Apple and Samsung are embroiled in several legal fights; both are contending for global leadership of smartphone and tablet market, with Samsung poised to surpass Apple in the race in 2012. Smartphones are an interesting example of a product category where the second or third movers have considerably learned from the experience of the product innovators. Long before Apple launched the iPhone in 2007, IBM had released the first smart phone called Simon in 1993.
Often the pioneers spend a lot of resources to come up with new and innovative products, demonstrate it to the users and test the market. In the meanwhile, newer companies that are more agile and are quick to see the opportunity, understand the product – market fit, learn from the mistakes of their predecessors, make a big bang entry and harvest the potential in the market already created by the earlier explorers. They survive and even make it big.
Samsung, for example, has perfected the game of being the second mover. They study the market leader meticulously, copy every aspect of the market leader’s strategy in minute details, and further improvise on the execution of the strategy. They end up not only in catching up, but even surpassing the market leaders. It was the success of the iPad that made Samsung roll out the Galaxy Tab. Even the Galaxy Note was preceded by the Dell Streak.
On the other hand, there are companies such as GE or Siemens that have been successful in retaining the first mover advantage and in creating next generation products in a continuum while phasing out the older ones. One of the parameters of strategic health for GE is the proportion of revenue earned by products which have been brought out in the previous 2 years. It means that such companies need to have a whole range of next generation products in the pipeline. This is relatively easier for companies that cater to the B2B market, where customer expectations can be understood within a reasonable time frame, due to existing contractual relationships with the customers. It is more difficult for the companies to gauge the customer expectations in the B2C scenario, though the B2C market offers the advantage of high volumes.
This brings us to an interesting question that why the pioneers with all their obvious advantages such as a brand image, a customer base and a dealer network in place to push the new product, are still not able to retain the market leadership. Going back to the Kodak story, what could they have done differently so that having been the pioneers in digital technology, they would have continued to be so.
This steers the discussion towards a very important trait of executive leadership – the ability to foresee the horizon of changing technology and customer expectations. An organization has to be futuristic, open to accept that the world can change overnight and the confidence to believe they can be the leader in the changed world too. It requires the tenacity to persevere, understand the market’s perception of their products, support R&D to improve on the products and make required changes to their products or their marketing approach in order to sustain the market leadership.
The path to achieving this trait could be through corporate entrepreneurship, if promoted in a true sense within an organization. This group would need to be supported and backed by the topmost authority in the organisation and would have to be reasonably separated from the current culture of the organisation, to encourage them to think differently and foster a culture of innovation. This may also, at times, require convincing the shareholders and the board to take a dip in immediate returns for long term gains.
This leads to an interesting question next. Which of the items of mass consumption today is most likely to into oblivion replaced by a newer generation product in the next three to five years? Who knows? Plastic money could be one! Already some companies are developing mobile payments solutions that focus on the convergence of online (e-commerce) and proximity (face-to-face) payments.