THE ONLINE INVENTOR -- September 2001

(c) 2001 Market Launchers, Inc.


Publisher: Paul Niemann



"The answers to all of life's mysteries can be found in the movies," Steve Martin


Article # 1:    "What Is a Profitably Marketable Invention?" by Jim White, author of "Will It Sell?"

Article # 2:    "Benefiting From Fourth Quarter Publicity," by Todd Brabender -- President of "Spread The News Public Relations, Inc."

Article #3:    "A 6-Question Invention Survey That Inventors Can Use," by Mike Marks of InventionCity.com


Article # 1: "What Is a Profitably Marketable Invention?" by Jim White, author of "Will It Sell?"

The real question is: 

At its most basic, a PROFITABLY MARKETABLE invention is:

a.    a great idea
b.    a solution to a problem
c.    both of the above
d.    none of the above.

The correct answer is "b.    a solution to a problem" and that is the only correct answer.

I hear an immediate chorus of, "but people will buy anything," as exemplified by Hula Hoops, Rubik's Cubes, Superballs, and even sucker rotators. Those things don't solve any problem -- do they? Actually, yes, they do. They solve the problem of boredom. In fact, the entertainment industry is one of the largest in the U.S. since most people in the U.S. do not have to spend most of their time engaged in activities just to stay alive.

There is also another huge industry that catches a large share of the so-called "useless" inventions. That is the vanity (or self-worth) industry. While this industry often has items that specifically belong to it (such as jewelry, in my opinion only, some might argue), many products are significantly embellished by designers seeking to position their basic products (automobiles, for example) to appeal to individuals who wish (whether they will acknowledge it or not) to project a certain image or to feel a certain way about themselves.

Will It Sell?

If your goal is to get your invention patented and then to have someone else produce and sell it (pouring on you huge sums of money for the privilege), what do you think that someone else will ask as their first question? The first question is, "Will it sell?" If it won't sell, then ANY money they invest in your invention will be wasted. (Your time, great genius, patenting effort and expense, and devoted enthusiasm for the invention are almost useless to the producer/seller.)

Well, all right then, you will manufacture it and sell it yourself. Nice stubborn streak you got there. Try not to lose too much money (or self-esteem) in the process. Your first question should be "Will it sell?" also -- if it appears that it won't (more on how to do this later), then it is time to move on to your next idea. If you only had the one idea you are most likely to always be a "wannabe" inventor.

Supposing it will sell! Hurray, we've got a winner!!! "Oops, not so fast," your prospective producer/seller says. "What will people be willing to pay for it?" Aaahh .... well ... that depends on the perceived value of having the problem solved in general, and the perceived value of your solution in particular. A deck of cards and an electronic video virtual reality 3D game machine might well both solve the same problem, but one will sell for a lot more -- REGARDLESS of what it costs to produce it. A full-scale giant sized arcade video 3D game will be worth even more -- but there will be far fewer buyers.

Well, we can always do the old producer trick of selling high-priced ones to the elite buyers first, then lowering the price over time (claiming volume economies, of course) to get more people to buy it while maximizing our profits. Nice idea, but that generally only works when the producer/seller's (and often buyer's) perception is that the item will eventually be a mass market item and that production costs, at both the high end and the eventual low end, will still be far enough below the sales price to provide a decent (or maybe even indecent) profit -- not to mention your pile of royalties. More about pricing in the next chapter.

Everyday Ideas:

Well, what about a profitably marketable invention not having to be a great idea? Look around you. Really see the products you use every day. Most are mundane and ordinary, yet they sell profitably. If they didn't they wouldn't be sold for long. Now look at the engineering of them. See how the engineers solved the problems they encountered during development. You could easily come up with technically better, more innovative solutions in many cases. In many cases, you would back off a step or two and redesign the basics so some of the "solutions" wouldn't be necessary in the first place! Granted, most of our everyday products are not "new" inventions, but evolved products. Even evolved products may have patented parts.

Tear Something Up:

Don't tear up anything you don't want to be without, but, for a homework exercise, take a close look at 2 or 3 different staplers from different manufacturers or 2 or 3 single line telephones. If you can take them apart, the guts of telephones (or most things) are often the apparent playground of the "get it done fast whatever way you think of first" approach to detail engineering. That isn't necessarily bad -- in fact, it should give you a clue about the non-value of devoting resources to essentially irrelevant parts of your own invention.

