I read in this morning’s FT that the Zune is to be taken off the market. You know, the Zune. What do you mean, you’ve never heard of it?

Actually, I’m not totally surprised the Zune may have passed you by, but it is/was Microsoft’s response to Apple’s iTunes and iPod. The problem with the Zune is that it tried too hard to be like iTunes, but just wasn’t as good and was launched five years too late.

You cannot win as a business if you are not fast and not differentiated, and the Zune was neither. I keep seeing the same pattern in different markets. An innovative leader creates a new market, one or two fast followers manage to take a piece of the action and then a whole range of me-too players try – and generally fail – to pick up some scraps.

Low-fare airlines, coffee shop chains, smoothies, and budget hotels all follow this pattern. The conclusions are clear: be first, be fast or do something completely different.

A much better rival for iTunes is Spotify, because Spotify has a different offer for customers – instead of buying tracks, you subscribe to the system and then listen to the tracks you want (a little like having your own radio station).

Spotify may or may not succeed in the long-term but it has a chance because it has a point of difference. Unlike Zune, Spotify is willing to play its own tune.

© Stuart Cross 2011. All rights reserved.