First-Mover Advantage?

I’ve attended several sales conferences where new products are ceremoniously unveiled. I’m regularly struck by the enormous desire to trailblaze. The rising triumphalism often aims to drum home how cutting edge the new offering is. How it opens up a whole new market segment. There’s nothing like it gone before.

We’ve all heard of ‘first-mover advantage’. But does it exist?

In the Wired magazine interview, The Relentless Contrarian from August 1996, a then 86 year old Peter Drucker explained,

…there has been no case in history where the pioneer became the dominant producer, whether you are talking about a business or a science. The most successful innovators are the creative imitators, the Number Two.

Whilst it might be a touch extreme these days to state there’s been “no case in history”, examples cited since his words (typically like eBay and Amazon) are such rare exceptions that don’t they merely prove the rule?

Precisely four years later, Jim Collins prefaced his convention-challenging Good To Great with his Best Beats First article.

being first seldom proves to be a sustainable advantage and usually proves to be a liability

He further argues it is from the pioneer’s mistakes that the eventual market leader learns. Much better to work on how to be the best, rather than steam in quickly as the first.

So what are the implications for selling a new product?

If potential customer perceptions mirror long term market reality, then it would suggest that you are advised to ditch the prefix ‘new’ for the label ‘improved’.

If ‘new’ is not an appropriate difference, what adjectives describe how you are ‘better’ than other currently available alternatives?

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