First to market doesn't guarantee success

Being a market leader, be that in tires, PR, or hamburgers always affords a certain amount of privilege to the top organization.

Being a market leader, be that in tires, PR, or hamburgers always affords a certain amount of privilege to the top organization. As the leader, the entity can set trends, choose the best business partners, and even drive pricing models. But I was reminded of something this week when yet another e-reader, this one from Barnes & Noble, was dangled in front of the marketplace: Being first does not guarantee your leadership position; being the best does.

Market disruptors like Google and Apple meet complacent leaders and blow them away until they win the top slot. But, of course, the trick to staying there is continued innovation and continued outreach to let stakeholders know you're not smugly sitting by while new competitors plot your overthrow.

This week, Michelin revealed its most expensive and extensive marketing campaign to date. Though it is the market share leader in global tire sales, the company found a need to reeducate consumers about what its tires offer and how they're different from competitors. This is a smart move by an industry leader in the midst of the worst recession we've experienced in a generation. Though economists predict we are emerging from the lowest point of the recession, consumers remain weary – weary of opening their wallets, weary of trusting corporate America, weary of the future. Communicating what separates your firm or brand from the rest of the pack will be a big part in determining who rises to the top in the coming months.

Although the e-reader category today is nearly synonymous with “Kindle,” this is unlikely to remain the case unless Amazon can demonstrate to both consumers and business leaders that it remains the best option. Being first might allow an organization to set the initial tone of conversation, but it certainly doesn't guarantee immunity to an evolving marketplace.

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