MARKETING: A Chevy or Mercedes?

Column by Susan Grattino

By Susan Grattino
Posted

Your development team has been working non-stop getting a new product ready. Engineering has researched, tested and added all the bells and whistles they could think of. The launch deadline met, everyone breathed a sigh of relief. Early customer reviews, however, are lukewarm at best and the product has been languishing on the shelves. The sales teams have mandates and incentives in place to meet sales goals, but that's still not helping move product. It's finally time to call on marketing for some help. Customers just aren't "getting" how great this product really is.

Does this situation sound familiar?

As an experienced marketer in the high tech world, I've come across this situation all too often. In fact, this is more common with technology and engineering companies than one might think. The engineers and technical gurus have been working diligently in the lab, living in a world that most lay-people don't understand. They may have worked hard to solve a particular problem, or sometimes stumbled upon a revolutionary new development, product or gadget. Their excitement for their findings gets their bosses excited, and management excited, and before anyone knows it, the product is in full blown production. The technology is so great it can sell itself, right?

Take a look at Louis Pasteur. Did he conduct a focus group to ask anyone how they liked their milk? I doubt it. Did Benjamin Franklin conduct any market surveys around the populations' use of electricity before he risked his life with lightning and kites? I'm not so sure he did. To bring our examples to a more recent time, let's talk Post-it® Notes. Post-it® Notes from 3M Corporation are another great example of an unplanned product. Everyone knows them. Everyone uses them. And today, they are one of the most popular office products available.

It might sound like I'm advocating for companies to take chances, let their imagination go and develop cool technologies and products and "market-be-damned, we'll find someone to buy it later!" I'm not implying that at all. In fact, I just wanted to point out some exceptions early.

Several years ago, I worked with a technology company (descriptions are purposely vague) that had a device that was seemingly head and shoulders above the competition, offering more data space, faster retrieval speeds and a smaller physical footprint. The sales team was calling on their current customer base trying to get the product through the door. They gave the usual spiel, presenting "feeds and speeds" and product functionality -- a very typical technology message. The trouble was the current customers could not see the need for all that functionality. They were perfectly happy with the older, slower products, and their business didn't require anything faster or quite so state-of-the-art. The technologists had worked hard; the product was terrific, possibly ahead of its time. And sadly, they had developed a product that no one wanted.

This story does have a happy ending. With my client, we stepped back, did some market research, began to understand what the current customer base needed, and expanded the company's target customer to include businesses that needed this type of product. We also updated the messaging, included benefits that the customer would understand, financially and operationally, and key "why to buy" statements to help get our point across. We were able to help the sales team move product, and their sales numbers began to increase. However, without stepping back to understand that the current customer didn't want new bells and whistles, and finding a new target customer who did, it might not have happened.

A new invention or updates to an old product often serve to solve a problem or fill a common need. Sometimes they are a brainchild of some very smart people, sometimes they are a combination of luck and timing. "Did you ever observe to whom the accidents happen? Chance favors only the prepared mind" -- Louis Pasteur

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