by: Geoff Ficke

Having a “Better Mousetrap” Is Not Enough to Propel a New Consumer Product to Success

This past week I reviewed a new Skin Care concept. My Product Development and Consumer Product Marketing Consulting firm reviews hundreds of projects in numerous categories each year. Many are presented in ways similar to this Anti-Aging range of topical creams and lotions: incomplete and poorly.

We always ask the same question of the Entrepreneur: “What is unique about your product? What differentiates it from the competition”? It is amazing how many times we hear almost the same answers: “My ingredients are the best. Or, we have a better formula. Or, we have designed a better mousetrap”.

Here is the issue that virtually every Entrepreneur or Inventor must address in order to be successful: While competing in an incredibly cluttered and frenetic marketplace, how do you create separation from competitors that enables your Consumer Product to receive attention and generate Sales traction?

Your product might actually have the best ingredients, recipe, construction, or design. You may truly have built the best mousetrap. However, unless you can convey the items Unique Selling Proposition (USP) to buyers the product will not break through. There are very few product categories from Pet Products to Gourmet Food to Toys and Games to Fashion to Jewelry and so many more that are not controlled by established multi-national Companies and Brands that support their products with huge Marketing budgets. Few Start-up Companies, Entrepreneurs or Inventors enjoy this luxury.

Despite the competition and the hurdles that are inevitably placed before any new product working to achieve Sales and Marketing success, successes do happen. And they happen with surprising regularity. What lessons and actions must be applied in order to not just design a better mousetrap, but to sell and prosper from the Invention?

The biggest flaw we see in most New Consumer Product concepts and presentations is that the owner has taken shortcuts. Due Diligence has been skirted. The Business Plan (if there is one) is not thoroughly vetted. Production Costs and dead net Cost of Goods is but a guess. Source of supply and manufacturing have been given short shrift. No thought has been given to creating a solid Sales Model or customizing a Marketing Strategy. Prototypes are not professionally prepared.

The most egregious element that first time Entrepreneurs discount is defining clearly their USP. The ability to find and detail a slight hole in a mature, huge product category is essential for a product to succeed. The world does not need any more Perfume, Cosmetics, Shoes, DIY products, Sporting Goods or House Wares, unless the new products offer a different Feature and Consumer Benefit that can be targeted, detailed and readily understood.

This is where narrative and Marketing become crucial. Consider a fictional example from the Gourmet Food space. Let’s say the female Entrepreneur wants to start a Cookie business. Her neighbors tell her that she makes the best cookies in the world. This gives her the confidence and impetus to plunge ahead. She starts making and attempting to Market and Sell her yummy cookies.

Unfortunately, they don’t sell well at first. What can she do to kick-start sales? How does she overcome the edge that industrial bakers selling to big-box Retailers enjoy? She could tell an artisan production story. She might consider organizing a cookie club. She could focus sales efforts on creating customized cookie programs for group and school fundraising programs. Leasing a mall kiosk, sampling and retailing assortments and gift boxes might be the niche she can best utilize. Warren Buffet’s Mrs. See’s Candies has utilized this strategy to great success. The strategy options are endless.

The Skin Care line we reviewed this week was built around a specific active ingredient. It is a very good Skin Care, Anti-Wrinkle, Anti-Aging raw material, but it is already being commercialized by a number of other large brands. Creating a proprietary process niche for harvesting and/or handling the ingredient may be a way to create Brand separation. Another step could be a pro-active application program. Proof of better performance by demonstrating a quantifiable faster dermal improvement could be part of the answer.

Simply stating that a product is made from Argan Oil, Tea Tree Oil, Olive Oil, etc. and is therefore the best item in the space does not mean much if you cannot provide a USP. When seeking Retail Distribution, Investment from Venture Capital, Strategic Alliances, International Distributors or Partners the inability to detail a tight set of Features and Benefits that can readily be recognized as the USP that differentiates your Consumer Product or Service from competitors is the kiss of death. Do not dismiss the importance of this element in creating your Business Plan and opportunity.

Author's Bio: 

Geoff Ficke has been a serial entrepreneur for almost 50 years. As a small boy, earning his spending money doing odd jobs in the neighborhood, he learned the value of selling himself, offering service and value for money.

After putting himself through the University of Kentucky (B.A. Broadcast Journalism, 1969) and serving in the United States Marine Corp, Mr. Ficke commenced a career in the cosmetic industry. After rising to National Sales Manager for Vidal Sassoon Hair Care at age 28, he then launched a number of ventures, including Rubigo Cosmetics, Parfums Pierre Wulff Paris, Le Bain Couture and Fashion Fragrance.

Geoff Ficke and his consulting firm, Duquesa Marketing, ( has assisted businesses large and small, domestic and international, entrepreneurs, inventors and students in new product development, capital formation, licensing, marketing, sales and business plans and successful implementation of his customized strategies. He is a Senior Fellow at the Page Center for Entrepreneurial Studies, Business School, Miami University, Oxford, Ohio.