Strategy or execution?
October 23, 2012
Keeping brand consistency
December 4, 2012

Captain America and the First Mover Advantange

It was Sunday Night In, and I caught the movie Captain America: The First Avenger. Now, everyone knows who the Avengers are; the first installment was super cool and super packed with heroes from Iron Man to Thor to Hulk to Captain America.
The captain’s moniker caught my eye. What’s the deal with being first? Is being first all that important?
In the good ‘ol days before technology was rampant, being first to market gave the business a set of first mover advantages – resources and talents eager to be associated with the business, establishing a technological edge, early market dominance and brand recognition. It seems, then, if you were the first in a product category, fame, glory, wealth and success followed quickly. Many formidable brands are a result of this era – Coca Cola, Ford, Kodak and Xerox. And Captain America.
And the Internet and social media came along.
Now businesses can react faster, spread the news quicker and farther, gain market insight in ways never thought possible and sell more too. The second mover is like Iron Man; faster, stronger, with better technology and way cooler too. All these have negated the effects of a first mover advantage. Technological know how can be acquired or learned and improved (just look at China!). Employees and manpower are hard to pin down for long. Malaysia has a thriving entrepreneurship community, with more and more employees opting to work for self in hopes of greater job satisfaction and better opportunities.Our students are even taking entrepreneurship degrees!
Market share dominance and brand recognition are the more concrete advantages for a business that is first to market. Once a brand gains a stronghold in the market and in consumers’ minds, it take more effort and a longer time to overcome that advantage (which also shows that smart brands focus on brand building for long term advantage).
Eli Broad, author of The Art of Being Unreasonable: lessons in unconventional thinking, has built two Fortune 500 companies by being second, imitating the first mover. In his book, he offers an insight to how a second mover can beat the first mover on branding and market share:

rely on an unalterable commercial fact: markets evolve. Tastes and expectations don’t stay the same. Niches grow more numerous, deeper, and thanks to the Internet, more accessible. A first mover can sometimes fall in love with its product and fail to realize when technology evolves and consumers want something different. This leaves the field wide open for somebody new. The Big Three automakers (Ford, General Motors and Chrysler) were all second movers, improving manufacturing methods and offering a better product. General Electric wouldn’t have become one of the world’s largest companies if it had stuck to only manufacturing lightbulbs. And Apple, the world’s most valuable tech firm has been a second mover several times. The company was not the first to sell mp3 players, smartphones or even personal computers. Apple just did it better than anyone else.

The lesson here? Being first to market has the unfair advantage of market share and brand recognition. But all that amounts to nothing if your business does not seek to understand your consumers for both present and future. A smart second mover who takes the time and effort to better understand the market will overcome your brand advantages.
So take the time to listen to your employees and your consumers. You never know which second mover is sneaking up behind you.

Julia Koh is the Executive Director of Brand 360 Degree Sdn Bhd and believes every brand will benefit from deep consumer insight.