Today is a good day for a classical startup marketing lesson: What can be learned from the "media tablet" war, plus What can be learned from Google in Africa - yes, I said Africa. (Read more in today's Wall Street Journal and Investor's Business Daily).
Here we go.
The media tablet gorilla has been crowned: no surprise, it is Apple's iPad. Gorillas are never dethroned.
But the war for the 2 unoccupied slots as chimpanzees is just starting. Watch Google (Android OS) and HP (Palm OS). They have yet to announce but are most favored to swamp the pioneers (Archos of France and and JooJoo of Fusion Garage [Singapore]). The chimps will end each up with half the percent share of market of the iPad. The pioneers and followers will constitute the starving monkeys. The basic strategy used by Google and HP will be Offensive (attacking a single weakness in the iPad). For more, read, study and memorize Marketing Warfare by Ries and Trout.
That is a market you don't want to enter as a startup.
Instead you must move into an uncontested territory. That's a Flanking strategic move. For startups that is the most successful of the basic four strategies.
Here is an example of a giant using Flanking with good results so far: Google in Africa. Aimed at the rapidly rising mobile phone user market (with limited Internet access because that is very expensive per megabyte), Google is spreading map access and related services delivered over Android phones (as well as over PCs). Already 51 countries are mapped and real estate services are early users. This is a move done without loud publicity -- stealth and a sudden launch are central to the Flanking strategy. Time will tell how successful Google is (against IBM, Microsoft, Cisco, HP and China's recent telecom equipment arrivals). It will be fun to watch.
BOTTOM LINE: Startups that win avoid attacking gorillas. Other giants can do that and settle for second place, making a fine profit in the process. Instead, startups that win find an uncontested market, secretly focus on it, prepare and launch suddenly, and focus all resources on becoming the gorilla of the new space.
Test your strategic choice against those criteria. Pick wisely and you'll win. If not, you'll either end up dead or as a starving monkey. Have guts to change if your choice so far is unwise. Picking the right startup strategy is central to your building the unfair advantage it takes to win in this highly intensive competitive global market we live in. You can do it. Others have preceded you to big wins.