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Tips, advice, and information for South African business owners

07 Aug

Woolies – When Second-To-Market Blows Up

The marketing and sales function in every small business is like life-sustaining oxygen – without it, your business will suffocate and die. Funny, then, how so few small businesses do marketing well. Most barely scrape by, while most start-ups, as the statistics show, wither and die within months or years.

So when marketing on a shoestring budget, a low-risk strategy is to copy the leaders. But what if there are no leaders because you’re the first-to-market? Building awareness as a prelude to creating demand for a new product is probably the riskiest thing any business can do. That’s why a second-to-market strategy can obviate many of those risks and, importantly, invest in a market-validated product.

Only, it’s not entirely risk-free, is it? As we know, Woolworths has made headlines in recent months for all the wrong reasons. Having copied the Ubuntu Baba baby carrier design (reported in Times Live, 8 January) and Sexy Socks sock design (Business Insider, 3 July), the retail giant is trashing its reputation. It’s also not the first time Woolies has passed off pioneering entrepreneurs’ products as its own, nor is it the exception among big-brand business.

In the public eye, if not in a court, Woolworths is guilty of stealing hard-working entrepreneurs’ intellectual property. But in my view, this is merely a symptom and not the root cause.

No, the underlying “crime” in these cases is lazy marketing.

In case you didn’t know, marketing starts with product design. A lazy marketer counts on customers “recognising” the copied product, tapping into all the marketing done by the original product’s owner. The more similar the hacked product is to the original, the less creativity and effort the thief needs to market it.

As we’ve seen, even several “mistakes” like this won’t bring down a Woolworths brand – it seems they’re merely bumps in the road to corporate profits. A big brand has heavy inertia with thousands of customers, many apathetic.

But for a small business, breaking your loyal followers’ trust can sound the death knell. If you’re going to adopt a second-player strategy, do it with your eyes open.

At the very least, don’t be a lazy marketer.

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