Far From First: How Three Brands Found Success in Established Markets

It’s better to make the first move, right? Not always. There is a widely accepted misconception that brands that emerge first are more likely to find success. In one sense, there’s some truth to that. When a brand defines a new market, it spends time and resources to educate people about its product, which builds trust. But just because a brand is the first of its kind doesn’t mean it’s the best, and it certainly doesn’t mean that competitors can’t come out on top. In the end, what matters is finding a strategy that works—just ask Hulu, Airbnb, or the team here at Block Club.

Strategy 1: Get in the Game Early(ish)

It’s no secret that Netflix revolutionized the way we watch TV. Long gone are the days of brick-and-mortar movie rentals and surfing channels. Once Netflix’s streaming services hit the market, we said goodbye to Blockbusters everywhere and hello to a new era of content libraries and binge-watching.

In the wake of Netflix’s success, media moguls at NBC Universal and News Corporations saw an opportunity to break into the streaming industry and pounced, thanks to backing from AOL, Comcast, Facebook, MSN, Myspace, and Yahoo. Less than a year after Netflix introduced streaming services, NBC Universal and News Corporations launched Hulu to the public. Today, Hulu has around 28 million subscribers and more than 68,000 hours of programming. Despite being second in the game, it managed to become a household name.

So, what did Hulu do right? It moved at the right time. While Netflix bore the burden of selling people on the idea of streaming, Hulu rode Netflix’s coattails, reaping all the benefits of a new, up-and-coming market without the huge risk. What’s more, it was able to incorporate ads into its services, which has proven to be an advantage more than a decade later. As services like Netflix resort to price increases, Hulu recently dropped the cost of its streaming service by $2 per subscription. Studies show that the first brand to market tends to dominate for an average of only five years. After that, established, familiar brands like Hulu often come out on top. That’s all the more reason for a brand to get in the game early.

Strategy 2: Redefine Your Brand Category

Breaking into a market early isn’t always feasible for brands, especially because most markets are already established. That doesn’t mean a brand is doomed, though. It just means it needs to get more creative in its approach and with its product. Take Airbnb, for example. When Brian Chesky, Joe Gebbia, and Nate Blecharczyk first rolled out airbedandbreakfast.com, their goal, apart from making money, was to target overflow visitors to a design conference. As hotels booked up and prices became inflated, they saw an opportunity to rent out their private space as lodging. While the concept of a bed and breakfast wasn’t inherently new, renting out a bed in someone else’s living area undoubtedly was, especially in such an informal way. In essence, the founders redefined hospitality by marketing people’s apartments and houses as ideal places to stay while traveling. This effectively flipped the script on hospitality and expanded the industry.

What Airbnb did is a common brand strategy. By attempting to redefine categories, brands create new opportunities. With so many markets well established, brands can identify areas of weakness and use those to their advantage, just like Airbnb. But this approach can also be tricky. Gaining consumers’ trust and acceptance can be an uphill battle, and people struggled to accept Airbnb at first. For a while, the founders even resorted to selling cereal to fund their endeavor. And when the brand started to take off, they had to worry about reactions from competitors and city authorities. Nonetheless, they fostered a strong core following and soon took off among intrepid travelers looking to see the world like a local.

The key takeaway from Airbnb’s story is this: If you can’t get there first, breathe innovation into your product and approach when you finally do.

Strategy 3: Make Your Brand Stand Out

While Block Club doesn’t have a global reach like Airbnb does, there is a reason why we’re a branding and strategy agency that wants better. In an industry saturated with marketing, advertising, and graphic design firms, Block Club’s co-founders actively sought a way to set us apart. To start, they narrowed our scope and homed in on branding and strategy⁠—for a good reason.

During Block Club’s early days, social media was gaining prominence, and the landscape of traditional marketing was changing. Gone were the days of highlighting benefits and differences; marketing efforts were becoming more targeted. Through the noise, brands needed to speak to their consumers on a deeper level, which created a need for storytelling.

For our co-founders, Patrick and Brandon, embracing branding and strategy was a logical progression. Through creative, well-devised strategies, brands could easily captivate their audience. While other agencies continued with traditional advertising, Patrick and Brandon thought to lean into the changing landscape and position the company in a way that emphasized strategic storytelling.

But branding and strategy aren’t our only points of difference. As our tagline says, we want better. This idea drives every area of our business, from client work to the way we interact with the environment and our community. Whether we’re diving into a client’s mission to find the most effective way to tackle a project or we’re setting a new company vision, we’re always striving to improve. We firmly believe that you can do something great and still learn to do it better.

“Businesses aren’t supposed to talk about their scars or make mistakes,” Patrick said during an interview. “But when they do, it gives them something to improve upon.”

The Best Approach For Your Brand

So, how can your brand pull off these strategies? Remember these three rules: Make a move early whenever possible. Redefine the market through innovation. Make yourself stand out from the competition. By following these strategies, you’ll build a strong foundation for your brand.