Be The First, Not The Best!

After my last article on viral marketing, some emailed me wanting more information about how to create the perception of uniqueness.

Let me give you a few tips, largely based on the “Law Of Leadership,” one of The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing from my two favorite mentors, Jack Trout and Al Ries.

The law simply states that it’s better to be the first in your market or product category than it is to be the best in one.

Often, many businesses build their entire marketing strategy around a particular brand and its “better” qualities. Claiming superiority smacks of being untrue and is often a very risky endeavor. If you claim you’re the best, your statement will likely be suspect.

A mentor once told me something that profoundly affected how I think about marketing…

“Implication is more powerful than specification.”

I realized that this, in itself, implied many things as well. Whether he intended it or not, what I pulled from that statement is, it is more effective to imply superiority — to be perceived as being superior — than to being or outright stating that one is superior.

The question then becomes, how do you create the perception of superiority? How do you get others to think you’re the best without stating it outright, much less promote it?

The following are a few pointers to guide you in that direction.

If you’re the first in some product category, then you are also considered as the best. People have the natural tendency to attribute superiority to a product that’s first in its category. And that’s regardless of the fact that there may be other, better products.

This is the immense power of what Trout and Ries refer to as “positioning.”

If you’re not the first, you can usually invent your own position. If there’s no category in which you can be first, then create one. By being the first in your very own unique category makes it tremendously difficult for competitors to copy you.

But even when your competitors do copy you, and even if they’re better than you, since you are the first their marketing efforts will only help to remind people of… you!

For example, the Apple iPhone is not just another wireless phone. “Wireless phone” or “cellular phone” are the more conventional categories. If iPhone promoted itself in these categories, it would have a lot of competition to contend with.

However, it’s more than that. The entire keypad uses a touchscreen, and the phone doesn’t use any keys at all. And as such, it created its own product category. Call it the “keyless phone.” (In fact, the more popular category nowadays is the “smart phone.”)

Any subsequent phone that enters the market will only remind people of the iPhone.

But there’s something that’s more important, here: being the first is not as important as being perceived as the first — the first in the marketplace. You don’t have to be the first, technically. You simply have to be the first in the mind.

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 seniority, he is still widely recognized as the best surgeon there is — even if he still uses outdated techniques.

He still uses the old-fashioned “plug” technique. But even when his competitors use more modern techniques or their results are far more natural-looking, people still associate superiority to him since he is the first in their minds.

Incidentally, one doctor from Toronto whom I consulted with used a more advanced microscopic process, where hair follicles were transplanted one strand at a time. So we decided to reposition him as the pioneer behind “micro-follicular transplantation.”

As mentioned earlier, Trout and Ries, the fathers of positioning, developed the category concept into a science. The first law in their book “The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing,” which is the law of leadership, is based entirely on the concept of being the first.

The law states that no two bodies can occupy the same space. If you get to a position first, your position is virtually guaranteed. Nobody else can ever take your place.

But by being first in the mind, the position is not held by you — it’s held by the consumer. And because “they own it,” they will, often unconsciously, fight to keep it there.

So how do you position yourself as being the first?

You don’t have to be the first. You only have to be the first in the consumer’s mind.

By owning the leading position in the mind people will automatically assume that you’re the best. Why? It’s because uniqueness separates you from the rest rather than compares you to them. It’s immensely more effective than actually being the best.

For instance, Ries and Trout prove this point with a very simple question.

They ask: “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 likely be stumped. Almost everyone remembers that Lindbergh was the first because, being the first, he comes to mind immediately.

But if the question was rephrased in a different way, as in, “Who was the first woman to fly over the Atlantic in a solo flight?” Your answer will likely be “Amelia Earhart.”

Can you see the difference? Essentially, both questions led to the same answer. But by repositioning Amelia Earhart as the first woman, the answer came to mind instantly.

Similarly, look at your own life: what are the things you remember the most? Chances are, you will remember your first kiss, your first car, your first job, your first heartbreak, etc. Can you remember your second kiss let alone your fifth one? Probably not.

When it comes to marketing, the same holds true.

Many businesses try to compete by comparison and may even generate some recognition. But where they often fail is in creating lasting top-of-mind awareness by drowning their image in a currently known, often highly competitive, category.

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, all you are really doing is reminding others of that which you are better than — which, of course, is your competition.

Again, if there’s no category in which you can be the first, manufacture one. Having your very own category is powerful because it is impossible for competitors to beat you.

Here’s another brilliant example from Ries and Trout.

Coke has been outselling Pepsi because Coke was the first in the mind.

