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The Way to Beat No. 1

… is to lead from behind. A lot of brands are reluctant to do this. It’s easier to play ‘follow the leader,’ to copy the business model or ad campaign that’s already worked for someone else, and just put a little ‘spin’ on it. The result is statements like these:

“We’re like Facebook, only better.”

“We’re like Craigslist, only more visually appealing.”

“We’re YouTube, only without the ads.”

Has anyone managed to build the better Facebook, or a YouTube without the ads? Probably. But no one is using them. No one has even heard of them. Because Facebook and YouTube already own the mindshare of just about every member of our culture. You can’t compete with such giants on their own terms.

Same deal in your industry. The more you play follow the leader, the more you have to compete for scraps with the whole ‘me too’ herd.

Here’s a better idea: do something totally different. If your industry leader is going west, go east. If their marketing is hyper-technical, become ‘the human brand.’ Be the one company in your industry that’s willing to blaspheme, to break best practices and challenge the status quo.

In sailboat racing, the boat that follows the leader, using the same wind and the same current, has no chance of winning. It’s only by tacking far right or left, and taking advantage of shifts in the wind, that a ‘me too’ boat can become number one. It’s a gamble. It’s also the only way to win.*

*This boat metaphor comes from Dixit & Nalebuff’s brilliant book, The Art of Strategy

 

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