinks’ market category position. Nestle created and won the ‘designer water’ market category position. Red Bull created the ‘novelty drink’ market category position. Lucozade fights the ‘energy drink’ market category position. IBM then subsequently missed and lost first position in: Minicomputers (Digital Equipment), Home Personal Computers (Apple), Workstations (Sun Microsystems), Laptops ( Toshiba), Business Personal ( Compaq) and most recently Computers Direct ( Dell)
  • Responding subsequently with a competing product brand to a competitor who has created and positioned as first in a market category, generally doesn’t work. If yours is a new product it is often better to talk about what it is not in relation to existing brands.

– The first car was positioned as a ‘horseless’ carriage
– ‘off-track’ betting, ‘lead-free petrol, ‘sugar-free’ drinks, etc

2. IT IS HARDER, IF SOMEONE ALREADY OCCUPIES THE FIRST POSITION

  • It is very difficult to ‘dislodge’ the ranked top brand in a person’s mind. The best strategy is to somehow relate your brand to the ranking brands in the customers mind. Avis did this –‘we try harder’. They related their brand to the leader, Hertz. They positioned against their market leader in the consumers’ mind and thereby positioned themselves as second to Hertz.

3. YOU CAN’T POSITION HEAD-ON AGAINST THE LEADER.

  • There is little joy to be gained in claiming the position already owned by the market category leader. Witness the numbers of ‘cola’ brands that have challenged Coke. Instead see how successful others have been in creating other ‘thirst’ market categories (like designer water) and positioning their brands as ‘first’ in these new categories.

4. IF YOU ARE THE CATEGORY LEADER, IT’S MUCH BETTER TO ENHANCE THE PRODUCT CATEGORY, THAN COMMUNICATE NO 1 POSITION.

  • It is better to keep your market category growing, aligning your brand with market expanding values, trends and audiences. You don’t need to continually say you are the leader.

5. AS A LEADER COMMUNICATE THAT YOU ARE THE STANDARD BY WHICH THE CATEGORY EXISTS

  • Coke positions as the ‘real thing’ and sets the standard for colas – the myriad of challengers in the cola arena are therefore ‘not’ the real thing. If they are not the real thing, then they are lessened in the consumers mind.

6. THE RE-POSITIONING OF A COMPETITOR STRATEGY

  • Tylenol re-positioned ‘aspirin with a powerful counter-message – ‘for the millions who should not take aspirin (ie you’ll have upset stomach, ulcer, asthma, allergies, iron-deficiency)…fortunately there is ‘tylenol.
  • Stolichnaya did the same to Smirnoff vodka…Stolichnaya is made in Lenningrad, Russia…Smirnoff vodka made in Connecticut, USA. One clearly positions as the authentic vodka.

7. IN POSITIONING, THE SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT DECISION TO MAKE IS THE PRODUCT ‘NAME’

  • The name should start the positioning process and tell the prospective buyer what the product’s major benefit is.
  • The name is the first point of contact between the message and the mind. Unless you have a ‘first in mind’ new product with massive market demand, avoid coined-names and choose ‘common descriptive’ words.

– ‘Head & Shoulders’ shampoo
– ‘Intensive Care’ skin lotion
– ‘Close-up’ toothpaste
– ‘Edge’ shaving cream

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