Categotry Archives: Innovation

Myth of the Perfect Product

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How many times have we thought, “Wow what a great product! It is going to make a fortune.” How often do entrepreneurs and inventors get so caught-up in the wow factor of a particular product that all they think about are sugar plums and their sparkling future? Is not the product or service the most important aspect of any business or idea?

One of my friends is an expert when it comes to skin and skin care. Not too long ago she came across an incredible skin care product developed by a scientist, who was also the company’s CEO, in Europe. What is so amazing about the product is that it actually works. She was so excited she contacted the European company that owned the US distribution rights. After meeting with the owner of the US distributor, she was hired to represent the company. Through her contacts my friend was able to obtain a meeting with a large US-based specialty store and her boss flew into town from Europe for the meeting. Although my friend is extremely knowledgeable about skin care she has little expertise in marketing a product. Unfortunately, as it seems, neither did her boss from Europe. Not only did he not understand the US market, he didn’t act like he cared to learn. You see, he was taking his clues from a scientist who thought the product was “King”.

Understandably, my friend became frustrated when her management wasn’t responsive to USA requirements and continually sent mixed messages to her as to what her role was. One second she was just to be a product specialist, and then she was to arrange for sales and marketing. Next, she was told to stay out of the business side of the product altogether. Needless to say she wasn’t happy about the lack of clear communication. Even though it seemed apparent management was causing chaos with its lack of responsiveness to the US market and from their mixed messages to her, she still wanted to stay on because the product was so remarkable.

My friend had succumbed to the myth of the perfect product. She was so in love with the product she overlooked management’s dysfunction. Her mantra became “I can’t leave this company … its product is going to make a fortune”. Unfortunately, the perfect product is not responsible for properly communicating, operationally organizing, and understanding customer expectations nor does a product market itself. Only people do these jobs. Management does not consist of a conference table with perfect products sitting around it making decisions. Management consists of real people who must daily make important decisions that affect the company’s future.

We all know of companies with terrific products that failed because their management was so enamored with their product they thought it would literally “sell itself”. I’m afraid the scientist CEO leading the business my friend was involved with succumbed to the myth of the perfect product. He and his management team seemed to have made the mistake of not respecting the importance of the people who design, innovate, produce, distribute, market, and buy their product.

Understanding Your Customer’s or Client’s Unfulfilled Needs Before They Do

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As a 26 year-old young men’s buyer for the Bon Marche Department Store in Seattle (now Macy’s) during the late 1970’s, my primary departmental purchases were the disco styles that were popular at the time. I didn’t exactly like the styles; in fact I thought we were going through one of the worst fashion periods in history. But when these styles sold well, I thought they were fabulous. Although I personally didn’t like or wear the product I purchased, I certainly appreciated what my customer’s sought out.

After working at The Bon, I decided I wanted to go from the buy side to the sell side. I worked for a young men’s fashion wholesaler in Seattle as their VP of Merchandising. We primarily sold young men’s woven shirts to retailers and, just like at The Bon, I wasn’t a big fan of our product. But what I liked didn’t matter. What was important was that I understood what the stores we sold to wanted.

My next adventure was co-founding Ex Officio, adventure travel apparel. After recognizing a need in the fly fishing and outdoor industries, my business partner and I began making what turned out to be some of the most innovative fly fishing apparel and, outdoor and adventure travel apparel at that time. The catch: I had never fly-fished a day in my life! And my biz partner had only gone fly fishing a few times. How could we make such innovative product? I think it was because we had learned that the product we made wasn’t about what we liked, but what our customers were missing from their wardrobe. Ex Officio was one of the first companies to extensively use technical synthetic fabrics to make shirts and full fashioned pants. Personally, I liked and still like 100% cotton products. But, for the purpose that our customers were going to use our product for in outdoor and adventure travel settings, 100% cotton didn’t make sense.

Again, all those years of buying and selling “disco” fashions that I couldn’t stand, taught me a valuable lesson. Anyone can figure out what they personally like but the best companies figure out what their customers unfulfilled needs are before their customers recognize it themselves!