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Will My Invention Sell

Will My Invention Sell

By: Bonnie Griffin Kaake, Innovative Consulting Group, Inc. & Ted Kendall, Vice President of QualTalk.com, Inc.

You, the inventor, want to know if people might actually want or buy your product. You also want to know what, if any, changes need to be made in order for it to be marketable. Furthermore, you want to know BEFORE you go through all the trouble and cost of patenting and offering it to the marketplace for sale or license. Right?

The truth is that the only way to determine a new product’s chance of success is to offer it to the marketplace and see if someone will buy it. Bummer! … You were hoping for some miracle. Nevertheless, there is a new way to get some valuable feedback that will give you a good indication of your product’s potential. And, it doesn’t even have to be on the market yet! Careful though, you may need some intellectual property protection first, especially if you want to preserve your international patenting rights. Check with your attorney about this aspect.

Marketing companies have been doing focus groups for clients for years with great results. Unfortunately, it takes about three or four focus groups to get sufficient information on a new product at an average cost of about $5,000 to $8,000 per focus group. A complete set of focus groups will cost about $15,000 to $40,000. The cost depends on the complexity of the information you need and particularly upon the participants required in order to receive valid information. A new and less expensive method is an on-line focus group, commonly called a bulletin board. This is a qualitative research method as opposed to a quantitative research method. (See definitions)

What is a “Bulletin Board”?

Most of you are familiar with bulletin boards at work or on the Internet where you can post information and then someone else comes along and responds to it. Bulletin board technology has been around since long before the Internet became popular. CompuServe Forums, America Online Message Boards, and News-groups on the Internet were all precursors of the “Bulletin Board” to which we are referring. The “Bulletin Board” simply uses the analogy of a real bulletin board to allow people to communicate with each other outside time constraints. People post comments, which can be replied to by others over time. Unlike chat, where everyone has to be there as the conversation takes place, bulletin board technology allows people to converse without being there at the same time.

When applied to research, participants are recruited in the same way as for focus groups ---though often this can be done via email and the web. (see definitions). From 15-25 participants take part in one discussion session. They are invited to log in to the “Bulletin Board” two to three times a day over a three to four day period. The moderator posts new topics for discussion---questions and comments, each day. As participants take part in the discussion, they are able to respond to the moderator and to each other, generating conversations that build off each other in what are called threads.

Of course, some questions simply cannot be answered by using “Bulletin Boards”. For example, getting the gut reactions of consumers to the taste of a new soda would not be a good use---at least until Broadband is able to dispense soda.

How can inventors benefit through bulletin boards?

Often an inventor has a patent pending product and wants to refine the product for production and marketing. Using a bulletin board to get input from people in the industry into which you are planning to launch or license a product can give you invaluable non-biased information. You can then use the information to refine your product or its presentation for the launch or licensing.

Large companies have used focus groups for years to refine and launch new products, to get feedback on packaging, ad campaigns, etc. Even these large companies are now using the Internet to secure qualitative research information through “bulletin boards”. New technology now available gives inventors access to this valuable research tool too. Also encouraging is its lower cost to implement. Depending on the marketing research company you choose and the participants that need to be recruited, the cost can be from $6,000 to $20,000 and yields the results of four traditional focus groups.

Bulletin Board’s advantages over traditional focus groups.

Dispersed Participants

Often in business-to-business situations, the participant you need exists in very limited numbers in any locale. For instance, how many purchasing managers of pet products companies are there in one city? Not having enough to recruit from in a locale prevents you from holding focus groups unless you go through the cost and hassle of flying people to a central location.

One company needed to talk to guidance counselors from the top school districts in the country. They also needed the participants to generate ideas and build from one another’s comments. By using QualBoardsä (QualTalk.com’s software for “Bulletin Boards”), they were able to have guidance counselors in California, Washington, Montana, Michigan, Maryland, Florida and Texas talk to each other.

Busy Respondents

The demands of life make it harder and harder for any consumer to take the time to go to a focus group facility and spend two hours in a discussion. The get professionals and key decision makers to attend a focus group at a facility is difficult and near impossible. But these are precisely the same people who already spend a great deal of time on the Internet. Taking a few minutes here and there throughout the day or evening to take part in a discussion can be convenient enough to fit their schedules.

Complex and technical products/services

Participants have more time to craft their responses and are not constrained by time limits when they take part. In a typical traditional focus group, each person can only share his or her thoughts for about ten minutes. In a “Bulletin Board”, you release the time constraints and they are able to provide a great deal of information. This greatly enhances the depth of thought and articulation of the participants. A key to good information is to make sure the participants are highly involved in the topic of discussion. A competent moderator can draw out the information you need with probing questions.

An example of a recent “Bulletin Board” on-line focus group can be viewed at www.qualtalk.com/autotranscript.htm. This was a discussion among car buyers/owners regarding a particular dealership’s image and new advertising. Robin is the moderator. What you cannot see is that at a certain point in the discussion the proposed advertising was posted for their review. You can tell by the discussion that the participants were having fun taking part.

This new use of bulletin boards for market research discussions has wonderful possibilities for inventors. You might consider it the patent search equivalent for your marketing efforts. Find out now if your new creation is as valuable as you think it is from the targeted consumer of it. Objective, honest (sometimes brutally honest) and unbiased feedback can be obtained through “Bulletin Board” technology. It can help you refine your product, add credibility to your marketing materials and greatly increase your chances of success.


Qualitative Research: Used to gain insights concerning consumer attitudes, beliefs, motivations and behaviors. It answers many of the “why” questions. Small group size is effective, approximately 8-12. Validity depends on professional market researchers developing the questions, moderating and performing the final analysis.

Quantitative Research: Most often, survey research that is used when answers are needed to questions regarding “how many”. Validity lies heavily on a large group size of 100+ and a professional market researcher developing the questions and presenting the final analysis.

Traditional Focus Group: A small group of about eight to twelve carefully screened individuals assembled in a room for one to two hours. The group is guided through a predetermined set of questions for discussion by a professional market researcher.

On-line Focus Group “Bulletin Board”: A small group of about eight to twenty-five carefully selected individuals selected to discuss a predetermined set of questions under the guidance of a professional market researcher on a secured Internet site with special software. Discussion responses can be input at each participant’s convenience within a specified number of days.