Innovators trying to establish new markets would be wise to try to attract attention by publicizing not only themselves, but also the competition, according to a new sociological study by a faculty member at the University of Southern California's (USC) Marshall School of Business.
Mark Thomas Kennedy, assistant professor of Management and Organizations at USC, used breakthrough research methods to reduce tens of thousands of pages of media coverage into "mental maps" of technology market competitors.
His conclusion challenges the conventional wisdom that has marketers focusing exclusively on what makes their product unique. His research shows that, when trying to create new markets, firms that dare to publicly mention their competitors in their public positioning actually do better for it.
"From business schools and marketing consultants, entrepreneurs are mostly taught that talking about the competition is a dangerous no-no," says Kennedy. "But in the early stages of new markets, talking just about yourself is even more dangerous. In fact, it actually hurts innovators' chances of success by increasing the odds they'll be overlooked or ignored as 'lone voices.' We know that there is strength in numbers, but what we haven't known is how firms get 'counted' in the media."
Kennedy's study, published in an article in the April 2008 issue of the American Sociological Review, answers that question by showing how the media helps to make new markets real. Titled "Getting Counted: Markets, Media and Reality," the article tackles one of the key challenges innovators face--just getting counted enough for the world to take their new ideas seriously.
Building on groundbreaking scholarship from Columbia University's Harrison White and New York University's Joseph Porac, Kennedy's study extends the new school of thought about markets, which characterizes markets as networks that capture shared views about how to compare and categorize competing producers.
As these networks form, Kennedy says they have an intimate connection to the media because journalists serve as the public's principal intermediaries in society's collective conversations about whether new products are "real" enough to be categories unto themselves.
"In new markets, the study shows that associating your product with a rival or two helps to put new markets on the map in the minds of journalists and the audiences who read what they write," says Kennedy.
Kennedy's data set included a comprehensive collection of media coverage about one of the hottest technology markets from the 1980s--the market for computer workstations.
Covering the period from 1980 to 1990, his statistical analyses accounted for factors such as the timing of market entry, company size, previous media coverage and a proxy for the quality of competitors' products.
Acknowledging that the media and PR worlds have seen significant changes with the advent of the Internet, Kennedy says that credibility has not gone out of style, and audiences still weigh stories and predictions about important market "trends."
He cites recent creation of markets for digital cameras, GPS-based navigation systems and "crossover" automobiles as examples where consumer demand was boosted by media coverage that helped audiences to see emerging producer communities as evidence that these markets are for real.
"You have to dignify the competition to create the market--otherwise you are distinct, but irrelevant," Kennedy says. "If you can be first in the market along with others, co-creating something new, you can get much more attention than by trying to go it alone."
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