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On Being First
By: Dwayne W. Waite Jr.
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If everyone engages in a "best practice," is it still considered one? If a blogger or marketing professional reveals "7 Secrets to Winning Business," are they still secrets?

Our society likes to believe that if we assimilate certain behaviors from others, we too are going to be just as successful as our predecessors. However, rare is the case that it happens.

We can look to the stock market to illustrate.

Imagine you are perusing the market, and you stumble on a little-known company. You do your due diligence and come to conclude that the business is sound, its management is good, and the forecasting is realistic. You invest early. Then, shortly after you invest, the stock explodes. You are getting major returns. You tell your friends, and while the stock is rising, they jump in at a much higher price than you did. Will they experience the same kind of returns that you have?

Probably not.

The book Mobs, Messiahs, and Markets explains this "diminishing returns" phenomenon quite well. We underestimate the value of being first, and once something good happens, and "the crowd" acknowledges the value, as more and more people do it, the less return people will receive. Therefore, when it comes to investing, the authors argue, it is crucial to be first and beat the crowd to get the biggest bang out of your buck.

The same applies to practicing advertising.

The early ones to social and digital media scored major points in the advertising world. And as the media continued to mature, it was the ones who pioneered its usage that received the big accounts and the big fanfare. Think W+K with Old Spice YouTube vids, and Doritos with its crowdsourcing and fan-produced commercials. Victor & Spoils' big acquisition by Havas. These "firsts" shape our perception of the practice, and though initially the acts were brilliant, as more players attempted them, the novelty and response wore off.

Whether we like it or not, being first is one of the most effective ways to do powerful advertising. Give the consumer something they've never seen before, or package a message, product, or service in a way that's never been done. It doesn't have to be shocking, sex-driven, or terrifying. It just has to be a method that's never (or apparently never) been done.

On consumer action: studies show that when consumers choose your brand first, it makes it incredibly difficult for them to switch to a different brand. Dan Ariely of Irrationally Yours calls it "anchoring"; a consumer will make all future decisions based on their first decision. So if the advertising is effective, and the consumer has a great first experience with your brand, a barrier between you and your competitors was just created.

Being first is indeed a big deal.

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About the Author
Dwayne W. Waite Jr. is partner and principal at JDW: The Charlotte Agency, a marketing and advertising shop in Charlotte, NC. He enjoys consumer behavior, economics, and football.
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