I was thinking back on the year recently and talking about some of my most disheartening bombs with my wife. What was really bothering me was that I fully expected these particular items to succeed. I wasn't on the fence. I was sure they would at least roll out.
Anyway, in trying to explain why one item didn't make it, I found myself describing the success of another item in the category. My item was a shoe organization product, and the winner in that category this past year was Telebrands' Shoes Under. My story went something like this:
"Our Predict-A-Hit results were great, but while we waited for the inventor to sign our deal, six months went by. By then, Shoes Under was all over TV and retail, and when we tried to validate the results with a re-test on Predict-A-Hit, the item bombed."
Later in the conversation I brought up another of my bombs, this one a space-saving product for the closet. The big hit in that category this year was Hampton Direct's Wonder Hanger, and I ended up repeating myself:
"We had high hopes for this item, and the retailers loved it. But the TV results were awful because by the time we launched, Wonder Hanger was all over TV and retail."
At that point, the voice of Al Ries popped into my head:
"They key to success in marketing is to be first in the mind in a new category."
I know this. I preach this. You probably know it and preach it, too. But as DR marketers, how often do we forget it?
I can't count the number of times the counter to this argument has won the day. It goes something like this: "The big success of XYZ means this is a hot category! The big success of XYZ is proof people are looking for items like this! Our item is not the same as XYZ, so it's bound to be a hit." And our ego goes a step further, telling us we're going to take the market away from that other guy.
Part of the problem is Ries also taught there's enough room in a category for two dominant players. Coke and Pepsi. Hertz and Avis. McDonald's and Burger King. But that's in the world of branding.
When it comes to DRTV, I've come to the disturbing conclusion there's only room for one. After all, DRTV buyers are a relatively small group -- less than 10% of the buying public the last time I checked -- and they're fickle. Hot today, cold tomorrow. The item that first captures their interest will pick all the low-hanging fruit in a hurry, leaving slim pickings for the next guy.
Sure, there are exceptions. But another favorite Ries quote of mine is this:
"You can either live by the rules and accept the possibility that you might miss an opportunity because you didn’t break the rules. Or you can live a life of anarchy."
I really should listen to him more often.
Agree? Disagree? Post a comment.