Dear Manager,
As managers, we have observed, asked to be involved with, and participated in an abundance of products and services. As students of the marketplace, we have witnessed quality products that failed under their own weight, while other less promising products flourished and succeeded. How can this happen? This scenario is much more common than we are likely to acknowledge. While some individuals rely on timing and blind luck, there is no question that management can take control and react to these factors with effective marketing.

With this issue, and continuing with the next issue, I will discuss those aspects that ultimately determine a product’s success … or something less. No more excuses! If you are unwilling to properly market your product or service, send the investment to charity and leave your product on the drawing board.

I was at a recent trade show and, with some wonder, found myself uninspired by the majority of the exhibits and the products on display. If one of my objectives was to develop contacts with new manufacturers, why would I be interested in taking their products seriously if they obviously had not? Finding a product and an individual with a creative flair and sense of awareness of presentation was like finding an oasis in the desert.

One of the first tenants of marketing is exceeding your customers’ initial expectations. We all know the value of a first impression; nine times out of ten it will be your last. Without loosing touch with fiscal responsibility, I have always believed in establishing a perception that my product or service was bigger than life, or at least much larger than my competitor’s accountant or banker would be willing to testify.

I do not believe in putting the cart ahead of the horse, or in risking the financial future of your company. I do believe there are ways to direct resources where they will make the greatest impact. You must, first of all, give yourself a realistic opportunity to put your right foot forward or, like many others, you will be left at the gate. Let’s take a brief look at the five P’s that we, as students of marketing, will need to embrace.

PERCEPTION plays a much greater role than we can possibly realize. The perception of your product in the chain of players to the marketplace will need consistent review. Of the five P’s, this is the most difficult aspect to control. It requires some of the greatest input, and is, at some level, impacted by timing and pure dumb luck. Your only hope is to never underestimate its role! Since we will never fully understand its reality, for this reason alone we must always, always, (did I mention always) exceed what we believe to be another’s expectation. Bigger, better, faster, and aesthetics of design will need to play a major part in your initial planning. Anything less, and you are assured to fall short of your potential.

PRODUCT, unlike perception, is totally within your control. Pay close attention to your competition. Gain as much surface and inside knowledge as possible. Determine your competition’s strengths and weaknesses, their victories and their failures. Next, not only determine the features and benefits of your product, but relentlessly improve upon them prior to its launch. No one needs another me too product. The elements of creativity and innovation will drive your product and insure its profitability. Price takes a secondary role to these factors, margins of profit will soar, and competitors will be eating leftovers.

PRESENTATION of your product is critical. Have you analyzed the physical dimensions, colorations and packaging of your product? Are they eye-catching? Will they bring a smile and set you apart not only in some ways, but in as many ways as possible, from your competition? There can be a tendency to sell yourself on the obvious features of your product without fully understanding and appreciating the benefits of another.

Remember, your product will need to be clearly superior to supplant the relationships established by your competitor. Does the product inspire enthusiasm and excitement, not only in your customer, but (and this is equally important) in the individuals being asked to sell them? Can you provide merchandising techniques that will insure multiple unit sales to the consumer or to those retailing your product? If the unit sale is $10.00, why not provide an innovative self-merchandiser containing twelve, providing a single decision for $120.00! Multiply this by variations in size, color and seasonality, and you have begun to create a complete concept.

Do you have a larger and more expensive version to establish as a cadillac or centerpiece, to give a focus to your over all presentation? A number of years ago, I represented a factory who had developed some of the first generation, highly authentic latex Halloween masks. This was at a time when the adult Halloween market was just beginning to expand.

The average retail price for these masks was in the $30.00 to $50.00 range, a substantial commitment in the early 70’s. I would always encourage my retailers to purchase at least one mask that would retail at $100.00 or more. The mask would not only draw attention to the more moderately priced masks, it would create the perception of a ridiculous extravagance for use on a single occasion. Many customers would scoff at $100.00 and feel they had been much more prudent and conservative having spent only $50.00. Bingo! Without the $100.00 mask, the $50.00 mask would have become the cadillac. Invariably, Mr. or Ms. Moneybags would come in and purchase that $100.00 mask.

PROMOTION of your product must make a statement for it to have any chance of success in the marketplace. To accomplish this, develop a package assortment to encourage and reward full participation. Once again, if you are not willing to take your product seriously, then why should anyone else? Consider free displays, freight allowance or extended terms to encourage a full commitment. This is also a great time to promote multiple levels of participation.

Remember our cadillac mask? While you may assume it will have limited participation, always establish an upper tier of partnership. This develops the foundation and acceptability for the mid-range tier that you absolutely believe in. In selling your product always begin with your premier program. I will never forget promoting one of my manufacturer’s top-of-the-line programs to a customer I had never been able to sell. The customer leaned across his desk and said, “I’ll take two.” I nearly lost my breath! It’s a matter of believing in your product, and translating that belief to your customer.

In certain controlled circumstances, you may also wish to provide a guarantee. This will certainly test how much you believe in your product! I recently developed a guarantee program for a product that had proven itself well beyond all expectations. It became time to put its placement into warp speed.

Arming a number of my sales associates with my personal guarantee, they were each asked to open ten new accounts. As the final option in their presentation, they could give the opportunity to provide a full guarantee. In a six week period, we opened over sixty new accounts. Now, months later, I have not had to fulfill a single guarantee. I believe this to be unusual, yet even with a 10% to 20% return, I would have gained eight to nine new accounts for each program accepted in return. In this instance, ten for ten is even better!

PERFORMANCE is the final step. There is absolutely nothing more frustrating than having a product that executes all of the previous elements, only to have a factory drop the ball by not performing with fulfillment. Late or ineffective sales materials, false starts on release dates, and promoting a product months, or even a year, prior to its launch will only compromise both anticipation and enthusiasm in the marketplace.

In the release of a new product, you are effectively selling more “sizzle than steak.” Think about how long your sizzle will last, and coordinate your release based upon it. Be as sure as humanly possible that all aspects of your launch are in order. Think about NASA without enough fuel or a last minute shortage of spare parts! It’s a scrub. If need be, be more conservative with your release calendar. Commit an additional thirty days to your release to insure against contingencies. At all costs, avoid shooting yourself in the foot!

Certainly timing and luck play a role, yet a much larger factor is determined by the marketing advantage developed by the management team. For this reason alone, we see less deserving products flourish and quality products fail.

Personal Regards,

INTERPERSONAL© is published by INTERPERSONALBIZ.COM, Keenan Longcor, Editor, ©2008. Duplication of this publication is permitted for both personal and business use. Excerpts may only be quoted with acknowledgment of INTERPERSONAL and/or INTERPERSONALBIZ.ORG as the source. For re-publication rights, please contact the editor at KEENAN@INTERPERSONALBIZ.COM