First To Mind
Why Being First to Mind Matters More Than Being First to Market
We hear a lot about the importance of being “first to market,” as if it is a guarantee for success. It’s true that being first to market can give you an advantage over the competition, but it may not be nearly as important as everyone seems to think it is. In their classic marketing book, The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing, Al Ries and Jack Trout argue that “first to market” is over-rated, giving an example from the realm of personal computers. Ries and Trout contrast the case of the Altair 8800 with the Apple computer. At that point in time, there was no Best Buy or Amazon to buy your computer from --- you had to build your own system from published or sold designs. The Altair 8800 was the first company to hit the market with a personal computer, featured in the January and February 1975 editions of Popular Electronics magazine.
In spite of Altair developing more advanced models and shipping thousands of units a month, the company was sold to Pertec in 1976. Unfortunately for Altair, Pertec didn’t do a great job managing the product or the brand post takeover. The brand “Altair 8800” is not particularly memorable and the product was tough to assemble. Within a few years, the Altair line of computers became a casualty of history.
On April 1, 1976, Apple entered the market with their computer,debuting the Apple 1, a desktop computer that came as a single motherboard, pre-assembled, unlike other personal computers of that era. Apple was the first personal computer to come in a plastic case and include color graphics. Also, most importantly, the brand memorability was very different than Altair - it had an iconic brand and logo, which we all remember.
Apple wasn’t first to market but ended up winning anyway. Why? Why did Apple win then and how does Apple continue to be so successful?
The Economics of Brand Awareness
Apple won and continues to win not because it was first to market (it wasn’t), but because it is first to mind. In other words, beyond investing in high quality product, Apple invests in developing a memorable brand. It turns out that “having a memorable brand” is actually important for economic reasons. If I say “name a company that makes computers”, it’s likely that Apple is going to be #1 or #2 to your mind. That brand awareness translates into market share. In fact, the brand that has most awareness, first to mind, tends to have about 40% of the market. The #2 brand tends to have about 20% market share, (Source: American Marketing Association Study, "How Brand Awareness Aids Profitability"). The more market share you have, the more pricing power you command, and the more profitable you become. We don’t think about brand awareness translating into economic value, but it does. And whoever is first to mind wins.
If You Can’t Be First to Mind, Create a New Category
Unfortunately, sometimes you can’t be first to mind. When that happens, how do you compete? Al Ries would tell you to set up a new category. Let’s look at a non business example. Do you know who flew across the Atlantic solo for the first time? That’s right,Charles Lindbergh! But do you know the 2nd man to fly across the Atlantic? Most likely you don’t know. However, everyone knows the first woman who flew across the Atlantic, because she started a new category. Her name is Amelia Earhart – the second person and first woman to fly across the Atlantic solo.
Finding Opportunity With the First to Mind Matrix
Taking this back to marketing and business, look at this “First to Mind Matrix,” that we built. It shows reach and engagement on a specific topic. The more reach and engagement you have, the more awareness you have within that topic.
We used this matrix to help a large healthcare client determine their content strategy. The client wanted to be first to mind on the topic of healthcare. Unfortunately, when we analyzed the conversation around healthcare, it turned out this client, pictured as the red dot above, had very little awareness, and worse, a competitor had already established a strong position there.
They couldn’t own the category of “healthcare” so we looked at other topics of interest to decide what else they could own in the healthcare conversation. We ended up landing on “value based care” which is a business model innovation in healthcare. No one owned the “value based care” category with strong awareness. And it turned out that although the healthcare client didn’t have a ton of reach, they did have solid engagement as you can see reflected by the new position of the red dot above.
The takeaway from the matrix illustrated an opportunity: if they invest in marketing “value based care”, they have an opportunity to move the needle to the strong awareness space, and become first to mind in a new category.
That is how you think of the First to Mind principle.