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Why Your Company Should be Using a Fast Follower Innovation Strategy

The most successful innovators aren’t Disruptors, they’re fast followers. They closely monitor emerging user trends, leverage their customer ecosystem and build what customers are already adopting.
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Why Your Company Should be Using a Fast Follower Innovation Strategy

Why Your Company Should be Using a Fast Follower Strategy

“The most successful innovators aren’t Disruptors, they’re fast followers. They closely monitor emerging user trends, leverage their customer ecosystem and build what customers are already adopting.” – Sean Sheppard

We tend to hold an admiration for the innovator – brilliant forward thinkers who disrupt the status quo and introduce a wave of change. We envy the first movers, those who were able to come up with an innovative new idea and are on track for great success. Conventional wisdom will tell us that the winner is the visionary who was first to enter a new market. However, does the early bird always get the worm?

First Mover versus Fast Follower

Pioneering new territory is a risky game. Without market validation and no model to follow, success for first movers isn’t guaranteed. They must be focused and willing to invest a good amount of capital to launch an original idea with no guarantee of a successful outcome. The product may be misunderstood, or completely rejected, by the market. First movers can expect research and development to be extensive and costly as they take on unchartered markets and attempt to create new consumer bases. Mistakes will be inevitable, expensive, and as competition emerges, the company may find itself unable to adapt to the pace of the evolving market. The first-mover approach is a gamble for enterprises and startups alike.

In many cases, it is not the first mover who prospers, but the fast follower - those who can mimic the innovation of the first mover while learning from their mistakes and improving processes. When something new is brought to market, opportunistic companies can sit back, observe the highs and lows, and then utilize a fast follower strategy to emulate the successes and fill in the holes of the first mover’s plan. Global technology leader, Apple, has utilized a fast follower strategy for several of their products. Apple didn’t pioneer personal computers, mobile phones, connected timepieces, or tablets. However, the company undeniably leads the market with its products, such as the iMac, iPhone, iPad, and iWatch. Apple did this by waiting for the technology to come to market, observing the advantages and disadvantages, and then releasing a product that addressed the weaknesses.

How to become a Fast Follower

Fast followers, such as Apple, let the first movers warm up the market for them. The first mover has already done the heavy work by conducting research, testing various options, and educating the consumer base on the product or service. Becoming a successful fast follower means incorporating the following into your strategy:

  • Stay well-informed on your industry’s trends and monitor where the investments flow.
  • Observe the first movers and let them make the blunders and spend the R&D dollars for you. Learn from their mistakes and create a well-polished version of their product that satisfies consumer needs.
  • As a part of customer discovery, monitor social media engagement, and overall market reception, to new products being brought to market. Social media is one of the first places a frustrated consumer will go to complain about a brand that has upset them. This will give you an idea of how much “buzz” surrounds the product and what the common aggravations are for the current consumer.
  • If available, leverage your existing networks and markets. If you have warmed up a consumer base already, chances are they trust you and your products.
  • Don’t be a total copycat. Redefine the original by making a product that is better suited to consumer needs and has a clear differentiating factor that makes you stand out.
  • Invest in continuous systematic innovation. As a fast follower, the last thing you want is your company and its products to flatline. Investing in constant innovation and improvement for your product’s journey ensures the product will never fall flat or become unappealing to the market.

Being a fast follower comes with its share of considerations. You can guarantee if you are thinking of copying a company, others are already nipping at their heels. This makes speed to market a top priority in any fast-follower strategy. Fast followers need to be just that – fast. Differentiating factors are also an essential piece of a fast follower strategy. Coming in with a “me too” product or service doesn’t cut it when following a company to market. Fast followers should expect to differentiate themselves from the first mover, and other potential fast followers, by creating a product that is better in some way. When we look at Apple, they didn’t just release a copy of previous technology. They brought a superior product to market by adding their innovation that addressed issues with the original.

The bottom line is you don’t need to be disruptive to be successful. A successful business strategy will employ the fast-follower method. Conserve your resources, let the first movers go first, and tailor the roadmap to your company’s superior approach.

How U+ can help you to master the Fast Follower Strategy

The U+ Method can efficiently and effectively lead the development, implementation, and improvement of innovations in any sector. To date, we have used this method to bring 80+ products to market, creating over $1 billion in value for Fortune 1000 companies. Check out our success stories here.

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