May 15, 2009

Thoughts on "Pitchmen," Episode Five

I only have one comment on this episode as I chose to write a separate review for the Heel Stick and the Spot/Stain Sucker is not yet ready to be critiqued. (That said, I like the Spot Sucker concept and can't wait to see how the final version comes out).

Again, I am putting aside my thoughts on the entertainment aspects of the show and focusing only on the things that got my attention as a DRTV marketer. With that in mind, the one thing that jumped out at me was a comment Sully made when evaluating the Heel Stick. He said something like, "The mani/pedi industry is a multi billion-dollar one. If we can just capture one percent of it ..."

This caught my attention because I've heard variations of it so often in the conference rooms of DRTV companies. It's often played like a trump card. An item is about to be killed because it doesn't really meet the criteria for DRTV. Then the person in love with the item pulls out the ol' "1% of a billion" argument, and the project survives.

The problem with this logic, which seems sound at first, is that it gives marketers a false sense of security. It leads them to believe failure is highly unlikely in large, well-established categories when in fact the opposite may be true. Harvard Professor Clayton Christensen explained it well in a January 2007 article about the hype surrounding the launch of the iPhone:

Analysts are drooling at the prospect of Apple entering the [cell phone] market because the numbers look so big. A recent Wall Street Journal article noted that the 70 million iPods Apple has sold in the past five years ‘pale in comparison with the nearly one billion cell phones manufacturers are expected to ship this year. Even if Apple captures only a small share of that business, it could represent a revenue bump.’

There are always good reasons to be careful of a strategy that equates success with grabbing a small piece of a huge market. Although it is easy to imagine how the numbers could look good, success can elude even the savviest of companies in such large, highly-competitive markets.

DRTV companies are at an even greater disadvantage in this regard. That's because they don't have the giant ad budgets of a brand marketer like Apple, and most existing categories are already dominated by companies that do. That's why "must be unique" tops my list of criteria for DRTV products. Meaningful innovation is a DRTV marketer's only weapon because it cuts through the clutter and makes category dominance meaningless. As Jack Trout or Al Ries would say, the best strategy isn't to fight for dominance in an established category, it's to create a new category.

All of that said, a roll-on foot care product has a decent shot at creating a new category. So while I don't like the logic that may have launched it, I do like the item. See my Heel Stick review for more.

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