First-movers rarely win, but a superior customer experience can


“Picasso had a saying, ‘Good artists copy; great artists steal.’ And we have always been shameless about stealing great ideas.” – Steve Jobs

The other day the staff of the Boston ISITE office was kicking around ideas for a new ISITE Labs project, but with over 800,000 iOS apps now having been released (about 100,000 more than just four months ago), and roughly the same number of Android apps, it’s almost impossible to come up with a wholly new idea. Indeed, a quick search found that other apps with similar functionality to the idea we are most keen on have already been released.

So what?

In technology, first to market is rarely the ultimate winner. Have you worked much lately on your Osborne PC, Compaq or watched a movie on a Betamax tape? There are many ways for later entries to win, and an increasingly powerful one is by providing a superior customer experience.

Fast Seconds

In the early ‘90s I did a lot of marketing work for Lotus as it tried to educate the market about its first-to-market, one-of-a-kind “groupware” technology Lotus Notes – and then a few years later the Internet reached maturity, educated the market very rapidly, and blew away the Notes proprietary platform. Being first to market can be expensive, and frustrating. Microsoft didn’t invent the spreadsheet or word processing software; Apple didn’t invent the personal digital music player or tablet computer. And Facebook was hardly the first social media site; it entered a market dominated by MySpace, which had taken over from Friendster, both of which outclassed Classmates.

This is a social media map I love from 2007; can you find Facebook on it?

Social Media Landscape 2007

So we don’t really need to worry about being first to market, because we probably won’t be. And that may even be good: a friend who was the head of marketing for the launch of the Lotus 1-2-3 spreadsheet says that any “new” product can succeed as long as it’s 90 percent old.

So feel free to steal product and service ideas from other companies, as Apple has so profitably done. Companies that were not the first-movers in their industry have won for a number of reasons including technology, pricing and marketing. Increasingly, though, both B2C and B2B companies are realizing that they can win by providing a superior customer experience.

Developing superior user experiences has been at the heart of Apple’s success.

Validated business, better model

Zipcar was hardly the first car rental company. It has succeeded both because it recognized an un-served market segment – people who want to use a car for just a few hours – and because it created a better user experience that didn’t make people stand at a counter for 10-15 minutes to rent a car. ISITE did the user experience and visual design for the Zipcar site, which makes it easy to become a member and book a car whether you’re an individual renter or organization in need of a fleet of cars. Now, to make it even faster and easier, Zipcar has added a mobile app.

And, even though it has roughly 65% market share, Google increasingly is providing more user centric results, such as this one:

Google Search

Google is saving me from clicking on a link and going to a site to possibly find the answer. It is also providing me with an interface to quickly change the amount – bonus: if I change the amount of dollars or euros, the other instantly converts. And I can easily change the currencies that I’m comparing and even, (second bonus!) see their historical trends. Nice.

So even though there are already other apps with similar functionality to what we’re thinking of developing, if we focus on doing it better from the point of view of the user, we can still be successful. And so can you.

What are your favorite, or least favorite, apps or sites from the point of view of customer experience?

This post first appeared on the ISITE Design Delight blog.

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One thought on “First-movers rarely win, but a superior customer experience can

  1. Horacio Reyes

    My favorite site regarding user experience is amazon, always shows me what I´m buying and things that I may want to buy.

    I hate Microsoft sites, its impossible to find anything or to understand their licensing models.

    A new project that I´m working on is a MOOC site in spanish called wedubox, we investigated the market, have lots of user feedback from our pilot 1 year ago and in a couple of months we are hopping to take the mooc market 🙂

    Horacio Reyes

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