Busting the First Mover Advantage Myth of Branding

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Watching a TED Talk recently from Organizational psychologist Adam Grant I came across a brilliant insight that challenged the long and firmly held belief of First Mover Advantage. For as long as I can remember in business and brand the ‘first mover paradigm’ dictated that those who are first to establish a position and value proposition for their brand and products in the mind of the market have a massive advantage over those who follow. The opportunity for success is theirs to lose. But Grant presents some compelling proof that we may have been getting it wrong.

Grant’s presentation titled; How do creative people come up with great ideas? is well worth a watch in full. In the TED Talk Grant presents his insights into ‘originals thinkers’, what makes these innovators tick and the habits that drive their originality.

In the presentation Grant introduces the idea of comparing first movers with a group of companies he calls; ‘the improvers’. Rather than missing the first mover advantage, the improvers intentionally hold back and wait to see how the first movers go. They let them do the heavy lifting, market testing, education and concept proving, then they go to school on them. They work out what the real proof points of the concept are and where the opportunities lie to do it different and better. It turns out the first mover advantage is mostly a myth.

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As Grant present; “In a study of more than 50 product categories comparing the first movers who created the market with ‘the improvers’ who introduced something different and better. The first movers had a failure rate of 47% compared with only 8% for the improvers. Look at Facebook, waiting to build a social network until after MySpace and Friendster. Look at Google waiting for years until after Alta Vista and Yahoo. It’s much easier to improve on somebody else’s idea than it is to create something new from scratch. The lesson is; to be original you don’t have to be first, you just have to be different and better.”

In the business of brand there’s few things we love more than a paradigm busting insight. With any change of perspective comes opportunity. In this case the opportunity is for brands who have been holding back on attacking new categories in the belief that a first mover competitor has the market all tied-up. How many new business and product opportunities exist in adjacent markets where you have the product or service competency to go to school on the first mover and launch an ‘improver’ brand strategy with the potential for long term dominance.

Dave Ansett
Truly Deeply Founder & Creator of Brands
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You can catch Grant’s TED Talk here.

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