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Don't be the Best...Be the First!

Don't be the Best...Be the First!

November 5, 2002
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" You don't have to be the first with a product or service. You only have to be the first in the consumer's mind. "

Often, many businesses build their entire marketing strategy around a particular brand and its "better" qualities. Claiming superiority smacks of being untrue and is often a very risky endeavor. In other words, if you claim that you're the best, your statement will be suspect.

Years ago, a mentor once said to me that "Implication is more powerful than specification." It is much more effective to imply superiority -- to be perceived as being a superior company or one with a superior product -- than to simply being (or outright stating that one is) superior. But how do you get others to perceive that you're the best? How does one imply superiority without stating it outright? The following are a few pointers to guide you in that direction.

The First Always Lead
If you're the first in some category, you are also considered as the best. People have the natural tendency to attribute superiority to a product that's first in its category. But if you're not the first, you can usually invent your own position. If there's no category in which you can be first, then create one. By being the first in your very own unique category makes it tremendously difficult for competitors to copy you. But even when your competitors do copy you, their marketing efforts will only help to remind people of you.

Being the first in the marketplace is not as important as being the first in the mind of the marketplace. Working with cosmetic surgeons, I've personally experienced this undeniable truth. A particular hair transplant doctor is one of the first surgeons of this type. While superiority in this field is a matter of artistic ability and not seniority, he is still widely recognized as the best surgeon there is -- even if he still uses outdated techniques.

Jack Trout and Al Ries, the fathers of positioning, developed the category concept into a science. The first law in their book "The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing," which is the law of leadership, is based entirely on the concept of being the first. In essence, the law states that no two bodies can occupy the same space. If you get to a position first, nobody else can ever take your place. Hence, being the first virtually guarantees your position.

You don't have to be the first with a product or service. You only have to be the first in the consumer's mind. By owning the leading position in the mind people will automatically assume that you're the best. Why? It's because uniqueness separates you from the rest rather than compares you to them. It's immensely more effective than actually being the best.

Create Your Own Category
For instance, Ries and Trout prove this point with a very simple question. They ask: "Who was the third person to fly over the Atlantic in a solo flight?" Now, if you're not a history buff like me, you will more than likely be stumped. Almost everyone remembers that Lindbergh was the first because, being the first, he comes to mind immediately. But if you were asked the same question but rephrased in a different way (e.g., "Who was the first 'woman' to fly over the Atlantic in a solo flight?"), your answer will likely be "Amelia Earhart."

Look at your own life. What are the things you remember the most? More than likely, you will remember your first kiss, your first dance, your first love, your first car, your first day of school, your first job, and your first heartbreak. Can you remember your second kiss let alone your fifth one? In all likelihood, you don't. When it comes to marketing the same holds true.

Many people try to compete by comparison and may even generate some recognition as a result of their efforts. But where they often fail is in creating lasting top-of-mind awareness by drowning their image in a currently known category -- or ladder, if you will. Everybody knows who is the first in some category or another, but rarely do people remember who's second let alone third. If you market your company as a better firm with a better product or service at a better price, all you are really doing is reminding others of that which you are better than, which is your competition.

Again, if there's no category in which you can be the first, create one. Having your very own category is powerful because it is impossible for competitors to beat you. Being the first, your place is therefore guaranteed and you will thus be perceived as the best by default -- there's no competition!

Go the Other Way
Coke, which was touted as being "The Real Thing," is an old company with a hundred-year old recipe locked in some secret safe. So, Pepsi decided to go the other way and proclaimed that it was for the "New Generation." On the other hand, 7UP floundered until it became the "Uncola." As a result, the more Coke and Pepsi advertised, the more it helped 7UP.

For a long time, Avis was an unknown car rental agency. One day, it finally conceded that it was number two -- second only after Hertz. Their "we try harder" campaign, which focused on their underdog position, turned the size of their bigger competitor into a negative. Domino's Pizza was surely not the first pizzeria. But by being the first to deliver its pizza "in 30 minutes or it's free," it went from a small restaurant to a multimillion dollar franchise operation. And there are countless other examples. You can be the first to cater to a specific market, the first to offer an alternative to an existing product or service, or the first to cater to a market in a unique way...

You can be the first to cater to a specific market, the first to offer an alternative to an existing product or service, or the first to cater to a market in a unique way -- such as by offering an ordinary product or service but with a unique twist. You can also customize a general product or service for a specific market. For example, you might be a travel agency. You could decide on being the first to sell business trips catering exclusively to financial institutions.

However, if you're not the first you might then market yourself as "the first to serve the financially inclined," "the leader in business trips for bankers" or "the first travel agent for the smart financier." In other words, don't be the best in some existing category. Be the first in one -- one you create.


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