Branding for Early Adoption

Early adopter behavior speaks volumes about the brand positions of Google and Microsoft.

With Google, the response to a new release is, “I will sign up for Google Wave immediately, lest I miss a developing trend.”  The response to a Microsoft release is, “I will delay trying Bing until proven, lest I waste time on yet another failed initiative.”

The Microsoft image develops in response to a series of failed or incoherent releases. Palm suffered the same image problem among its developers after a series of failed attempts to update its operating system after 2002.  Apple suffered the same problem during the 1990s, after repeated false claims of innovation.

The requirements for a positive brand image among early adopters are surprise and utility.  The new offering must not only work well and do something useful, but also must innovate in a direction unexpected even to industry enthusiasts.

So, for example, a product like Microsoft AdCenter is not only unsuccessful as a business, but also hurts the Microsoft brand among early adopters, because it is utterly derivative, does not work well (slow, poor browser compatibility, basic bugs in the site’s business logic), and is not useful (doesn’t generate enough traffic to be worth the hassle).

By contrast, Google develops its brand by innovating in unexpected, but useful, directions: big Javascript apps;  open APIs;  super-effective collaborative spam filtering.  Enthusiasts themselves can no doubt come up with more and better examples.

Underlying all this is the idea that early adopter branding is product-driven.  You actually have to have a good product.  You can’t promote your way to a brand in this arena.

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