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Consumer Solar Needs a Steve Jobs to Make it Fly Off the Shelf.

February 7, 2013 6 comments

I love solar energy. And it’s encouraging that tremendous advances in technology have driven panel costs down while delivering more energy from smaller packages.

Yet, despite major investement in solar, the past 4 years have been more difficult for the solar energy industry than I’d expect – high profile bankruptcies, accusation of product dumping by Chinese manufacturers, and a Republican lust to create a scandal from these failures. And, from what I can see, the consumer solar applications just aren’t moving like they should.

There is a tendency with emerging markets to suggest the problems are technological. But I disagree – at least in the standard way we think about technology. Right now, it looks like core technology advancement has outpaced solar demand – driven by innovations in savvy & low cost manufacture as well as increasing energy output. That suggests the problems are more subtle. Read more…

Latest TiVO Results Illustrate the Impact of Communication Failure

June 1, 2012 1 comment

TiVO never told potential consumers their value so far too many boxes sat on retail shelves.

The latest TiVO results are out: huge jump in revenue while still managing to lose $21M on net revenue of only $68M. (Link here.)

TiVO finances offer a superb example of how early communication failure dooms a new product. Remember, you rarely get a decent second chance. And even if you do, your stumble at the beginning may open the door for rivals to muddy the waters.

And that’s where their failure started. TiVO’s first communication was based around the concept of “pause and rewind live TV” and similar VCR related ideas. As a proud TiVO owner, those ideas are miles away from the real reasons we love our TiVO’s – it reflects a minuscule part of why TiVO matters. Even worse, in advertising it sounds, frankly, quite silly and unimportant. It created a strong fear of meaningless gadgetry rather than a useful perception about the value the TiVO delivers. Read more…

Impact Driver or Impact Wrench? Confused Names Keep Products on the Shelf

November 8, 2010 1 comment

End-user confusion about drills and drivers is rampant – although the model in this stock photo looks more bored than confused.

There are many ways that companies conspire to keep their products sitting lazily on the shelf (safe from consumer purchase). One critical mistake is with naming.

Consider an example from the realm of the home store where tool makers have created a wilderness of product, category and project names that stand in the way of revenue and market share growth.

No tool category is more confused than drills and drivers. And over the past few years manufacturers have added to the confusion with the impact driver. The impact driver is a superb, compact tool that use small bursts of torque to deliver turning power around the screw, bolt or nut. Read more…

Key to New Product Success: Avoid “Death by Brand Advertising”

October 1, 2010 3 comments

Brand Advertising is Often the Wrong Choice for New Products

When you have a new product, the first order of business is getting consumers to love the product – love it so much they buy it.

Unfortunately, the ad/creative business is obsessed with brand advertising. And, sadly, choosing brand advertising for new products is a leading cause of Shelf Potato-dom. (With the term “brand advertising”, I refer to advertising that spends the bulk of time and energy building brand connections – often by saying either “this brand understand you” or “our brand’s cool will rub off on you if you buy our products”.) Read more…

The Politics of Potatoes

August 17, 2010 Leave a comment

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. Read more…

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Avoid Shelf Potatoes: Do It Right the First Time

August 16, 2010 Leave a comment

Avoid Shelf Potatoes by succeeding the first time. This is critical both with retailers and inside your company. Consumers are more forgiving.

A shelf potato has failed in its first attempt to make a first impression. And that means that corporate and retailer politics may be stacked against efforts to make them come alive.

So, the most important Shelf Potato lesson is that AVOIDING them in the first place is your best way to success.

How can products avoid becoming potatoes? Learn from the lessons here. Know when you need communication to drive a product and either supply that communication or don’t proceed with introduction. Use research (and honest introspection) to detect problems ahead of time. Negotiate carefully with retailers to ensure the right placement. And, avoid putting a product at mass retail before you’re ready. Quite often, retail merchandisers will love a product but not be the best judges of the challenges it will face on the shelf. Read more…

Even Cars Can Be Shelf Potatoes. Consider Volkswagon’s Eurovan

July 28, 2010 4 comments

Eurovan vacation in Eastern Washington

Two and a half years ago I purchased my 2001 Eurovan (Weekender) – a pop top camper that carries 7, sleeps four, hauls 4′ by 8′ sheets of plywood inside, and lets our kids play across a table on road trips. Even better, VW finally upgraded to a strong motor so that the van powers it’s way over mountain passes.

The Eurovan excites passion among those who own them or would like to own them. We Eurovan owners wave to each other on the road and stop to talk in the parking lot. I’ve even had an owner leave me a note asking me to help him find a roof rack setup like the one on ours. BUT, in 2003 VW cancelled the product in the US.

And that leads us to today’s installment of ShelfPotato Diaries. Why did a car that excites this passion eventually fail? It seems their rationale for cancellation included two primary reasons: Read more…

Eight (8) Reasons Products Sit on the Retail Shelf

July 21, 2010 2 comments

Grills like this were on the shelf for nearly 20 years before communication made a breakthrough

Grills nearly identical to George Foreman’s lingered on store shelves for nearly 20 years. Then, the Foreman infomercial blew the doors off driving over $100M in sales in two years. And we learned that while the Grill delivered tremendous value to consumers, no one had known of those benefits or believed it would deliver them.

Not all Shelf Potatoes have potential like the Foreman Grill. Some sit on the shelf because they should. Contributor Ben Smith has noted that the Microsoft Kin was released with massive communication, failed to show unique value, then lingered on the shelf only to be cancelled leaving a black spot on Microsoft’s reputation. Read more…

Snuggie was A Shelf Potato

July 12, 2010 1 comment

Why would a shelf potato this cozy want to race out the door?

For years, a blanket with sleeves called the Slanket sat on shelves. And it wasn’t alone as Gizmodo tells us. These blankets with sleeves sold okay. And when you read reviews by people who owned them, they liked them.

But they never sold in the volume that the Snuggie has. So what turned Snuggie into a super-hit? Communication.

Yup, those cheesy ads. Love them, hate them, or merely put up with them (because what choice is there?), Snuggie’s advertising drives sales. I guess we needed to see the entire family cheering on their team while dressed in Snuggies (and with their backs uncovered). And without their ads we’d still look at a Slanket on the shelves (if they ever got there) and decide they looked just like … well … a blanket. If you’d run into the Slanket at retail, would you have known why you might want one? (And did they have them in leopard print? Oops. That came later.) Read more…

Failure to “Cross the Chasm” Leads To Shelf Potatoes

June 22, 2010 2 comments

Literature about crossing the chasm in technology is filled with reasons products should have been re-engineered, re-thought, or simply never attempted.

But this literature rarely mentions communication. Too bad. Because in my experience, communication may be the single biggest reason for failing to make the jump.

Take DirecTV. I had the good fortune to do some strategic work early in DirecTV’s lifecycle. Their initial marketing was all about technology. Digital picture quality and 250 channels dominated the discussion.

Our work focused on later consumers – not the earliest adopters. And what we found surprised DirecTV. Because we found that these later adopters didn’t care in the least about the values DirecTV was using to sell their product. Read more…

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