On the other hand, you will often see quickly and badly done detail engineering that can't help but make the manufacturing cost higher than necessary (a screw where a press-fit would be more than adequate, for example). An engineer friend of mine highly recommends the book, "Product Design for Manufacturing and Assembly," Boothroyd & Dewhurst, 1994 for a classic work on doing the out-of-sight detail engineering. The book is very cheap, only $165; compared to the thousands of dollars you'll spend making millions of your product.

We have now encountered a fundamental point. Most inventors approach "marketing" from the perspective of "How do I get people to buy my invention?" That is the wrong question. The correct question is "What can I invent that people will buy?" That is a pretty big question, but it is one you should use to filter all your invention ideas.

The basic premise of this chapter is clear. People want solutions to problems (including boredom) and that is what you should provide with your inventions. A secondary factor you should have noted is that, even if the solution is wanted, the solution must sell profitably, i.e. sell at a price above what it costs to make and distribute but below what enough customers are willing to pay for it.

Okay, you haven't given up yet. That idea is still banging around in your head and you are pretty sure it is a solution to a problem. You haven't really answered the questions (Will it sell? At what price?) for your producer/seller, but you insist the answers will still be favorable. You're an inventor, you probably have never worked an invention through to market before and besides, nobody can really know until you try -- right? What are the concrete steps you should take to get your invention on its way? 

Some clues will be provided in next month's issue. 

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To purchase "Will It Sell?" for 19.95 plus $5 S/H, please go to http://www.willitsell.com  


Article # 2: "Benefiting From Fourth Quarter Publicity," By Todd Brabender -- President of Spread The News Public Relations, Inc.

As the year enters the fourth quarter, many businesses and entrepreneurs are making plans and budgets for the year 2002. Those plans could include anything from setting up goals for new products to preparing marketing, sales and PR/publicity campaigns. When it comes to your publicity plan, WHEN you launch your campaign can be just as important as what and how you launch.

Some business owners may be of the mindset: "I think we'll wait to launch a publicity campaign until after January 1 to generate consumer interest." The problem is -- if you wait to launch your publicity campaign until the first of the year hoping for a quick media interest blast in January, you may be in for a quiet start of the year. Keep in mind most media outlets have editorial lead-times of a few weeks to 6 months. Also, what some entrepreneurs don't realize is this -- because of the increasing number of publicity pitches media outlets receive, anything you submit is subjected to what I call the "media digestion period" -- simply put -- that is a period of time (sometimes days, sometimes weeks) that it takes media outlets to:

#1) See/understand your release and decide if they are interested;
#2) Find space/time in their editorial calendar to place the article/news
story/show segment.

Given the right media research and pitching expertise, there are several media opportunities you could pursue. From my professional experience, here is the breakdown of editorial lead-times of the media formats from quickest to most drawn out: (These are estimates and can vary from campaign to campaign)

1) Radio Shows -- 1 to 4 weeks lead-time
2) TV News Affiliate Shows -- 2 to 6 weeks lead-time
3) Daily & Weekly Newspapers -- 3 to 8 weeks lead-time
4) Magazines & Network TV Shows -- 1 to 6 months lead-time

The potential placement is also directly dependent upon how quickly and efficiently your publicist or PR agency can help the media secure the placement. Media relations is crucial. Your publicist's job is to make the reporter/editor/producer's job as easy and as effortless as possible -- which will lead to quicker and more numerous placements for your business.

If your product/business lends itself to increased holiday sales, the next several weeks are a perfect time to get a product publicity campaign launched -- given the right media targets. Although many holiday issues have already been laid out for magazines, many other media outlets are feverishly seeking information/pitches on innovative stories for the holidays. Some
media outlets even reorganize or beef up staff toward the end of the year to allow for an increase in stories on products. Have your publicist help you take advantage of this increased media opportunity.

I have in fact had media outlets respond to our media release literally minutes after pitching it. Conversely, one media outlet responded to one of our releases 17 months after a pitch. (I had to ask the reporter what the YEAR was on the release!) You can definitely increase the odds with some hard work and effective media relations. That's why timing of your publicity pitch is so critical. Have your publicist get your pitch to the media, allow the editorial staff to digest it a bit, and strategically and professionally "rattle the cage" over the next several weeks to generate as many placements as possible.

