How to Change a Product Negative into a Positive

Virtually every consumer product comes to market with an Achilles heel. There is an inherent limitation, design shortcoming or performance kerfuffle that is almost always present. Nevertheless, many of these products become very successful commercial brands. How do brands turn negatives into positives?

One of the most frequently employed strategies is to be upfront to the consumer about a flaw. In politics a scandal is always worsened by the cover-up. It is always best to make it obvious to the public that your product needs to heated or cooled, activated or shaken, kept in a cool dry place, or away from children. These are what we call “idiot warnings” and the public is conditioned to their ubiquitous placement in advertisements or on packaging. Pharmaceutical companies tout their wonderful cures, but then, spend over half of the advertisement detailing all of the problems that the user might encounter.

Many years ago my initial entrepreneurial effort commenced with a unique cosmetic accessory product. We were quickly confronted with an aggressive competitor. Both products provided a similar benefit to the consumer. Department stores were going to carry one of us, not both.

My competitor had an all-natural product. Our product contained a chemical preservative. My competitor trumpeted from every sand dune that his product was superior because it was “100% Natural”! He began to pull away from us. We had to fight back.

Our product negative was that we utilized a chemical preservative. There was no way we could claim to be an all natural product, then a novel concept. We decided to employ an old negative sales technique: we began to shriek that our make-up was NOT natural. We expounded on the reasons why “natural” was not better. Our preservative, though a chemical, was essential in safely preserving the product for safe application to skin. Our competitor did not have a preservative. Without a preservative what was protecting consumers from bacteria growth?

This simple technique was instrumental in enabling me successfully to play out my first competitive shootout and build a career as a serial entrepreneur. Without doing a “negative sale” on my product I would probably be a line salesman today.
I never, ever put down my competition. In no way can you win or succeed by going negative on the competition. You will win if you are open about your products features and benefits, while showcasing why a slight flaw or design chink can be useful.

Visit a car dealership that sells All-Wheel Drive models. The salesman will tout the benefits of AWD. A bit of reflection, however, would make anyone think hard before purchasing an AWD car. Why would a consumer want to pay to power all four wheels with today’s soaring gasoline cost? In very few climates do you need all four wheels engaged for much of the year! AWD is inherently more expensive to service and maintain. Typical four wheel drive models run on two wheel drive cycle unless needed in bad weather. And yet, an inferior product, AWD vehicles have become popular.

In our Product Development and Marketing Consulting work we review hundreds of products each year. Many are clever, useful and potentially very commercial. Virtually all have a slight limitation. These can be overcome, mitigated and presented as purpose-built design features. If every product was perfection there would be few items on store shelves. Be fastidious about positioning a product negative in a positive light and you will increase chances for success.

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, Inc. ( 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.