Learning from Apple: Why Being First is Not Always Best

Companies still clinging to the myth of the first-mover advantage find themselves scrambling to get products to market before competitors regardless of how good the idea is. The same pitfall exists in advertising, as connections between consumers and businesses continue to evolve at a rapid pace.

The strategy of being first doesn’t always bring about success. Innovators who wait to unveil their ideas often wind up getting the majority of the market share. Apple provides a prominent example of the advantages your company can enjoy by taking the time to develop and streamline new ideas before bringing them to your audience.

First Movers vs. Second Movers

Over time, we’ve seen the idea of first-mover advantage proving to be false. When polled, 60 percent of consumers prefer to make purchases from brands they already know and trust. The same number wait until the “first” products have been improved to remove glitches or design flaws. Only 50 percent are willing to switch to a different brand to try out a new product or technology.

These statistics help to explain why products or ideas introduced into the market too soon tend to fall into obscurity. Like the stories of LiveJournal, the Palm Treo and Microsoft’s SPOT smartwatch show, first movers attempting to push into markets they don’t understand are buried by those following on their heels. These second movers, also called “fast followers,” experience an 8 percent failure rate with their products and services instead of the 47 percent failure rate among first movers.

What We Can Learn from the Apple Watch

While being second can mean greater success, it doesn’t give you a free pass to greatness. Take a look at the latest Apple Watch, and you’ll see the potential pitfalls. The Apple Watch wasn’t the first smartwatch on the market, but it was the first to successfully leverage the potential of wearable tech. However, a major glitch in the touted LTE connectivity of the latest Series 3 model shows how pushing a product to market without proper testing can backfire even for big brands.

New technology, including digital marketing, needs to be put through initial trials with your target audience to identify potentially damaging problems and to preserve the integrity of your brand.

Success Through Being Second

Despite the setbacks with the Series 3 Apple Watch, Apple remains committed to “making the best products that really enrich people’s lives.” CEO Tim Cook affirms the company isn’t bothered by being later to market, saying as long as “we still have the best, we don’t feel embarrassed.”
The problems with Apple Watch show the advantage of becoming comfortable with being a second mover. Instead of rushing a product or new advertising idea to market, you can study what’s being done, you can refine your approach and you don’t have to waste time correcting mistakes.

Steps to Being the Best

How can we translate this to digital marketing? Marketing technology is growing as quickly as other niches, and not every fresh idea for reaching customers is guaranteed to work. When you adopt the idea of success as a second-mover, you can:

  • Learn from the triumphs and failures of your competitors’ campaigns
  • Study what your target audience wants from brands
  • Perform market research and collect feedback
  • Design campaigns targeted to meet the needs and expectations of your customers
  • Streamline your tactics to reach an engaged and interested customer base

Being a second mover in marketing also helps you to take an objective view of your campaign ideas. We’ve all had times when we were in love with an idea to the point where we weren’t able to see its flaws. Taking time for market research forces you to acknowledge problems so that you can turn a good campaign into a great one.

As entrepreneurs and thought leaders, our tendency is to want to beat everyone else to the punch with dazzling new products, services or marketing tactics. However, as Apple and other second movers show, patient testing with the goal of bringing your best to market creates a more solid offering and can do much more for your brand’s reputation than simply being first.If your products are better than anything else currently available and your advertising tactics have been honed through careful research, you should have no problem outstripping competitors who wasted so much energy pushing to get their offerings on the market before anyone else.