Wade Sun, inventor of the Disc Eraser™, a top 30 finalist on the American Inventor TV show and a relatively new father (congradulations Wade), has written an article for us sharing the wealth of knowledge he's accumulated while bringing his product to market.
Here's part 2 of a 3 part series on Bringing Your Product to Market - Selling on the Internet.
Part 2: Marketing and Sales
Unlike inventing, marketing is not an exact science. If you have followed my previous inventor’s article, the “13 Rules of Invention Success ”, you will greatly increase your chances in developing a great product. Using my product as a first-hand example, I have shared how to go from an idea, patenting, prototyping, and manufacturing in those articles. But exactly HOW do you sell a great product? This time, for marketing, I am not going to give you any specific rules because there are none.
You must have an open mind, don’t assume anything, and have the patience to test everything. If you don’t enjoy learning new things, don’t venture. If you are not the “get-up-and-do-it-yourself” motivated individual, don’t venture. If you don’t feel comfortable taking risks, or have problems persevering or following through on long projects, don’t venture. If you get easily discouraged when results are not immediate, don’t venture. You’re going to be building a business, which takes time and hard work.
Perhaps by reading this series of articles, you will realize whether venturing your product as an entrepreneur is right for you because it is a big investment of your time and quite possibly your money. I will generalize and share what I have learned in bringing the Compact Disc Eraser to market, particularly to the on-line market. Marketing is difficult for beginners because you must understand the minds of consumers, which is based on trends and factors. Market research must be continually tuned to make sure your ad message is effective and remains relative.
Figure Out Your Business Plan:
Marketing can easily cost you more money than patenting and developing your product, and if your message isn’t correct, you could end up wasting it all. Writing a detailed business plan is very important, it will help keep you on track and focused. Mine turned out to be nearly 40 pages, with the help of my marketing team. The most cost effective and interesting way is to ask your local university about their MBA business and marketing classes, get in touch with the professors, and offer your product as a marketing project to students. Working together with them is a win – win situation. They get a real product for their class project, and you get research information from the team. You will also get fresh marketing ideas and marketing angles from the students, who are more creative and free-thinking than older, established marketing professionals. If you decide to write a business plan yourself, be sure to ask for help if you need it.
Having a business plan can assist you to get investors and funds, if you decide to partner up with investors. Personally, I have not looked into this because (1) my product is relatively inexpensive to produce, and (2) I’ve spent my time focused on marketing and research rather than on finding investors and trying to get money from them, and all the busy-ness of raising money, which takes a lot of energy, paperwork, and increased financial pressure. You will be busy enough as is when you self-venture your product.
Remember, your time is limited, and time to market is essential, so focus on quick and smart ways to advance your product to market. Get someone else to look for investors and funds. Look at it this way: you may raise enough money to hire professional marketers to come up with a marketing plan, but that is very expensive and they do not know your product as well as you do. Many take a “sell to everyone” approach and will try to market your product to the general population, which is great if you have a universally needed product. But most likely, you probably have a niche product that only a specific target market will need to buy and use, in my case, the Compact Disc Eraser, a data security device used to wipe out data on CD-Rs and DVDRs.
Figure Out Your Niche:
Sure, inventors dream that everyone can use their product, but the truth is, only those who NEED it will buy it. I found this out through surveys and online forums and blogging. Therefore, niche marketing is the fastest, most efficient way to enter the market. Hiring marketers and sales will likely to take more time since they are tied up in other projects. They are not very technical people, they just want to talk and sell, so they may not take the time to understand your product entirely. This can be very detrimental, to market a product without fully understanding it. In terms of cost, you will have to invest even more money to implement their marketing plan, which may not properly target your market, or position your product correctly. Do you want to spend all that money before you even try selling a single unit of your product on your own? Definitely not. If you do want to hire a sales or marketing force, then you’d better make sure your product will be properly marketed and positioned correctly. And who better to figure out these key points than the inventor himself?
There is a saying, which is only half-true: you need to spend money to make money. When starting to market, you may think that spending more money on ads or placing them in more places will bring you more sales, but it doesn’t. Most likely, all it achieves is untargeted delivery to the general population, which is already bombarded by advertisement of all kinds, and your ad gets lost in the shuffle. The smart way is to find your niche: research how and where your target buyers shop, then spend as little as possible to reach them, and have a higher response conversion rate from your ads. By doing the marketing and research yourself, you will achieve faster sales, and advertising won’t be as expensive because it is focused within a niche - people who need your product. You don’t want to dig yourself into a financial hole, especially in the beginning, so I suggest coming up with marketing strategies and implementing them yourself. The internet contains a wealth of information, so use it for market research as well.
Test Market Your Product:
You’ll need to assess and test market your product. Just because people think it’s a great product doesn’t mean they would buy it. Even if they said they would buy it, they don’t always mean it. You need to get people to actually pay you money for the product – a concrete test. You may set up focus groups to get feedback, but I don’t believe in focus groups because they consist of the general population. In terms of advertising, you need to first reach your niche market, because general advertising is more expensive and less successful than niche marketing.
One quick and free way to assess the market for your product is to get people to fill out surveys. Keep it short and ask only important questions regarding your product and your buyer’s demographics. A great on-line survey that I have used is SurveyMonkey.com. You can take my survey at the bottom of my DiscEraser.com homepage to get an idea of which types of questions to ask. Set up your product survey, the first 10 questions are free, then email the link out to friends to fill out, or if you have a website, post a link to it. Later on, you can continue to use the survey to keep track of market trends, and fine-tune the questions to get feedback.
Sell Your Product the Right Way:
For quick and direct selling, try small ads, PR, and selling on the internet (online sales have the most explosive growth trends in the last 5 years). For stores, you may try to offer some consignment samples in small, independently owned local stores. Don’t try getting it into the big retail chain stores, because the store manager has no authority to add new products. There is a long corporate process to go through, and you are probably not ready yet at this point, there are certain necessities such as product liability insurance and manufacturing and delivery capabilities that are required.
Don’t rush, you only get one chance to make a good impression to get into these big retail chains, and the day will come when you are finally ready for mass production & distribution, and armed with a great sales history. For starters, take advantage of the internet, learn how to sell your product on the web. eBay and Amazon.com are quick and cheap ways to test market your item to targeted buyers; you should pay particular attention to your competitors and similar products, and list your product alongside of them to see customer reactions. Run different ad messages to find the marketing angle that brings the most responses. Also test different price points within a reasonable range, you’d be surprised at the results.
Use both auctions and Buy-It-Now to see what works. eBay ads can be set to run from 1 to 7 days, and you should include a counter to gauge the click-through rate of each ad. Listing in the proper category is good, you need to have good keywords in the title because eBay searches mainly on the title of your ad. How do your competitors advertise? What is their message and theme? Be sure to differentiate why your product is better than the competitors…is it more convenient? Safer? Faster? Better value? Focus on benefits of your product, not on the product features themselves. Be sure to always get feedback from your customers for continued improvement. If you order my Disc Eraser product, you will receive a confirmation email that also facilitates customer feedback. You must listen to the customer.
Read Part I: Bringing Your Product to Market - Manufacturing and Production (Part I)
Read Part III: Bringing Your Product to Market - Selling on the Internet - Part III