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Marketing Planning for Inventors

Marketing Planning for Inventors

By: Bonnie Griffin Kaake, Innovative Consulting Group, Inc.

Inventions are like children to their creators. They can be the defining element in a person’s life. They also require a big investment of time and money. This investment, both monetarily and emotionally, can cloud the vision of the inventor. Occasionally, inventors become so enraptured by their creations that they are unable to look at them objectively. Whether taking a product to market or attempting to license it to another company, having a strategy and a written plan of action is one of the best ways to keep a positive and realistic perspective on the next logical step to take. If you have never done this before you may not realize the importance of it or where to begin. Read on…

Your written plan needs to include a realistic timetable for developing your working prototype, securing patenting and marketing. Also, be willing to commit to your written plan. If you don’t, you may find yourself still working on your prototype three years from now and the opportunity gone. As an example, it may be more important for an engineer with a revolutionary new idea to seek patent protection before spending additional time determining some detail regarding his/her prototype. Today, the world is moving at a much faster pace. Over 50% of products on retail shelves were created within the past five years. Do not wait! Do not procrastinate!

Include in your planning the approximate costs you will incur at each stage of your plan. You are going to need professional input to put all of this together. Don’t panic! Most of the preliminary information for your plan is available at no charge.

Attend a local inventors group and participate, ask questions and contact professionals with expertise in the specific planning area you are working on. Most reputable professional service providers will give you realistic information about approximate costs, time and chances of success at no charge. It is only through sound planning that you will have realistic expectations and be able to make good decisions regarding the direction you take with your product. Planning will also reduce your feelings of frustration and fear.

Here is an example of the importance of planning and asking questions before you get too far along. I recently had an inventor come into my office with a prototype to discuss moving forward with his marketing. He had been told to make a prototype and get a patent before talking to anyone about marketing. At the point he came to me he was very frustrated and discouraged. He had spent a total of $50,000 with three different injection molding companies in an effort to get a good mold. The mold still wasn’t right. I had the unfortunate task of tactfully explaining to him that he didn’t need the mold and had wasted his $50,000. A few major distributors and manufacturers control the industry for his product. The only feasible way to get his product commercialized was through licensing. If he had done his homework and prepared a plan including marketing expertise, his product would be on the market today. Unfortunately, he had spent most of his available capital and could not proceed.

Most inventors think about developing a prototype and seeking a patent attorney. Planning what needs to be done after the prototype is finished and the patent is in process or issued seems especially difficult and with good reason. What is needed to create a prototype or to secure a patent is more easily defined than the procedures needed to successfully commercialize or license a product. Marketing is not an exact science. It is very complex. What works for one person, product, or industry most often does not work for another person, product or industry.

There is no specific “right” way to successfully commercialize any one product. It is amazing how inventors seem to have 20/20 vision in hindsight - once a product is successful or fails an inventor thinks he has all the answers. Nevertheless, there are excellent guidelines that if followed greatly increase the chances for success for either commercialization or licensing but do not guarantee it. The ultimate determination of success is whether the marketplace perceives your product to be a greater value than its price to purchase. Notice that I underlined marketplace. Far too many inventors firmly believe that since they think their product is of value that the marketplace will too. So what can you do?

The first place to start is to plan your marketing efforts. This begins before you talk to a patent attorney. Some inventions are marketable but not patentable. Others are patentable but not marketable. What good is a patent if it is not marketable other than money in the attorney’s pocket and an impressive issued patent on your wall? But then again, many egos are perfectly satisfied to report at the next cocktail party that they are the proud owner of a patent. To be fair to the patent attorneys it must be mentioned that they are in the business of securing patents. It is not their job or area of expertise to advise you regarding marketability.

Following is a brief list of considerations for creating a plan with specific focus on marketing. This plan begins long before you need legal expertise and continues through the successful licensing and/or commercialization of the product.

  1. Research what already exists on the market that is similar to your product. A preliminary patent search using the Internet is an education in itself. Also, a trip to a local supplier, in the industry for which your product belongs, can be very enlightening.
  2. Research the marketability of your idea. A professional marketing opinion can be worth the investment if it is specific to your invention. Be cautious! Many less than reputable marketing companies give you nothing more than an industry profile.
  3. What is the competitive environment like? Direct and indirect. How are competitive products priced? There is always competition!
  4. Determine the financial investment needed to patent, manufacture, prototype, and market your product. Before you get too far along!
  5. Decide to what extent you want or can be involved in the marketing of the product for commercialization or licensing.
  6. Prepare your product’s market launch (this applies to commercialization as well as licensing).
  7. Decide what channels of distribution in which the product is most likely to succeed. This can be a determining factor in what does and does not need to be done regarding prototyping, manufacturing and test marketing.
  8. Plan a test market if appropriate for your product.
  9. Consider the appropriate price point to enter the market. Is the price versus cost reasonable? Could the product be feasible in one channel of distribution but not in another? Even a potential licensee will be taking this into consideration when valuing your patent.
  10. Know what you are willing to give up ($, %, ownership, management, etc.) to make the product successful. You can’t do it all by yourself and expect to succeed.

If you are into inventing as a hobby, disregard the above. You don’t need it – have fun! If you are serious about making your invention(s) successful in the marketplace, do not underestimate the importance of planning the marketing direction with realistic expectations. One of the most challenging tasks an inventor has is to understand their own strengths and weaknesses. Know when to ask for help. Fight the need to control everything. Seek professional guidance all along the way through your attorney, through manufacturers, and by consulting an expert in the area of Marketing. Not to do so is perilous to not only your financial well-being but also the ultimate value the marketplace will put on your invention.

Copyright 2001, Innovative Consulting Group, Inc., 303-980-5567