Once a month I teach a long class. It’s a three day class on Optimal Product Management. It’s a lot of material on product management and product marketing. The topics are most interesting when you use exaggerated examples to illustrate a point. So, I spend my time looking for real world examples of good and, especially, bad product and marketing examples. I comb through discount stores, the last home of unsold electronics devices. And I read catalogs and review sites of ‘weird products.’ I take pictures of ads in airports and almost hit a pickup truck one day taking a picture of the slogan printed on the back. I am dedicated to my craft.
So, when the slide discussing ‘Inventions’ vs. ‘Innovations’ appears on the projector, I’m ready. The idea is that you can create a product which is an invention, but it is not really useful – or useful enough. In more formal marketing speak: there is no market for the invented product. My recent example has been the Self Stirring Mug. Yes, it’s an invention, but would you buy it? Would you want to clean it? Did the expenditure on batteries outweigh the tough task of stirring your own coffee with a spoon? How does it work anyway?
Of course, in one class, people not only knew of the product, but someone had one! I couldn’t believe that someone had actually paid for it. And thought it was useful. All my carefully gained experience in what constitutes a valuable product would be washed away with this one satisfied customer.
Then he clarified. Yes, he had one. He’d been given one at a trade show as a gift. And it was so unusual that it was still in its box on his office shelf. He’d never even used it.
Whew! I hadn’t lost my touch.
The lesson is still there. With many inventions, they solve a problem. Unfortunately, it’s a trivial problem. And no one values the solution enough to buy the invention – or more precisely, not enough people values the solution to pay for it.
And yet, and yet – these lost products can find a home in low volume distribution channels. Just as Segways are used for city tours and the Self Stirring Mug found a home in giveaway merchandising. However, even these distribution homes can’t paper over the cracks on the value proposition for a Self Stirring Mug. I’ve just spent the last half hour trying to see if I can buy it with a company logo, and sadly, the product seems to be discontinued.
What is your favorite invention that you can’t see a need for? I’d love to add to my collection.