December 09, 2009

There's Only Room For One

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.


  1. I agree. You can't reap the rewards without taking calculated risks. Look what breaking the rules did for the Snuggie? Who would have thought that a backwards robe would reach over $100 Million in sales. It's a backwards robe, for Pete's sake!

    Look how many indoor pet potty landscapes are on the DRTV market right now. Pick a winner Jordan...

  2. TV Fan: I'm not sure I understand your point. You say you agree, but it sounds like you disagree. If Snuggie were second to market, it would be a good counter-point to this post. Unless you are only referring to the final Ries quote, in which case I have to point out that the item was a hit on live shopping before it was tried on DRTV.

    Still, it does break some of the rules for sure (e.g. it doesn't solve a real problem). But so did the Singing Fish, and that didn't stop many others from trying and failing to bring another singing animal to market! The same thing is happening with the Snuggie -- 10 me-too items have tried and failed to replicate its success in the category.

    I think Ries's point is well taken. Let me take a crack at re-phrasing it: "You can either live by the rules and accept the possibility that you might miss a Snuggie or Singing Fish on occassion. Or you can live a life of anarchy."

    Finally, looking at the category you brought up, I see only one indoor potty item on the charts this week, Eagle Eye's Potty Patch at No. 46 on the JW and No. 35 on the IMS. It seems to me this example reinforces my point, unless you know something I don't.

  3. I agree - I think with DR marketing the old addage applies, "The early bird gets the worm!" The only exception would be if the second attempt boasted some "upgrade" that makes it markedly better than the product that's already out there.

  4. Loves this piece. It is so true. We get so many presentation that start off with saying _____ is so big and my item is better. Can’t be 2nd in a category. Only chance to be second is if enough time has gone by.

  5. Going back a while, I remember there were several Steppers all going strong at the same time, but those were infomercials. Several psychic lines as well, but what you say is pretty much true. You can have competing products in the same general category but once you have a big winner moving, another "me to" does not work. In addition, if the retail is locked up, what's the point? Your blog is great, keep it up in 2010.

  6. You know it is better to be first than to be better! You know if you can’t be first in a category... create one you can be first in! (Rules to live by!) And last one...”Don’t try to be better than you predecessors or contemporaries...try to be better than yourself! (I have no idea where that comes from but it is in a little sayings envelope I keep in my briefcase)

  7. reminds me of the scene in SOMETHING ABOUT MARY when ben stiller is driving in the car with the serial killer who has a great idea for a new ab product - he says "its 7 minute abs" and stiller says, "oh you mean the 8 minute abs on tv?" and the psycho says "no man, not 8 minute abs, mine is SEVEN MINUTE abs, don't you see the difference - mine is way better!"

  8. Jordan: I think I was pretty tired when I commented. I stand corrected! It makes perfect sense to me now. Thanks to you and the other commentators for making the point more clear.

    I'm semi-new to the industry and I really enjoy your blog and your Weekly Round-Ups!

  9. TV Fan: No worries. Thanks for your kind words.

  10. I think you can be second if you're priced cheaper and have the clout in retail. I worked on a campaign for a product which came out first, appeared to be of better quality, and had good volume until Telebrands came in with a knockoff that was cheaper and named almost identically (we're talking a 2 letter difference and a homophone so I'm sure consumers were confused)and that was the end of DR for the client I had.