Management strives to be the "first-mover."
Marketing strives to be the "first-minder."
"In marketing circles, the first brand that gets into the end users' minds is almost always the winner. Gatorade in sports drinks. Red Bull in energy-drinks. Activia in probiotic yogurt." Says Al Ries, about how winning marketing works.
That's hard for first-time entrepreneurs to grasp. But it's no more difficult to comprehend than to realize the first runner off the line in a race rarely wins.
It is vital for all entrepreneurs to grasp because it is central to why too many otherwise winning startups fail. Too many startup board members think marketing is about first-mover wins all.
What was the giant MP3 winner? Apple's iPod.
First-mover loses to first-minder. iPod was first to get into the consumers' minds. End of game. Over. The gorilla has arrived.
Now read what Ries sees as Creative's marketing mistakes (so you don't repeat them):
- Line extension. Creative had two other players in the market, the Creative Nomad II and the Creative Nomad II MG (magnesium case). They had small amounts of flash memory to store a few hundred songs. Creative Nomad Jukebox had a six gigabyte disk drive to store thousands of songs. It was in a new category.
Using the Creative name in the new category caused confusion, which undermined the brand-building process.
- A generic name. "Creative is a description, generic name. You can't build a brand with a generic name. You need a brand name.
What's a brand name? It's a manufactured name like iPod, or a generic name used out of context (Apple doesn't sell apples).
- A long complicated name. "Creative Nomad Jukebox" (seven syllables) versus "iPod" (two syllables). Short and simple become brand names.
A first-mover should always ask itself, "Does my name have a chance to become the generic name for the new category?" No one calls the category "hard-disk-drive MP3 players." They call them "iPods".
- A lack of focus. Creative made a host of other products, digital cameras, graphic accelerator cards, modems, CD and DVD players, and more. They should have done what Nokia did. Drop everything in order to focus on a hot product, the hard-drive MP3 player. What did Creative do? They kept doing business as they were, lost the market and sued Apple (the consolation prize was the collection of a $100 million technology licensing fee from Apple).
Such leaping, abandoment, switching is what winning entrepreneurs do. Call it morphing, looping, changing, leaning, whatever the tag, it takes guts and confidence to do. Great startup marketing minds thrive on doing it. And it makes startup board meetings get very heated.
This is a message management doesn't want to hear. They think it downgrades the importance of the rest of the startup. They think it implies that knowledge, skill, and effort don't matter. They think that's all you need to be successful.
Left brainers are verbally oriented. They think of marketing as communicating a laundry list of benefits and features. How do you verbalize the benefits of consuming a caffeinated drink containing herbs, B-complex vitamins, and amino acids? (You don't. You build a brand for a new category, energy-drink, with the name Red Bull).
Right brained marketers often have patience. It can take a long time to change minds. Some say marketing is "psychology in practice." It took Lexus 12 years to overcome Acura's lead as the leading Japanese luxury-car brand. That's another reason it's tough to go to board meetings of startups.
BOTTOM LINE: Aim to be first in the mind of your end user. Being first-mover will be near certain death. Being first-minder secures leadership in a new category, setting the foundation for building the unfair advantage that propels your startup to become the gorilla of the new market. Then your brand will stand for the category. Like Google for search, Facebook for social networking. They did it, so can you!
I wish you The Best on your Adventure!
"Marketing is too complicated to be left to management people who have little experience in marketing and who don't understand its principles." wrote Al Ries.
Rated by Advertising Age as one of the Top Ten living legends of marketing, Ries's findings and related implications in the book "War in the Boardroom" are spot on with the marketing challenges that confront first-time entrepreneurs.
This series on startup marketing follows the principles laid down in that book. I highly recommend the book to startup leaders.