Everyone Is A Leader In Following The Herd

23 February 2016
Justin Warren

Hands up if you’ve heard this one:
“Capupants Fitness, the leader in yoga pants for Capuchin monkeys with low blood sugar, announced today that…”

or possibly this one:

“Pobblebonk Enterprises, the leader in hyperbolic PR statements for ridiculously small market segments…”

See the pattern?

I’ve not sat down and tabulated the statistics (which is slack of me, and I’m going to start from today) but it feels like every press-release, media statement, and public announcement from companies today has to include a phrase based on this template: “Company X, a leader in Y” where Y is whatever narrowly defined area company X can at least plausibly be called a leader in.

Because the clear sign of being a leader is doing the same thing as everyone else, obviously.

I am honestly baffled by this phenomenon. It’s not as if this behavior is happening in private. It’s in your press-release! And everyone else’s! How can you be leading if everyone else also is?

Lazy Marketing

Everyone wants to be a leader for pretty obvious reasons. Why would people buy from someone who isn’t a leader?

Well, lots of people, as it turns out. Avis famously adopted the “We try harder” tagline because they were number 2 in market share, and the campaign was a resounding success. Some commentators have suggested that part of the departure from chest beating was because the campaign was invented by a woman–Paula Green–at a time when advertising was dominated by penis-havers who built campaigns based on “unflappable self-confidence.”

Sound familiar?

It’s possibly just a coincidence, but the technology industry is also dominated by men. Men who, it seems, desperately want everyone to think they’re leaders. And if that means making yourself a big fish in a small pond, so be it. Find the smallest pond available so the contrast is as stark as possible, seems to be the prevailing wisdom.

And yet the end result is that all these supposed leaders look the same.

No Differentiation

This constant quest to be ‘leading' in something–anything–eclipses any possible differentiator, and all companies end up looking the same. When everyone is special, no one is.

And when it comes to tech companies, the minor points of difference that are marked out for leadership are invariably transient: IOPS, cost per GB, nebulous TCO calculations based on highly tuned assumptions. If leadership is based on something so nebulous that it will change as soon as a competitor brings out a new product–something that happens constantly in a field as fast-moving and competitive as high-tech–then can it really be called leadership?

This focus on shibboleths like the word leader mistakes marketing tactics for marketing strategy. It causes companies to decry competitor offerings as unnecessary because it’s not something you currently sell (you don’t need all-flash, hybrid is fine) only to introduce that very offering and then have to disavow your own previous marketing (ok, we said before you don’t need all-flash, but only because all the others weren’t as good as our shiny new one).

This isn’t leadership. It’s flailing about because you have no over-arching strategy that guides product development or marketing efforts. How can you lead when you don’t know where you’re going?

It insults the intelligence of your potential customers, who are all too aware of the ridiculousness of what you’re doing. If you have to carefully define the market segment to make yourself look like a leader, the only thing you’re a leader in is deluding yourself.

And you’re not alone.


This article first appeared in here.