When It’s Better To Be Second

I love rules because they’re made to be broken. One of the 10 Commandments of Marketing is “It’s Better To Be First To Market.” First has all the advantages of market share, awareness and just plain human inertia going for it.

But isn’t it better to be better than first? I personally would rather be better than first, but it doesn’t make much difference in the long run.

What really matters is being first in your market’s mind. Ries and Trout pointed this out a long time ago in a great book called, “The 22 Immutable Laws Of Branding.”

To young marketing managers I think this sounds corrupt. I’ve seen more than a few of them huff and puff out of my office when I say, “It’s good enough. Get it out there.”

I admire their desire to perfect everything. They want the perfect ad, the perfect email campaign, and especially the best product. When I okay the launch of a product that they know could be improved, they get really disappointed in me.

But it’s definitely better to be first into market with an innovative product. At least that gives you the right to say you are first. You can make it better on the next production run.

This is of course when the new product offers real new value to your customers as it is now.

Results are better than perfection. There comes a time when you have to stop development and launch. Knowing when that time comes is the job of the leader.

In marketing, as well as in life, if you snooze you lose. Unless …. There’s another rule to be broken! In marketing, you can be second if #1 does not have the budget to drive their brand into the first spot of the mass market.

So the real rule is, “Being first is most valuable when you can drive your brand into the mind of your market before anyone else can bump you off the mountain.” This is King of the Hill all over again.

I always counsel young managers to launch when it is good enough. Invest your budget in driving the new brand into the minds of your market. When #2 competitors arise, that’s a great time to launch that improvement.

If you are #2, then has the technical #1 truly assumed leadership in your market’s mind? If not then you can still be #1 with great branding. So sometimes it is better to be #2. Especially if your product is better and #1 doesn’t have the budget to stay King of the Hill.


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