But Coke, “The Real Thing,” is an old company with a hundred-year old recipe locked in some secret safe. So, after years of trying to compete with Coke, Pepsi decided to go the other way and proclaimed that it was for the “New Generation.” Its sales shot up.

On the other hand, for years 7UP floundered in the cola category until it became the “Uncola.” As a result, the more Coke and Pepsi advertised, the more it helped 7UP.

For a long time, Avis was an unknown car rental agency. One day, it finally conceded it was number two, second after Hertz. Their “we try harder” campaign, which focused on their underdog position, turned the size of their bigger competitor into a negative.

Domino’s was surely not the first pizzeria. But in a recent interview, Tom Monaghan, who started the pizzeria with his brother, claimed that, 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.

And there are countless other examples.

How can you do this yourself?

For instance, you can be the first to cater to a specific market, the first to offer an alternative to an existing product or service, or the first to cater to a market in a unique way — such as by offering an ordinary product or service but with a unique twist.

You can also customize a general product or service for a specific market. For example, you’re a travel agency. Your biggest clients are financial institutions. You could decide on being the first to sell business trips catering exclusively to financial institutions.

However, if you’re not the first, then you might then market yourself as “the leader in business trips for bankers” or “the first travel agent for the smart financier.”

John Carlton, the master at finding hooks for his copy, is well-known for his “one-legged golfer” salesletter. After interviewing the author of the “how-to golf better” course and getting him to talk about how the product came about, the owner nonchalantly claimed that he got the idea from watching an amputee golfer who seemingly hit balls farther.

The idea was, anyone can hit longer drives if they knew how to balance their bodies correctly, which is what this one golfer was forced to learn. While golf improvement is a fiercely competitive niche, that letter became the most swiped salesletter in the world.

(Even John tends to position himself in a unique way by calling himself “the most ripped-off copywriter on the planet.” And he definitely has earned that position.)

Speaking of sales copy, look at my own story.

I don’t really consider myself to be a great copywriter. But because I wrote the copy for the first known product launch that made a million dollars in one day (i.e., John Reese’s Traffic Secrets), people often refer to me as the Internet’s top copywriter.

Even though that record has been shattered numerous times — and I must add, with numbers that overshadow any of my accomplishments, and by copywriters who I believe are many times better than me — that position stuck in many people’s minds.

This achievement is almost always mentioned in interviews I give, or as part of my introduction at seminars by the seminar host, without any prompting from me. In fact, nowadays people often dub me as the “Roger Bannister of Internet Copy.”

(Roger Bannister, if you’re not familiar with him, was the first runner who broke the four-minute mile barrier — which was an elusive goal that was long thought to be impossible but has been surpassed countless times since… and then some.)

What unique twist can you add to your business, product, or offer?

If you can’t find one, then manufacture it. Now, I don’t mean to manufacture in the sense of lying. I mean to find pieces of information about you or your offer you can put together in a different and unique way in order to create an entirely new hook.

Here’s a case in point…

That one hair transplant surgeon mentioned earlier uses used a common surgical procedure with the help of stereoscopic dissecting microscopes, which enabled him to transplant hairs one strand at a time, rather than the more traditional “plugs.”

Doctors are prohibited by law to claim superiority. So, we needed to imply it. How? We called his technique “Micro-Follicular Redistribution Process.” (The technique even became known as the gold standard in the hair restoration community, as a result.)

This doesn’t have to be the name, and the product doesn’t have to be new.

It can be telling a story behind its creation, adding extra elements not part of the core product (such as extra guarantees, additional services, free delivery, hybrid offers, unique bonuses, etc), or selling the same product to a whole new niche or market.

Bottom line, don’t be the best. Be the first. By doing so, you’re going to create an almost instant trustworthiness, credibility, and superiority — without having to outright claim it.

What’s better: claiming to be the best (which comes from you, and therefore makes your claim suspect)? Or letting your audience believe that you are? Naturally, the latter wins.

Why? Because in this case, they own that position — not you. And it therefore becomes unshakable, even if someone else appears on the scene and tries to compete with you.

So ask yourself, what can you make unique about your business? Your product? Your copy? Your offer? Or the process by which you reach, sell, and serve your customers? Remember, it doesn’t have to be unique. It only needs to be perceived as such.

And remember, perceived truth is more powerful than truth itself.

About The Author

Avatar of Michel Fortin
Michel Fortin is a certified SEO consultant, content strategist, and marketing advisor helping plastic surgeons, cosmetic surgeons, and medical aesthetic clinics attract more patients. Since 1991, he helps cosmetic and aesthetic professionals increase their visibility and grow their practices. He is the author of the More Traffic Memo™ SEO email newsletter.

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