How Important is it to be First?

first, winner, first to market, trophyI’ve started re-reading a useful little marketing strategy book I own: “The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing” by Al Ries and Jack Trout.

Their first “law” is the Law of Leadership: it’s better to be first than it is to be better, they claim.

They give the example of Charles Lindbergh as the first person to fly the Atlantic solo. Have you ever heard of the second person, Bert Hinkler, even though he was able to fly faster & consumed less fuel? Probably not.

That got me thinking… is that law always true, and are there any exceptions to it? I think it’s a good rule of thumb, but we have to be careful applying it to technology products: There are times in technology marketing when being the first to market is not the best choice (for example, if the technology is not yet mature enough, or the supporting infrastructure isn’t ready for a compelling usage model yet). It has to be a strategic decision, with this as one consideration.

However, thinking about this “law” in terms of how to position your product or service makes a lot of sense: if you’re launching a project management software product it may not be smart to go head-to-head with Microsoft Project as a meets-all-needs basic project planning tool. Better to find a specific market segment where you have enough unique value or unique features to be the “first” to really solve their particular problems. Get traction and success in that subsegment, then you can grow from there.

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