Facebook, Microsoft: When Goliath fears David

What is that makes market leaders suddenly frightened of much smaller competitors? Is it something they know about their competitors? Or is it something they know about themselves?

It's a little like Jessica Biel worrying about Kathy Bates.

Or Tom Cruise sinking into his own personal twilight zone because Katie Holmes casually mentioned Robert Pattinson was cute.

What is it about large, apparently successful businesses that they suddenly get a slightly freaky fixation about a much smaller rival?

In just the last week or two, Facebook seems to have craned its neck so far over its shoulder at Twitter that it's performed a Linda Blair. Yet Twitter's numbers are a mere toenail when compared Facebook's massive footprint.

Similarly, Microsoft finally bared its feelings in TV advertising , using the slightly exuberant acting skills of Lauren the Laptop Lover to declare that Apple's products were expensive and that they preyed on the pathetic emotional need of humans to be cool. Again, Microsoft's share of its world dwarfs that of Apple.

Is the problem Microsoft and Facebook are dealing with, in full public view, commercial or psychological?

This painting, called "Twitter and Facebook", is in the Louvre. CC Brad Bechtel

Sometimes when you work for major companies, those who you imagine must love themselves dearly, you realize that they do, indeed, love themselves dearly.

But they still have the insecurities of the high-school quarterback. Will he make it in college? What about the NFL? You're nobody if you don't make it in the NFL. And will he ever, ever become, yes, the apogee of a sportsman's career, a lead analyst on Fox Sports?

Business never ends. Seasons stretch into infinity. The technology business, however, enjoys seasons that are sometimes brutally short. Change doesn't merely erode your market, but it can eradicate it almost overnight.

So the questions for Facebook and Microsoft are very simple: Do they know something about these smaller competitors? Or do they know something about themselves?

It's hard not to believe that what Apple and Twitter have done is get into their opponents' heads. Crucially, they've done it without appearing to try too hard.

Suddenly the bigger brands are divorced dads wearing Levi's, while the smaller brands are little Brad Pitts whose greatest problem consists in resisting the advances of a million Megan Fox's.

I have a feeling that if Facebook and Microsoft went to see a shrink, she (oh, like Tony Soprano, they'd definitely have a woman shrink) would stare at them above the rim of her glasses and say: "Here's a thought, sweetie. Let's talk about why you're good. Not why someone else is."

 

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