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

From: Chee Hung Ngoh
Date: 12 May 99 09:40:08 PDT

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

A mentor once said to me that "Implication is more powerful than specification." It is much more effective to imply superiority -- and to be perceived as being a superior company -- than to simply being (or outright stating that one is) superior.

So, how do you get others to perceive you as being the best? How does one imply superiority without stating it outright? The following are a few pointers to guide you in that direction.

If you're the first in some category, you can usually invent your own position, which makes it tremendously difficult for competitors to copy you. If you're the first and if your competitors do copy you, it will only help to remind people of you. In fact, being the first in the marketplace is not as important as being the first "in the
mind" of the marketplace -- the mind hates change!

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artistic ability and not historicity, he is still widely recognized as the best surgeon there is--even if he still uses outdated techniques.

No two bodies can occupy the same space. If you get to a position first, you will have to be removed before someone else can take over. But if you're the first, it will be impossible for others to remove you. Hence, by being the first your position is virtually guaranteed!

It doesn't matter who is technically the first in the marketplace or first with a product or service. The first to get the company, product, or service in the consumer's mind will own the position and thus be perceived as being the best.

When you're the leader in your field or category, people will automatically assume that you're the best. Uniqueness is therefore the key and immensely more effective since it separates you from the rest rather than compares you to them.

For instance, Jack Trout, in his truly wonderful book The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing, proves this point with a simple question. He asks, "Who was the third person to fly over the Atlantic in a solo flight?" If you're not a history buff like me, you will more than likely be stumped. Most people remember that Lindbergh was the first because, being the first, he comes to mind immediately.

However, if you were asked "Who was the first 'woman' to fly over the Atlantic in a solo flight?" which is the same question but rephrased in a different way, you will probably answer with "Amelia Earhart."

Many people try to "compete by comparison" and may even get some recognition as a result. 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, you are merely reminding others of that which you are better than, which is your competition.

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

7UP floundered until it announced that it was the "Uncola." As a result, the more Coke and Pepsi advertised, the more it helped 7UP. On the other hand, Coke, which was touted as being "The Real Thing," was known to be an old company with a 100-year old recipe locked in some secret safe. Pepsi decided to go the other way and proclaimed that it was for the "New Generation."

Avis did poorly until it finally conceded that it was No. 2. The "We try harder" campaign focused on its underdog attitude that turned the size of its bigger competitor, Hertz, 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.

Be the first to cater to a specific target market or be the first to cater to a market in a unique way. Be the first to customize a general product or service to a specific market, or be the first to offer an alternative to an existing product or service.

For example, you might be a travel consultant selling business trips to financial institutions. If you're not the first, you might then market yourself as "the first to serve the financially inclined" or "the first travel agent for the busy financier."

In other words, don't be the best in some category. Be the first in one.