Being the Best in Your Category Never Guarantees Success

Being the best in your category did not help Apple until the dawn of smart phones and tablets

By Tom Dougherty

Dispelling Another Brand Myth

Being the best in your categoryHow much of your corporate time is spent on R&D to create the best product? How much of your efforts are spent in marketing your product or service as the finest choice in your category? Building a brand that can steal market share and grow your market is aided in a big way by being the “best in the category.” It is a great luxury to own that rare equity that maintains a demonstrable lead over the competitive set.

However, if we are frank with ourselves, most of the time, the differences in our product or service over the competitive set is hard to pin point. Often as not, the differences in efficacy between our brands and those of our competitors is so narrow it would be hard to slide a sheet of paper between them.

FedEx is the preferred next day delivery provider but can any of us say with certainty that the ability to get our packages “overnighted” is better served by FedEx as opposed to UPS or DHL? Being the best in your class does not promise success and dominance any better than being first in the category. (See our treatise on Being First)

Apple is A Case In Point

I doubt if even the most ardent Windows aficionado would argue the fact that Apple Computer has innovation as its middle name. Being best in a category is a difficult thing to quantify but if ease of use and elegance in design are a fair measure, Apple has earned that accolade many times over.

Being the best in your categoryIf selection of software and the availability of 3rd party peripherals are your measure, than the “Windows world” is entitled to its own claim as best. Let’s assume the former yardstick for just a moment. Using the measure of best design, innovation and simplicity, Apple wins hands down and yet, being best did not ensure success.

Let’s look at a prime example.  Apple computer became a market leader in the early 80s with their Apple ll. Innovative. Simple. Popular.  In 1984 they introduced the Macintosh — with a graphic operating system and heretofore unheard of graphic capabilities. It was a milestone.

Mac’s system was 15 years ahead of the competition.  In 1997 Apple introduced the iMac. A revolution in internet connectivity. It was the first PC to eliminate the floppy drive and replace it with a CD drive.  In 2002 Apple introduced OS X, its 10th operating system. The UNIX based system is virtually crash proof and has shown it to be at least 5 years ahead of the latest Windows release. (Read about the importance of simplicity in branding here)

Apple’s latest release of Mac OS X Yosemite, promises to increase the advantage by another couple of years.  Before the advent of the desktop PC, IBM was the market leader in computing. Their mainframe systems had set the world standard for 20 years. Their brand was synonymous with the word computer.  Based on Apple’s success, IBM saw an opportunity to grab additional markets, IBM launched the PC Jr. in the early 80’s. The game was afoot.  Microsoft received a license to package its DOS with every PC manufactured. Aside from the tightly held Apple market, the only competitor to DOS was a grouping of non-compatible proprietary systems (Commodore, TI, etc.).

Being the best in your category shown in a chart of computer market share

A Better Brand is Better

Apple Logo is about Being the best in your categoryThe resulting market share has never reflected the innovation by Apple in the category or their advantages in design and engineering. At the same time, their advertising has been considered world class by most advertising experts. Being best in the category is no promise of success.

Apple experienced success when they rebranded from Apple Computer to Apple Inc. This was more than just a change of brand name. It marked a seminal change as Apple began to market its brand. More importantly, Apple began to market aligned products that forwarded the brand and paid off its brand promise of elegance and simplicity.

The success of iPod, iPhone and iPad moved the legacy of Macintosh forward and not the other way around. The BRAND was more than the sum of its parts. The Apple brand became the primal proof point of cultural simplicity and modernism. To choose Apple, regardless of which product became a lifestyle choice. This turned out to be more important than a better or more reliable software system on the Mac.

Read an article on Intel here

Apple as an example of winning without being outspent

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