It seemed inevitable. Google Music's late arrival into the online music marketplace immediately sparked headlines comparing it to its' biggest competitors: "Can Google Music unseat Apple's iTunes, Spotify?;" "Cloud Music Showdown: Amazon vs. Apple vs. Google;" and "Google, iTunes Turn up the Volume."
Why does this matter to you? Because even if you're Google, when your product is late to the game, you're going to have to fight for the spotlight. While the jury is still out on whether Google Music is a stand-out, it's a good time for small business owners to look at just how to surface their new products in an already crowded market.
Here, experts reveal key lessons from Google Music's launch and how to ensure your next launch gets its share of the spotlight.
Focus on user experience. Since the product will be similar to others, user experience counts ten-fold. It's a phenomenon not limited to tech companies—whether you're hawking a Polo shirt or plate of sashimi, the way your customer feels about and interacts with your product could be the difference in success and flat-out failure.
"Think about the first iPhone. When it came out, it certainly was competing in a cell phone market where consumers were pretty comfortable with the status quo," says Hamilton Wallace, an Arizona marketing consultant. "But the user experience was so ground-breaking, it really pushed it way passed a lot of the other guys. This is a good lesson in the importance of user experience."
Where can you start? He suggests doing a full analysis of your competitors' customers before launch. Find out what your product can provide those customers that they aren't already getting.
Scott Stratten, consultant and president of consulting firm UnMarketing, which is based in Ontario, Canada, agrees. "Remember, you can't outspend the bigger guys, but you can out-awesome them," he says.
Don't lose control of the conversation. "If there are already similar products out there, decide where your product will fit before you launch," says Wallace.
Why? Because it's human nature to categorize, he says, and you shouldn't fight it.
"If you don't tell your customers how to think about your product, what to compare it to, the press and critics will do that for you," he says. "That's a sure way to lose prominence in the market."
The good news is, while a large company like Google has a hard time controlling the chatter around their new product, a smaller company can decide this early on, and market accordingly.
Be a humble competitor. "There isn't much value in going negative on your competitors," says Wallace. "You should simply focus on what makes your product unique."
Stratten warns: "Taking shots at your biggest competitors might not be the best way into a market, because they might swing back. Then you'll just look like a jackass and no one will care about your product."
Wallace, however, adds that this doesn't mean you shouldn't be aggressive about marketing or responding to critics.
"You should most definitely respond to critics, just as you would respond to advocates," he says. "Just keep the focus positive. Bashing your competitors just makes them a part of your conversation. They don't need to be."
Don't underestimate the power of innovation. Some critics of Google Music point out that its entrance into the music marketplace isn't about innovating an already existing service; rather, they say, it's simply about making money.
Eric Clemons, a Wharton School management professor who has studied Google, suggests that small businesses shouldn't think that they can enter a crowded market without out-innovating the other guys.
"Google has the luxury of owning their own platform and having billions in the bank. They didn't necessarily have to come up with a more innovative product. Make no mistake, that isn't the case with small companies," he says.