What we are trying to do is plant seeds in media outlets' editorial garden so they will bear fruit -- in the form of articles/show placements -- continuously over the next several weeks and months. Like the plant that comes from a seed, publicity placements can also grow roots and lead to other arterial media placements in other media outlets. Given the right tending, the publicity seeds you plant over the next few weeks will indeed germinate and you'll reap a wonderful harvest for your business now and into the first quarter of next year.

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Todd Brabender is the President of "Spread The News Public Relations, Inc." His business specializes in generating publicity & media exposure for innovative products / businesses / web sites. http://www.spreadthenewspr.com  (785) 842-8909 [email protected]  


Article #3:    "A 6-Question Invention Survey That Inventors Can Use," by Mike Marks of InventionCity.com  

Select a number of people with whom you feel comfortable disclosing your invention. They will be asked to express their opinions about your invention. It is important that these people be honest in their responses, regardless of whether the responses are "good" or "bad" for your invention. Make enough copies of the Survey Form so that each person you survey receives a new form (without someone else's answers). Show your invention ideas or, preferably, a prototype or model of your invention. (Caution to inventors: Use of this form may entail disclosure of proprietary and/or confidential information. Please take appropriate steps to protect your invention before disclosure.) This is the first step in market research. 

Ideally you should survey more than 20 people (the more people you survey and the better they represent your target audience, the more meaningful your results will be). Remember that responsibility for maintaining confidentiality is yours. To be safe, you may want to ask the people you survey to sign a confidentiality agreement. However, if your evaluators are friends and family this might prove both awkward and unnecessary.

Once you have performed the survey add up the numbers for each response onto a single sheet. Divide the total number for each response by the number of people you surveyed. This determines the average response value for the question.

For example, you surveyed 10 people. Question 1 received the answers: 5,5,8,7,9,10,6,6,2,7 The total of these numbers = 65. Divide 65/10 = 6.5. 6.5 is the average value for question #1. You will use average values to enter survey results on the Invention Submission form if you choose to submit an invention to us.

To really do your homework properly you should perform a second survey with the same people. This time show them a currently marketed product that competes with yours. The function and features of the product could be entirely different. When choosing a competitive product to survey choose one that a user might buy instead of yours if he/she saw both items on a shelf next to each other.

Be sure that your evaluators understand they should answer questions from their OWN perspective only. You do not want evaluators making assumptions that "other people will buy it." To be useful, answers must be honest and personally true.

Now compare the values of the answers for your invention with those for the competitive product. Do you have a winner?

To better understand the importance of surveys like this one read the Invention City article entitled "Money and Inventing."

Survey Form:

The following survey will be used in evaluating the market potential of an invention that has been disclosed to you. An honest, unbiased reply is necessary. The inventor will use your answers to help in determining whether or not he/she should proceed. Proceeding will cost the inventor a lot of time and money. Answering honestly is the best way to help the inventor make a good decision. Please answer the questions only for yourself -- the inventor needs YOUR opinion about what the invention means to YOU.

For each question, please circle a number from 1 to 10. 1 is low or "not at all." 10 is high or "absolutely."

1.    Do you currently own or use products that are similar, competitive, alternative, or related to the invention? 
none ...1...2...3...4...5...6...7...8...9...10... many

2.    Compare the invention to similar, competitive and alternative products: 
it's worse ...1...2...3...4...5...6...7...8...9...10... it's better (there are none)

3.    Does this invention solve a problem you've experienced?
no problem ...1...2...3...4...5...6...7...8...9...10... solves big problem

4.    Would you like to buy the invention today?
never buy ...1...2...3...4...5...6...7...8...9...10... buy this instant

5.    Compared to similar, competitive or alternative products, would you pay more or less for the invention?
pay much less ...1...2...3...4...5...6...7...8...9...10... pay much more

6.    Consider the potential safety hazards to yourself and others when using this invention. How do you consider it?
dangerous ...1...2...3...4...5...6...7...8...9...10... completely safe

7.    Comments and suggestions:


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Mike Marks is President of InventionCity.com and has been active in the field of product development since 1987. In conjunction with WorkTools, Inc., he has brought numerous products to market directly and through licensing agreements with others. WorkTools, Inc. also produces prototypes for their inventor clients and brings some of those inventions to market.

Inventors seeking help may also submit their ideas to Invention City for possible financing, licensing and other forms of development assistance. To submit your consumer product to Invention City, go to their site (www.InventionCity.com) and click on "How to Submit an Invention."


Click here to read the August 2001 issue.