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Leading the Competition? Be Careful

Those at the top are targets for competitors, media and industry-watchers, but it's important to maintain focus on what's truly important.
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When one of the world's most influential companies has its largest event of the year, it's a pretty big deal. The launch of the Apple iPhone 5 drew the usual excitement from passionate fans, media outlets and Wall Street watchers. It also reiterated Apple's leadership role within the smartphone market, sharpening the target for others.

In just three days, Apple sold more than 5 million smartphones. Despite missing the mark for Wall Street, the iPhone 5 launch smashed the previous record held by the iPhone 4S--which sold 4 million units in its first weekend.

This launch is a big deal for OtterBox. We know when an Apple device launches we'll see a huge increase in Web visits, online sales and retail traffic. We need to have our retailer partners prepared to start selling as soon as possible. There is a lot of planning, forecasting and anticipation leading up to launch, and lots of hard work to keep up with demand afterwards--not to mention a bit of celebration for our own broken records.

Apple is still the leader in innovation and smartphone sales. Being in a lead position is a great place to be, but it also means that you're every move is shadowed. Just like the lead runner in a distance race, Apple has set the pace and everyone else is calculating how and when to pass.

At OtterBox, we' found ourselves in a similar position. We are the No. 1-selling case for smartphones, according to data from NPD Group/Retail Tracking Service. We've earned this position through more than a decade of listening to our customers and innovating, but it's not something we take for granted. We know there are others that will gladly take our place.

For Apple, competitors are in hot pursuit--most notably, Samsung. The Samsung Galaxy S III didn't enter into the market early this summer with the same fanfare as the iPhone 5, but the device did go on to sell 10 million units in just one month and 20 million in three months. Industry analysts indicated that September was the first month since the launch of the iPhone 4S that Apple did not dominate the U.S. market as the top-selling smartphone--an honor that Samsung wrestled away.

Samsung has leveraged the iPhone 5 hype into clever and biting commercial: "The Next Big Thing is Already Here" that mocks the Apple hysteria. It's a bit reminiscent of Apple's dig at Microsoft with the "I'm a Mac" campaign, which was answered by Microsoft's own "I'm a PC."

This type of marketing is fun for the observers but can be detrimental to the companies involved, especially when it is a manifestation of what is occurring within the company. When you're focused on your competition, you're not focused on the right thing--your customer.

Being a leader can be a distraction. While you need to be aware of your industry surroundings, decisions made due to competitive fervor are ones usually made passionately. The grounded decisions that truly make a difference will be the ones made for your customers.

Last updated: Oct 3, 2012

CURT RICHARDSON | Columnist | Founder and CEO of OtterBox

OtterBox founder and CEO Curt Richardson created the first prototype of a waterproof case in his garage in the early '90s. OtterBox evolved into a leader in protective cases for mobile technology.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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