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Beyond "Me too"

Reprinted from News-To-Use, Vol.6, No.2.
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Beyond "Me too" Meaningful product differentiation is the core of successful marketing.

Like all ad agency professionals, many is the long night we have struggled to come up with an ad to support a product or service that is, to put it bluntly, nothing special- no new technology, no interesting features, no innovative packaging, no pricing advantage.

When the marketing effort shows only marginal results, those clients are often quick to point to the advertising and say, "See! Your ad campaign didn't work."

Forgive us if we respectfully say phooey. A "me too" product may possibly have an advertising problem, but it absolutely has a marketing problem.

In an interview in Sales and Marketing Management, Doug Hall, founder and president of Richard Saunders, Inc., a successful new products research firm was asked why so many products on the market ultimately fail.

"Frankly," he said, "the vast majority don't offer people anything different. And what happens when you don't offer anything different? It means commodity pricing, high slotting allowances and a very difficult sales job.

"Now, when the reverse happens, it's a miracle. The more new and different you get, the better your ability to get a higher margin, to negotiate with the trade- because of the excitement the product brings to the category- and the greater the probability you can grow the category." We saw it happen here with Epson printers in the early 80's, Callaway Golf in the early 90's and dozens of times in between on a less dramatic scale. We learned that when you have an honest and meaningful product difference, both marketing and advertising are easy- success beyond your wildest dreams is possible, but when you don't, marketing and advertising are both hard and often doomed to failure.

As we noted in our last issue, "Building Biz-to-Biz Demand" there are techniques other than R&D that can help set your product or service apart - packaging, pricing, distribution and service to name a few.

Doug Hall, however, suggest that an invigorated R&D effort is essential for companies to survive and thrive in the future. "Don't just develop a single product," he says, "develop as many as you can simultaneously, test them with consumers, and back the best prospects. Companies need to take responsibility- to open their minds and invent ideas that stretch the imagination... use consumers to help screen the ideas and to make adjustments to them, but don't use them to create the first fundamental leap. You'll end up living in a land of mediocrity if you do."

Sure, if you're not getting the sales you think you deserve, take a good look at our advertising and other promotion. But before you're too quick to point the finger of blame for lackluster sales, make sure you're offering a product that is, in the words of Ely Callaway, "pleasantly different and demonstrably superior."

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