The Cart before the Horse?

I’ve been watching a new series on the Discovery Channel called Pitchmen . In this show, self-proclaimed informercial superstars Billy Mays & Anthony Sullivan speak with aspiring entrepreneurs each week whose sole goal is to get a shot at a national infomercial and the resulting overnight riches. The show does a good job of showing both high-potential ideas as well as ridiculous ones.

Last week’s show had a product being pitched called the “Spin-Gym”. The inventor was Forbes Riley, a woman who is a QVC celebrity in her own right. She developed a fitness product that will “fit in your purse” and yet provide you with “total upper body fitness”. She was understandably passionate about the product and is promoting it across every channel imaginable.

The problem is two-fold. First, the product is hardly unique. I had a toy as a child that does essentially the same thing (except that my toy made a cool sound when you spun it really fast). I’m not sure how she patented the thing, but evidently she did. But more importantly, this seems to be the classic solution looking for a problem. On the show she had huge body-builders using this product as if to imply their shape somehow came from this tiny product. Yes fitness is a growing trend across America. However, the form of any new product must suggest its intended use in a manner that is believable. Be honest, can you believe in a fitness product that you hold only with your thumbs? You really got the opinion that the “research” they did consisted of putting the Spin Gym into people’s hands with the question of “Isn’t this the greatest?” or “Can’t you feel the muscle burn?”. On the show the product was tested in two markets at different price points. Almost no interest was generated in either market.

Having this unique opportunity to see this real-life, time-compressed example was fascinating. This same thing happens across our country everyday, both with entrepreneurs as well as with established corporations. Somebody falls in love with an idea, and becomes blind and deaf to feedback. They are determined to muscle their way into the market, regardless of what they hear.

How much time, money and energy could be saved if they sought the feedback early in the process, at a time when they could still make modifications (to the product or the messaging)? Let’s be outrageous here… What if they actually spent the time to understand the needs of their targeted consumer, then designed a product to satisfy it?

It sounds so simple. But it seems to fly in the face of the way so many do business.


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1 Comment

Filed under consumer percpetions, innovation, pitchmen

One response to “The Cart before the Horse?

  1. Jon

    Jerry,
    I enjoy Pitchmen. I saw the Spin Gym episode. I don't disagree with your "solution looking for a problem". The thing I don't like about Pitchmen is that everything is available for the low price of $19.95 (or lower). They are suggesting commodity / volume pricing right out of the gate. Maybe the Spin Gym would have been more successful as a much higher price point. Maybe consumers who saw the ads thought: "Can I really look as buff as Fabio for $9.95?"

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