It’s better to be first in the mind than it is to be first in the marketplace. The world’s first personal computer was the MITS Altair 8800. The law of leadership would suggest that the MITS Altair 8800 (an unfortunate choice of names) ought to be the No. 1 personal computer brand. Unfortunately, the product is no longer with us.
Du Mont invented the first commercial television set. Duryea introduced the first automobile. Hurley introduced the first washing machine. All are gone.
Is something wrong with the law of leadership? No, but the law of the mind modifies it.
The Law of Leadership
Many people believe that the basic issue in marketing is convincing prospects that you have a better product or service.
Not true. If you have a small market share and you have to do battle with larger, better-financed competitors, then your marketing strategy was probably faulty in the first place. You violated the first law of marketing.
The basic issue in marketing is creating a category you can be first in. It’s the law of leadership: It’s better to be first than it is to be better. It’s much easier to get into the mind first than to try to convince someone you have a better product than the one that did get there first.
You can demonstrate the law of leadership by asking yourself two questions:
1) What’s the name of the first person to fly the Atlantic Ocean solo? Charles Lindbergh, right?
2) What’s the name of the second person to fly the Atlantic Ocean solo? Not so easy to answer, is it?
The second person to fly the Atlantic Ocean solo was Bert Hinkler. Bert was a better pilot than Charlie—he flew faster, he consumed less fuel. Yet who has ever heard of Bert Hinkler?”
The first desktop laser printer was introduced by a computer company, Hewlett-Packard. Today the company has 5 percent of the personal computer market and 45 percent of the laser printer market.
Gillette was the first safety razor. Tide was the first laundry detergent. Hayes was the first computer modem. Leaders all.
One reason the first brand tends to maintain its leadership is that the name often becomes generic. Xerox, the first plain-paper copier, became the name for all plain-paper copiers. People will stand in front of a Ricoh or a Sharp or a Kodak machine and say, “How do I make a Xerox copy?”
First in Customer’s Mind
It’s better to be first in the prospect’s mind than first in the marketplace. Which, if anything, understates the importance of being first in the mind. Being first in the mind is everything in marketing. Being first in the marketplace is important only to the extent that it allows you to get in the mind first.
For example, IBM wasn’t first in the marketplace with the mainframe computer. Remington Rand was first, with UNIVAC. But thanks to a massive marketing effort, IBM got into the mind first and won the computer battle early.
The law of the mind follows from the law of perception. If marketing is a battle of perception, not product, then the mind takes precedence over the marketplace.
Thousands of would-be entrepreneurs are tripped up every year by this law. Someone has an idea or concept he or she believes will revolutionize an industry, as well it may. The problem is getting the idea or concept into the prospect’s mind.
The conventional solution to the problem is money. That is, the resources to design and build product or service organizations plus the resources to hold press conferences, attend trade shows, run advertisements, and conduct direct mail programs.
Unfortunately, this gives rise to the perception that the answer to all marketing questions is the same: money. Not true. More money is wasted in marketing than in any other human activity.
Wang was first in word processors. But the world passed such machines by and went on to computers. Wang, however, wasn’t able to make the transition. In spite of spending millions of dollars promoting its personal computers and minicomputers, Wang is still perceived as a word processor company.
How the First Impression Become Last
Xerox was first in copiers and then tried to get into the computer business. Twenty-five years and $2 billion later, Xerox is nowhere in computers.
Do you want to change something on a computer? Just type over or delete the existing material. Do you want to change something in your mind? Forget it. Once a mind is made up, it rarely, if ever, changes. The single most wasteful thing you can do in marketing is trying to change a mind.
If you want to make a big impression on another person, you cannot worm your way into their mind and then slowly build up a favorable opinion over a period of time. The mind doesn’t work that way. You have to blast your way into the mind.
The reason you blast instead of worm is that people don’t like to change their minds. Once they perceive you one way, that’s it. They kind of file you away in their minds as a certain kind of person. You cannot become a different person in their minds.
Role of Money
One of the mysteries of marketing is the role of money. One day a few dollars can work a major miracle. The next day millions of dollars can’t save a company from going under. When you have an open mind to work with, even a small amount of money can go a long way. Apple got off the computer ground with $91,000 contributed by Mike Markkula.
Apple’s problem in getting into its prospects’ minds was helped by its simple, easy-to-remember name. On the other hand, Apple’s competitors had complicated names that were difficult to remember. In the early days, five personal computers were in position on the launching pad: Apple II, Commodore Pet, IMSAI 8080, MITS Altair 8800, and Radio Shack TRS-80. Ask yourself, which name is the simplest and easiest to remember?”
“Marketing is no longer about the stuff that you make, but about the stories you tell.” – Seth Godin