Achieving Competitive Advantage by Observing First Movers

‘Early adopters’, ‘trendsetters’, ‘opinion leaders’, ‘first movers’ - are the labels describing those who are ahead of the mainstream, who are keen to try out new things. But do these terms describe the same attributes – or are there subtle differences? If so, what is the difference and how can companies proactively incorporate using these groups and their insight into their innovation management process.

InnovationManagement put these questions to Petra Petrö and Kirsten Poulsen from Firstmove, a company that specializes in identifying first movers and mapping their behaviour and needs.

What is the difference between an early adopter, a trendsetter, an opinion leader and a first mover?

- First mover and trendsetter are synonyms. Firstmove favours the term first mover because the term trendsetter is frequently related to the areas of fashion and lifestyle. Another term that occurs is innovators. Innovators is used by Everett Rogers in 1962 to describe one of the five categories he proposes in his book “The Diffusion of Innovations”. Innovators describes his first category, with early adaptors the heading for his second category.

- The term opinion leader is used by Lazarsfeld and Katz to describe innovation diffusion. Opinion leaders make explicit attempts to influence others, while first movers’ attempts are implicit thus more subtle. This is exactly why the latter are such a powerful influence and good providers of commercially valuable knowledge.

- First movers are curious and open-minded, they think in global terms, they are always on the move – both mentally and physically. They are always looking for new ways to creating unique identities through their consumption and lifestyle. They are innovative and readily adapt to innovation – much faster than mainstream consumers, as they do not fear uncertainty or the risks associated with new ideas. First movers are powerful because they unconsciously influence others. Happened

How does the first mover fit into the typical innovation management process?

- First movers are useful in all stages of a typical innovation management process. However, the information they can provide will be of most value early in the process. First movers are not the target group, but they are crucial for understanding the latent needs of the mass market. Trends identified or behaviour defined by first movers ultimately are adopted by mainstream consumers. Hence, the needs of first movers today will become the needs of the mainstream market in one to three years time.

- First movers provide companies with clear competitive advantage in terms of higher market share and better margins as market needs are better met. As first movers provide a shortcut to establishing and understanding and, thus, also meeting, mainstream consumer needs, they provide companies with the time required to develop, test and launch new products, services and means of communication, to satisfy mainstream demand when it arises.

How do companies identify first movers – can you give examples?

- Identifying a first mover is complex and takes years of experience and effort to create the right tools. First movers evolve quickly and it is necessary to be at, if not ahead, of their level of progress. This is not something that most companies can do on their own. However, should a company decide to engage in a process involving first movers they will receive information on latent market needs.

To help companies to develop innovation processes encompassing first movers, Firstmove has constructed an innovation tool called IDEA mapping. This is based on the findings from continuous studies of consumer behaviour, and has been proven through use in different types of companies. One of the most outstanding results was in a medical company, where 10 new products were successfully introduced into the world market.

If a company wants to start using first movers, how should it proceed?

- To involve first movers in the innovation management process, it is necessary first to formulate specific challenges as inputs to how best to exploit first movers. In our experience, most companies and organizations face the same sorts of challenges; how to retain the loyalty of current customers/members while expanding their market positions. This tells us that most companies are in need of innovations processes that will create new products, means of communication or services that will set them apart from their competitors.

Despite the challenges faced being similar, the solutions are rarely the same. To find the most efficient way to involve first movers in the innovation process, Firstmove recommends consideration of aspects such as company culture, organizational capacity and business scope. None of the innovation processes involving first movers that we facilitate are similar; it takes a unique approach to create innovations that make a company stand out.

Can a company learn from first movers located e.g. in Copenhagen?

- There are a number of reasons why working with first movers in Copenhagen would be particularly rewarding. Despite being a major European capital, Copenhagen is relatively small, which means that first movers are forced to seek inspiration from around the world. Extensive travel, networking activities and wide-ranging consumption of international media, especially international websites are required to supply news and knowledge. This experience is ‘brought home’ to Copenhagen, where it is adapted to local conditions in unique and innovative ways – just in time for the next trip abroad, mentally or physically.

The fact that Copenhagen is a relatively small and in many ways intimate society, means that people with widely varying cultural backgrounds have to interact in the same public spaces to a much larger degree than in larger cities. One of the results of this, is that trendsetters and their consumption patterns are relatively easily observed and, thus, more readily adopted by mainstream consumers. Naturally this forces first movers to be more innovative and more quickly. On the other hand, the small size of the city means that first movers in Copenhagen do not have to travel far to seek inspiration from cultures different from their own.

By Frode Lundsten

About Petra Petö and Kirsten Poulsen

Kirsten Poulsen, founder and Managing Director of Firstmove, throughout her professional career has worked in advertising, specializing in trends and communication strategy and concepts, in several international companies including Ogilvy & Mather and J. Walter Thompson. Kirsten holds degrees in psychology and international marketing and is co-author of several books on advertising.

Petra Petö, trend forecaster at Firstmove, studied for her Masters in Political Science at Copenhagen University and has specialised in user driven innovations processes and strategic and tactical communication.

Firstmove works with strategy and business development on trend-based, user-driven innovation. It specializes in consumer research and has demonstrated outstanding market insight in terms of future consumer behaviour. Its employees have good knowledge about food, and the company develops its own innovation tools. As the name Firstmove implies, the company focuses on the 3% of the population described as ‘first movers.’

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  • David Locke

    When using first movers, use them at Moore’s early adopter phase. Leave your current customers in their early or late market phase. Leave them in the hands of competent and experience management. First movers should be the first people to get your next technology. Your current customers are using products built on your last technology, the one approaching commoditization.

    When using first movers build their application on top of your next technology. Don’t build your own application. When building this application, realize that the vertical version will differ in certain ways from the custom version, and as a result of this realization architect the shift to the vertical into the application during the custom application development effort.

    Provide the first mover with management consulting, not just development effort. If they are early in your bowling ally, you will be serving them a long time. that management consulting should move out from the interface beyond the task performance issues and deep into the coming hypecycle. How will this client deal with work design, workflow, choreography, orchestration, and meta management issues? Yes, they will deal with them, and you can learn much from their efforts.

    Develop two sets of organizational capabilities while working with your first mover: process capabilities, and client understanding. When moving this application to the vertical move your client people, but leave your process people behind to deal with the next first mover. Be a pipelined organization in which technologies, products, and people move though it so each wave of disruptive technical innovation is moving at its own speed with its own cost structure and policy structure.

    Win once, win again, and again and again. Avoid the loss of stock value when your current technology has sold half it’s seat and growth for it ends. Growth for the company need not end, nor should the company be surprised or wondering what to do next when a technology’s growth does end.

    Successive waves of discontinuous technologies won’t sell to your current customer base. Cross sell, but only to the small population that can use both technologies. This will be a long time coming. Build a new market each time, rather than hope for economies of scale.

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