© Robert Muir
The proverbial mousetrap can be used as a prime metaphor to explain marketing in simple terms and to recap where we are in the assessment process.
Building the better mousetrap is guaranteed to ensure that the world beats a path to the door, right? The features and benefits of the better mousetrap are supposed to create a demand in the market and a suitable distribution for the product. But what if there are no mice in the area, the competition is cheaper and more effective, the mousetrap needs a special bait that is unavailable, or the mousetrap needs a seal of approval?
Mice Not Included. All too often, innovations are developed by people with a technical bent and little previous business experience. Their innovations result in products that satisfy their own particular needs. It often fails to occur to them that their needs may be far different from the needs of the industry, the market, and the consumer at large.
The innovation process often needs to be reversed. Rather than developing a product first, our interest and welfare would be better served if we identified whether or not we have a problem to solve and what the nature and extent of that problem is. This approach would establish if indeed there are any mice in the area and whether the development of our mousetrap might be successful, for example:
Stalking The Competition. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. In most cases, we are johnny-come-latelys to the market with new products. Research the market thoroughly to identify how many competitors are out there and how strong they are in the market before committing to expensive R&D.
If BigCat, Inc., is firmly entrenched in the market, consider bowing out gracefully rather than risking a tooth and claw fight to unseat the locked-in competition. Of course, if the market is large enough, we might consider the Snapple "third largest" leverage positioning approach if our trap has cross-market from rural-to-urban rodents appeal. Even if we win a few battles, the hope of any reasonable market share is probably minimal. Study how BigCat is set up to distribute its product to determine whether we can tap into any new or hidden distribution channels. We should ask ourselves whether we can build enough margin into our trap to encourage sufficient market penetration in the early stages while providing a reasonable payback to cover R&D and overhead costs.
We also should ask ourselves if we can obtain any special market protection from patents and trade secrets. Is the design a "me-too" or a breakthrough? Will our customers discern the value of our trap in solving the mouse problem in their area?
Baiting The Trap. Perhaps we have developed a computer-controlled trap to catch mice. It seems that the mouse walks up to a high resolution video screen that randomly flashes pictures of Swiss cheese or another mouse before it zaps him. To further complicate matters, the computer and video screen system needs lots of expensive 4-megabyte RAM chips that are only available from Japan. Efforts to secure additional sourcing of the chips from Korea and Taiwan have been unsuccessful. Worse still, the current political administration is proposing trade restrictions. The lessondesign innovations with readily available components.
Eeking (!) Out An Endorsement. It seems that the majority of our customers are people who have serious problems when confronted by mice. It is obvious that our product is cheaper, more efficient, elegant, aesthetic, without disposal problems, but our customer wants to know if any organizations have endorsed our mousetrap. The customer is looking for the equivalent of a Good Mousekeeping Seal of Approval. Changing anyones philosophy is always a tough sell since those who would work in the future are viewed with suspicion by their peers in the present. Be prepared for the long haul to get the product to the marketplace. Consider taking on a paid proponent for the product in its formative stages when philosophy becomes a business partner.
Proceed with caution when finding mice and the niche that can justify the development of the better mousetrap. Once we have found our niche, we must prepare to defend it against all intruders.