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The Politics of Potatoes

How much unrealized profit do you have sitting on the shelf? If only you could get past the politics...

Assuming you have a product that has become a shelf potato and it looks like you can bring it alive, how do you get past the politics?

One general theme affects politics of potatoes: perspectives about money. On the one hand, companies easily minimize development costs when they are excited about a new product. Meanwhile, the marketing costs required to redeem a shelf potato flash onto everyone’s radar screen. So overall, your biggest challenge is shifting the corporate eye from the fresh, new thing to the reality of finding the highest returns for the lowest investment.

And now, more thoughts about the politics…

1. Know that anti-potato politics work against the corporation’s best financial interest. That means you have a strong position – by staying focused on the money. If a spud can be redeemed, you monetize a past investment in product development. And that can be done for dramatically less money than creating a new product.

2. Watch the politics within marketing. Sadly, politics is a fundamentally human tendancy and disruptive politics can even drive small organizations. So be ready. Be patient. But don’t back down from your fundamental truth: If you’re right and the potato comes alive, it’s a massive financial win for the company at lower risk than any new products.

3. Know that politics aren’t just the one’s in marketing. For example, finance teams are often paid to be conservative – to challenge assumptions. I don’t resent this kind of pressure. Since you can discuss potatoes with firmer financial reasoning, you can win over the finance team if it’s a solid proposition. And if its not a great proposition, then you’ve built credibility with the finance team by engaging in reasonable discussion.

4. Retailer politics are often most critical. Once a product has been on the shelf and failed to move, it’s hard to regain trust. Your ability to make it past these politics is a matter of trust and your history with the retailer. It’s also helped if the retailer has experience with similar challenges in the past. (BUT, this is also why its so critical to succeed out the door.)

Most new product action leaves little memory in the consumer mind - unless a product succeeds.

5. With consumers, you have the least problems. You might wonder, won’t consumers have a bad taste? Not in my experience. Most Shelf Potato stumblings have all been in your company and the channel – below consumer radar. Even in the case of what we’d all consider a massive high-profile failure like Microsoft’s Kin, mass consumer perception isn’t likely to have turned against the product. Mass attitudes take years to build. So even though negatives generally build quicker than positives, consumers are the least of your worries.

6. “But Brand X tried this product, too, and theirs failed”. I’m fascinated by this type of discussion because it shows the danger of perspective within an industry. Major releases from competitors can easily dominate our view of the business. But we must remember that a failure that appears large in our minds probably didn’t even reserve a flea-sized spot in consumer minds. It’s possible that your failure and your competitors failure are critical red flags. But I’ve found it much more likely that both companies failed to execute well enough for the product to succeed – most often by failing to invest in the consumer communication required to make the product thrive.

If the politics in your operation are thick, you might wonder whether the potato has come out of the ground and into the french fryer. But, don’t let this stop you unless it’s a fundamentally un-redeemable situation.

After all, your product’s potential may be massive. George Foreman style grills sat on shelves for decades before launching into the retail stratosphere. Your company might might have a similar gold mine already sitting on the shelf.

Copyright 2010 – Doug Garnett

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