April 17, 2012


horse raceToyota owned the hybrid market with the Prius, which launched in 1997 in Japan and worldwide in 2001. So what? There are other choices now, possibly better. Some companies are launching their first hybrids. Does that mean they only need to be as good as the original Prius? No. Laggards must be as good as the third-generation Prius.

Laggards face higher hurdles. They may have avoided pitfalls but they lack the experience the pioneers earned by doing. This doesn't ensure the pioneers of ongoing market domination.
Let's look at three to beat the market leader.
  1. complacency
  2. incrementally
  3. leapfrogging


A complacent market leader is blind to competitors. Consider RIM. When Apple introduced the iPhone in 2007, RIM didn't see a threat to the Blackberry in the corporate market they dominated. Businesses wouldn’t want phones with less security and no keyboard. They were right ... in the beginning.

The market changed. As Apple dominated the consumer market, workers started bringing their own devices to work and demanded to use them. Apps made the arguments more compelling. Recently, the iPhone accounted for 53% of corporate smartphone activations among 2,000 companies (see study).

The iPhone is now the market leader, even in Canada, RIM’s home and native land.


The iPhone faces challenges from another upstart, Android. In the beginning, Android wasn't very good but the devices and operating system keep improving. Unlike RIM, Apple hasn't ignored the threat. The iPhone is now available from more carriers and improvements continue being made.

Over time, Android may win. When we upgraded our phones recently, we got one iPhone and two Androids. Since I must have a keyboard, the iPhone isn't a serious option.


There's another way to win: leapfrog. A lead in fluorescent lighting may not matter as LED lighting becomes preferred. A lead in alkaline batteries may not matter when lithium cells are available. A lead in hybrid vehicles may not matter if there are new developments.

The new entrant might leapfrog overall all other companies. Isn't that what Apple did with the iPad? Since 1992 when IBM introduced the ThinkPad 700T, tablets have used Windows. Apple used their phone operating system (iOS) instead. In the beginning, that seemed silly. The iPad couldn't multitask and seemed like an oversized iPod. It was. The 10" screen was small by computer standards. It was. Buyers didn’t care. Since launch, the iPad has dominated and expanded the tablet market. We have two.

What the iPad offered was enough for the public. And still is, even though Android tablets with similar performance are now available and keep improving incrementally.

Your Choice

Being a laggard may not be the best strategy, but you can take steps to beat the leader in your market segment --- especially if you’re an early follower.


PS Is a hybrid or electric car in your future?

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