"Me too" is Not Innovation

by Linda Bernardi

Me Too is Not InnovationThis holiday season Amazon introduced its tablet, the Kindle Fire. It was seen as a major move for Amazon, a possible threat to Netflix and an attractively priced alternative to the iPad. The media gushed. Jeff Bezos did his best Steve Jobs impression.

It won’t mean a thing. A year from now, the iPad will still rule the tablet world. Since Apple introduced it, numerous companies have jumped into the market with their own tablet offerings. HP has one. Samsung has the Galaxy.  RIM came late to the party with its own sad tablet entry, the PlayBook. Lenovo has its IdeaPad. Motorola has the Xoom. Panasonic came out with the Viera. ViewSonic debuted the G Tablet. Have I missed any?

The market’s reaction to these tablets? A collective yawn followed by, “Cool. When is the iPad 3 coming out?” Not only is each tablet clearly a design clone of the iPad, but the media is already defining them as “iPad killers.” As I say in Provoke, if the market is already defining your brand in terms of your competitor, you’ve lost the war.

The iPad was not the first tablet, but Apple was the first company to get it right, and that’s what the market cares about. Their product was packed with innovations, and now consumers anticipate each new iPad like kids waiting for Santa at Christmas. Why? Because Apple doesn’t play it safe.  The company takes risks and believes in its visions.  It doesn’t focus group its ideas to death. It goes for it and doesn’t fear being ridiculed.  Where are the folks now who were calling the iPad an oversized iPod?

What I don’t understand is why so many other good companies think that they can hop on the “me too” bandwagon and be seen as innovative. Do they think for one second that their customers see such moves as anything but desperate? You can see some freaked-out CEO shouting into his phone, “Jenkins, Apple has a tablet! We need one, too! Get me Engineering!”

It never works, because these companies are not innovating.  They’re making bad copies. Example: In the PC world, we’ve seen many players try to mimic what Dell did so brilliantly. Dell’s innovations in inventory management, custom PC development and customer support made the company a legend. Michael Dell’s departure has cost the company in terms of the will to innovate, and time will tell whether that disruptive spirit remains. But so far, no one has stepped up to out-innovate Dell in that space.

Unless your new offerings in an established space introduce startlingly new and creative ideas that advance the product category, you’ll be seen as a me-too. With Amazon, which already disrupted and changed online retailing, distribution and then cloud infrastructure, I would have said, “Why bother with an iPad clone? Why not take the Kindle in a completely different direction?”Amazon’s ability to disrupt is massive, and Bezos’s ability to execute is exceptional, so why go after the tablet? What is the plan?

Me-too strategies, either done organically or by acquisition, no longer impress consumers. We are too savvy. If you want to own your market, you need to think originally, take risks and disrupt, and delight the market!

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Women in a Culture of DisruptionLinda Bernardi is a Technology Strategist, Investor, and Founder & CEO at StraTerra Partners, The Bernardi Leadership Institute and a Strategic Advisor at Cloudant Inc.  She is also the Author of Provoke, Why the Global Culture of Disruption is the Only Hope for Innovation. For more information: www.lindabernardi.com

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  1. I have to say that I agree with what you say. Well, most of it.

    I would say that Amazon is the only player that can try to compete with an ecosystem like the one Apple has. They have the content, and they started from there with their traditional Kindle device(s).

    I personally think that having a more open platform may allow them to move in different directions from the path they followed with Kindle right now. They should definitely have a plan behind that (I hope, otherwise you will be right with your conclusions)

    That said it is true that doing that they can run in the “me too” syndrome that I have been into so many times in my past work life. Actually it is something we always try to push back when asked for from our clients.

    I agree with the fact that Amazon could have taken a completely different direction.

    What do you that could have been?

    • Amazon is playing and innovating successfully in many arenas and in fact let’s remember that the Kindle was out way before as a ‘reading tablet’ than the iPad. I am impressed by Amazon and the many directions that the company succeeds in. However, the tablet me too weak strategy of the other players like RIM, is pretty sad. It is distracting, shows the market that they are desperate and seriously, who is going to abandon their iPad for a RIM tablet. ‘Me too ‘ is a sad strategy for any company as it reflects lack of innovation, big time

  2. The ‘me-too’ strategy these iPad challengers resort usually looks like a mis-guided ‘2nd mover advantage’ strategy.

    They probably think that by getting to market they’ll manage to capture some residual customer niche (e.g. folks who cannot afford an iPad or early-adoptors looking for the next cool thing).

    Q: The big stumbling block?
    A: Their timing.

    2nd mover advantage & me-too strategies tend to work well if applied *rapidly* after the 1st product was launched. They nab a chunk of the market while customers & the media are still in a choice flux.

    As you say, the media have settled on the iPad now (“Cool. When is the iPad 3 coming out?”) so the opportunity has passed.

    • Agreed Rod. Timing and also market perception. When a company adopts a ‘me too’ strategy, how is the market perceiving them? Innovative or desperate. Apple I believe has given rise to more companies wanting to copy the iPhone and iPad strategy than anything we have seen in history of technology. If we analyze the weak competitors, we will see that the ‘me too’ strategy does not increase market share or the perception of the market about the company in question… just raises a lot of flags. Did we stop using Google for search because Microsoft introduced Bing? Did we stop using ie when Google introduced Chrome? Seriously, why not innovate and increase our innovation portfolio rather than poach who is out there!’

  3. Very good article, Linda.

    The other important factor is fashion. The iPad is super-cool. The Kindle Fire apart (which I think will succeed for a variety of reasons, and is innovative), the rest of them have as much cool as a cardigan-clad Grandad. There is no product, price or performance advantage either. It’s money down the tubes.

  4. You did miss one, the Asus Transformer, the best selling Android tablet. Hardly a me too.

  5. Right! The innovation it’s a situation when the market delighted and surprised.

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