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Silver_Medal.jpgTypically it’s better to be first into the market because the organization or product who is first in the market winds up being first in the mind when consumers are making their purchase decisions. A degree of ownership accompanies being “first” into the market because the opportunity to obtain ownership of the whole category or “high ground” is possible. But is being first absolutely essential to success?

Actually, there may be some genuine advantages to being deliberate rather than first. One is that by letting somebody else be first, they have to shoulder all the R&D expense. They have to work all the bugs out of the system, educate the marketplace, and earn the trust of the customers. And that takes a ton of money and a whole bunch of trial and error.

Consider what happened in the Internet service provider category, and how few of the “first movers” are even around any more. Originally companies like Prodigy and Flashnet were the service providers who made the miraculous Internet available to the masses. They took a considerable amount of share of mind and market share, and should have been able to keep the high ground. What ended up happening, though, was that companies like AT&T watched to see if this “Internet thing” was really going to take off or not, then they said, “Hey, all you need is a bunch of phone lines and a big server to get into this business, and we’ve already got that” so they jumped in and an all out war was on, but AT&T and its peers had a slight advantage because they could forgo many of the “start-up costs” and allocate that savings right to their bottom lines.

Perhaps Larry The Cable Guy said it best: “The early bird may get the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese in the trap!”

The answer is less about who’s “first” than it is about who better serves the customer. So remember that the customer IS the answer and whether you show up first or second or fifth to the game, you know there will be someone in the stands cheering for you as long as you’re giving them something of value. Simply watch for opportunities to be better, then build a relationship with your customers based on that.

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