Saturday, July 7, 2007

To Bring Your Invention to Market, Know the Market and the Market Forces

There are so many great inventions out there in search of a market, addressing problems that people don't really care about. Disruptive innovation needs to solve the problems of real users, often in ways that the mainstream market ignored or couldn't directly address. Sometimes, inventions solve serious problems that users care about deeply, but which cannot be marketed effectively through existing market channels or because of regulatory or legal risks. For instance, products that enhance safety may be difficult to market to consumers by advertising the safety benefit if there is a risk that they will misuse the product and then sue.

An example of the barriers to success for safety innovations comes from Joe Figliuzzi's story of marketing a safe ladder (see US Patent 5,915,498 and 5,791,437). A large company was interested in his ladder (see US Patent, but by focusing on safety in his marketing approach, he set himself up for failure because he did not understand the market and regulatory forces for the ladder business. Had he taken a different marketing approach, his product might have found a home in a distribution channel by emphasizing some other feature, letting users see for themselves the obvious safety benefit. But touting improved safety for a new ladder will scare away the manufacturers who don't want to be sued and who don't want to suggest that their other ladders aren't safe as well.

The disruptive power of an innovation depends on how it is positioned in the marketplace. Positioning it poorly - almost guaranteed if you don't know the turf - can quickly kill and innovation, dooming its disruptive potential. It's not enough for an invention to be cool. To be disruptive, or even to just make a buck, it needs to be positioned for success in the marketplace, and that means you need to understand the needs and pressure felt by manufacturers, distributors, end users, and others. Know the market, find the positioning, and let your product disrupt.