The easiest way of getting into someone’s mind is to be first. It is very easy to remember who is first, and much more difficult to remember who is second. Even if the second entrant offers a better product, the first mover has a large advantage that can make up for other shortcomings.
However, all is not lost for products that are not the first. By being the first to claim a unique position in the mind the consumer, a firm effectively can cut through the noise level of other products. For example, Miller Lite was not the first light beer, but it was the first to be positioned as a light beer, complete with a name to support that position. Similarly, Lowenbrau was the most popular German beer sold in America, but Beck’s Beer successfully carved a unique position using the advertising,
Consumers rank brands in their minds. If a brand is not number one, then to be successful it somehow must relate itself to the number one brand. A campaign that pretends that the market leader does not exist is likely to fail. Avis tried unsuccessfully for years to win customers, pretending that the number one Hertz did not exist. Finally, it began using the line,
“Avis in only No. 2 in rent-a-cars, so why go with us? We try harder.”
After launching the campaign, Avis quickly became profitable. Whether Avis actually tried harder was not particularly relevant to their success. Rather, consumers finally were able to relate Avis to Hertz, which was number one in their minds.
Another example is that of the soft-drink 7-Up, which was No. 3 behind Coke and Pepsi. By relating itself to Coke and Pepsi as the “Uncola”, 7-Up was able to establish itself in the mind of the consumer as a desirable alternative to the standard colas.
When there is a clear market leader in the mind of the consumer, it can be nearly impossible to displace the leader, especially in the short-term. On the other hand, a firm usually can find a way to position itself in relation to the market leader so that it can increase its market share. It usually is a mistake, however, to challenge the leader head-on and try to displace it.