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…
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…
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…
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…
“From half baked spud to dud in 2 months is no way to go through a life-cycle son.”
If you saw the commercials or talked to a rep in store, you probably couldn’t figure out what problems Kin solved or unmet needs it satisfied. The fact that it was pulled from the market so soon by a company with so deep of pockets leaves only a few conclusions and bigger questions. Read more…
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…
WebTV is a great example of a Shelf Potato success.
WebTV has been around for more than a decade. And while it hasn’t found a broad enough mass audience to dominate tech conversation, it has sold quite well to a niche consumer electronic audience.
But WebTV sold poorly at the start. The Philips version hit the shelf late 1996 supported by around $10 million in sexy :30 television spots. And, it sat on the shelf…and sat and sat. I have been told that it only sold when the regional specialists from Philips were in the store.
In the beginning, it took a specialist because consumers needed a massive information fix at retail. Unfortunately, in the same 45 minutes it took a salesman to make one WebTV sale, that salesman could sell 3 DVD players of equal value. So retailers didn’t drive sales because selling WebTVs lost them money.
Then, in October 1997, Philips released a half hour infomercial for the product. And by mid November, with only a few million in ad dollars, they had to take the infomercial off-air because they had sold out at retail. (And, of course, they put it back on-air as soon as the stores were re-stocked.)
Why did a few million dollars in infomercial time dramatically outperform over $10M in :30 second spot time? The infomercial solved the communication problem that kept units on the shelf. With the infomercial on-air average sell time dropped from 45 minutes to 5 minutes and it no longer required the regional specialist.
What lesson do we learn from this? WebTV was a perfectly good product with a strong market potential. So lackluster sales don’t necessarily say anything about the value of the product. And sometimes it’s a matter of putting out the right communication for the product to fly off the shelves.
Copyright 2010 – Doug Garnett