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In Emerging Tech Markets, 'Get Real' by Talking About the Competition
April 8, 2008
USC Marshall Study in the American Sociological Review Finds Tying a
New Product to Others Is Key to Development of New and Emerging
Los Angeles -- Innovators trying to establish new markets would be wise to try to attract
attention by publicizing not only themselves, but also the competition, according to a new
sociological study by a faculty member at the USC Marshall School of Business.
Mark Thomas Kennedy, assistant professor of Management and Organizations at USC,
used breakthrough research methods to reduce tens of thousands of pages of media
coverage into "mental maps" of technology market competitors.
His conclusion challenges the conventional wisdom that has marketers focusing
exclusively on what makes their product unique. His research shows that, when trying to
create new markets, firms that dare to publicly mention their competitors in their public
positioning actually do better for it.
"From business schools and marketing consultants, entrepreneurs are mostly taught that
talking about the competition is a dangerous no-no," says Kennedy. "But in the early
stages of new markets, talking just about yourself is even more dangerous. In fact, it
actually hurts innovators' chances of success by increasing the odds they'll be overlooked
or ignored as 'lone voices.' We know that there is strength in numbers, but what we
haven't known is how firms get 'counted' in the media."
Kennedy's study, published in an article in the April 2008 issue of the American
Sociological Review, answers that question by showing how the media helps to make
new markets real. Titled "Getting Counted: Markets, Media and Reality," the article
tackles one of the key challenges innovators face -- just getting counted enough for the
world to take their new ideas seriously.
Building on groundbreaking scholarship from Columbia University's Harrison White and
New York University's Joseph Porac, Kennedy's study extends the new school of thought
about markets, which characterizes markets as networks that capture shared views about
how to compare and categorize competing producers.
As these networks form, Kennedy says, they have an intimate connection to the media,
because journalists serve as the public's principal intermediaries in society's collective
conversations about whether new products are "real" enough to be categories unto
"In new markets, the study shows that associating your product with a rival or two helps
to put new markets on the map in the minds of journalists and the audiences who read
what they write," says Kennedy.
Kennedy's data set included a comprehensive collection of media coverage about one of
the hottest technology markets from the 1980s: the market for computer workstations.
Covering the period from 1980 to 1990, his statistical analyses accounted for factors such
as the timing of market entry, company size, previous media coverage and a proxy for the
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Newsroom: News Release Detail 10/8/08 11:26 AM
quality of competitors' products.
Acknowledging that the media and PR worlds have seen significant changes with the
advent of the Internet, Kennedy says that credibility has not gone out of style, and
audiences still weigh stories and predictions about important market "trends."
He cites recent creation of markets for digital cameras, GPS-based navigation systems
and "crossover" automobiles as examples of consumer demand being boosted by media
coverage that helped audiences to see emerging producer communities as evidence that
these markets are for real.
"You have to dignify the competition to create the market -- otherwise you are distinct, but
irrelevant," Kennedy says. "If you can be first in the market along with others, co-creating
something new, you can get much more attention than by trying to go it alone."
For a copy of the study or for more information, contact Jackie Cooper at
firstname.lastname@example.org or (202) 247-9871.
About the American Sociological Association
The American Sociological Association, founded in 1905, is a nonprofit membership
association dedicated to serving sociologists in their work, advancing sociology as a
science and profession, and promoting the contributions and use of sociology to society.
The American Sociological Review is the flagship journal of the American Sociological
About the USC Marshall School of Business
Based in Los Angeles at the University of Southern California, at the crossroads of the
Pacific Rim, the USC Marshall School is the best place to learn the art and science of
business. The school's programs serve nearly 5,000 undergraduate, graduate,
professional and executive-education students, who attend classes in facilities at the
main Los Angeles campus, as well as satellite facilities in Irvine and San Diego. USC
Marshall also operates a Global M.B.A. program in conjunction with Jiao Tung University
in Shanghai, China.
Contact: James Grant at (213) 740-6156 or email@example.com
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