Inventors don’t always make great marketers

Gary Little looks at how to take a great idea to market and hopefully make a profit, but says designers need marketers to help them achieve their goals

Designers are inventors and consultancies can really benefit from taking their own products to market. Consultancies should be well placed to identify the need for a product as they operate in an arena of continual challenge and change and are aware of the latest trends, manufacturing capabilities and materials.

The following are the key factors involved in getting your idea into the hands of the consumer in the form of a product – and their cash into your bank account. Identify the need and a market, achieve the required manufacturing cost and get access to open sales and distribution channels, and design and engineer the product.

By default, consultancies should be best placed to design and engineer products, but it’s the next stages that can cause the problems. Many groups believe that because they generate the ideas and develop the concepts, they must be able to market, distribute and actively sell the new product. That’s not necessarily the case.

Designers must concentrate on what they are good at. Identify at the outset what you want from the idea and look for partners who can offer the specialist skills, services and contacts that you are lacking. It should be a team effort and most of the time a consultancy won’t have the required mix.

Ideas can be borne out of all sorts of experiences, but difficulties can arise when an idea stems from work being done for an outside client. A consultancy must have a clear and transparent approach to these situations in terms of who owns the idea. In general, I think creative ideas generated in this way are the property of the client, even if ‘the idea’ is not directly within the original scope of the client’s brief.

However, creative people create by being stimulated and there is, of course, a grey area when that stimulation comes via work done on a client project.

Some of the important questions to ask yourself when you have an idea for a new product are: who paid for the time to develop this new idea? Was it developed while working on commissioned work for a client? Was it the interaction with the client while working on its brief that created the spark which acted as the stimulus to generate the new idea?

If you are happy that the answers to all of these questions are no, then I would say it is alright to pursue the idea’s development.

If, on the other hand, there is either doubt or the answer to any of the questions is yes, then you should discuss the idea with the client and gauge their views on the idea and relevance to their product and market area, possibly suggesting a joint venture.

The time involved from the germination of an idea, to identifying the need for a product, to it being available on shelf is, of course, dependent on the complexity of the product. Cost is a major driver and it is a balance between time and cost that ultimately controls the final time frame of any project.

The time from concept to market can take anything from three months upwards. In general, the less complex the product and the fewer parties involved, the quicker to market.

Aside from the obvious struggles of finding the time and money to get your idea off the ground, a consultancy must be prepared to accept the rejection of its idea by others, and their lack of faith to buy into what you believe. Rejection costs nothing, but it can erode your belief in the product and your ongoing commitment to continue to fund the development of a product. Don’t let it.

While making it to market is no guarantee of profitability, as with any business venture the marketing plan sets out to balance investment, cost and risk against potential reward. However, if the sums are right, the market research is of a good standard and the product delivered to the end-user in a painless manner, profit should be forthcoming.

Recognition by return on investment is a financial equation, recognition by the customer is a factor of price and need. Recognition by the industry sector is a factor of the power of the PR machine, ‘paid for’ editorial and the will and time to enter competitions and awards.

Overall, failure only costs time and money, with little publicity and damage attached to products that don’t make it. However, success, even in its smallest form, can lead to high-profile editorial in all forms of media, which can deliver increased awareness of the consultancy and the possibility of new clients. The tangible financial rewards come when the product is also a commercial success and sales revenue or royalty payments contribute to the business as each unit is sold.

It can, of course, all go badly wrong and frequently does, but I believe bringing a product to market, while no guarantee of success, can help a consultancy’s business.

Paul Priestman’s tips on taking your product to market

Protect your idea – get up to date on changes in the patent laws

Do your market research and listen to marketers. Designers think they know best – they don’t. Seek advice from sector experts – it’s better to hear the bad news early

Ask yourself why you are doing this. Fame and fortune do not always go together

Look long term and don’t expect a quick return on your investment

Supply to order if you can

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