Like most of my peers in the marketing industry, I get inventors and clever thinkers contacting me with something new they have developed.
Their stories are all the same. “We can’t get any of the big stores to stock it.” Or, “We can’t find anyone to make it.”
What they are finding out the hard way is that in business today, the big idea is the easy part. Getting the consumer to buy something takes a lot of marketing and multi-media exposure.
And the more unique the product, the more of this it needs. And the more unknown the brand name, the more marketing it needs. And marketing today costs a lot of money.
With the result that hundreds of thousands of great product ideas end up on the scrap heap or gathering dust in the inventor’s garage.
Just look at some that won internationally acclaimed awards. I don’t know about you, but I have not seen them around and can only come to the fairly confident conclusion that there just wasn’t any money left for marketing.
Take professor Joshua Silver’s self-adjusting spectacles for which he won the Edward de Bono medal for thinking. Now there’s something for you. A medal for thinking. Every schoolboy’s dream.
“Oil, Van Jaarsveld, what do you think you’re doing…?”
Anyway, Prof Silver’s invention is based on the premise that one fifth of the world’s population needs spectacles but don’t have them, mostly because they simply can’t afford t hem. The professor’s challenge was to come up with a pair of glasses that didn’t cost more than a few dollars and which almost anyone could put on and focus easily.
He came up with use-adaptive lenses that contained fluid-filled cells bounded by a thin elastic plastic membrane of optical quality. Changing the pressure of the fluid changes the power of the lenses. For the wearer, the process of adjusting the glasses is not very different to focusing a pair of binoculars.
The clue is in that line “… didn’t cost more than a few dollars”.
That’s the biggest mistake made in product development. The cost of a product is not the money it takes to make it. Included in that cost must be a proportionate cost of distribution, packaging, the price paid to retail chain stores for co-op advertising before they will stock anything, all other advertising, sales commissions etc. etc. etc. … all those elements of marketing that radically affect pricing.
And just as Prof Silver’s adjustable glasses would have been be a boon for Africa’s sight-impaired masses so would Jaron Lanier’s Critical Mass Communicator bring inexpensive, hassle free communications to our continent.
Jaron Lanier of New York was a pioneer in the field of Virtual Reality and, in fact, it was Lanier who coined the term.
His Critical Mass Communicator is a human powered, wireless, packet cellular communicator with speech recognition, synthesis and translation capabilities. Powered by a hand-crank, a CMC seeks out other CMCs being simultaneously cranked. Each device contains a store of encrypted, low power memory that holds a large number of packets waiting to find their way to recipients.
It looks like a bit like a telephone handset with a handle sticking out of the bottom. Watching someone using it would be like eavesdropping on a hirsute fellow frantically trying to shave the underside of his jaw with an electric razor.
The big lesson one generally learns from failed new products is that when marketing is missing so is success.
There are exceptions, but these are extremely rare.
Nine out of 10 brilliant, innovative and potentially earth-shattering ideas end up as failures because no thought was given to enough money to market them.
Chris Moerdyk (@chrismoerdyk) is a marketing analyst and advisor and owner of Moerdyk Marketing with many years of experience in marketing and the media as well as serving as non-executive director and chairman of companies.
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