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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…

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