Inventors can apply Santa’s methods and spirit throughout the year.
Though store displays for Christmas long ago gave way to Valentine’s Day material, inventors can learn from Santa Claus’s approach to marketing and consider it all year.
Think about it: Santa has a well-defined target market and understands its demographics—namely, wellbehaved little boys and girls worldwide. He has to be the ultimate inventor in the sense of designing a delivery system that meets some enormously challenging requirements. How else can he deliver more than a billion packages to expectant children within a 24-hour period on Christmas Eve?
Santa Claus is in the commercialization business. His approach to marketing his services parallels the many steps that inventors must follow in getting their new invention product into the marketplace. Scott Bowden at Innovation Excellence provided some general themes; here are my suggestions based on those.
• Wear Attire that Makes One Stand Out from the Crowd:
Look at Santa’s approach to standing out from the crowd. He has successfully demonstrated the “wow factor”—that is, “Wow! Look at that!” Here is a middle-aged, overweight man with a long, white beard and long white hair dressed in a red suit with a red stocking cap and surrounded by elves. Clearly, that is one way to stand out from the crowd! He is clearly a “real” attraction, as evidenced by the lines of children who want to see him and talk with him at the mall at Christmastime. You don’t have to dress like Santa Claus to be an inventor, but the message is that in order for your new product or service to be successful, you must have discriminators that enable it to stand out. You want your potential customers to say “Wow, what a great idea!”
• Make a List and Check it Twice:
You should develop some form of an Invention Business Plan that lists all of the steps and activities you need to successfully develop your new product or service idea. Your “elves” should be able to help. You should also prepare a time-phased schedule of these activities and follow it. Following your plan by making a list and checking it twice is important to ensure you are on track to successful commercialization.
• Know All the Names of Your Team Members:
Chances are, you don’t know everything about everything—which means that you need to surround yourself with people who are knowledgeable in the areas you are not. You should surround yourself with a team of professionals with expertise in the areas needed, such as a patent attorney or patent agent, product designers, engineers, accountants, cost estimators and pricing specialists, market research and marketing professionals, prototype builders, manufacturing consultants, materials consultants, etc. These are “your elves”! You may even find a “Rudolph” who can lead you through the fog and down the path to successful commercialization. You may not need all of these, but don’t hesitate to get outside help such as some assistance from a college or university business school, or even get involved with a business incubator in your area where you can receive a broad range of services.
• Embrace Eccentricity:
Clearly, Santa is eccentric. Any guy who fraternizes with elves and uses as his primary mode of transportation a sleigh guided by reindeer has to fit any reasonable definition of eccentric. On the other hand, inventors could be regarded as eccentric because of its association with genius and creativity. So inventors are already eccentric, just like Santa!
• Have a Jolly Laugh and Show Good Spirit:
As an inventor, you must have a passion for developing your new product idea. It has to be something you really want to do in spite of the risks and potential obstacles. You need to show good spirit, but save your jolly laugh until after you have successfully commercialized your new product idea and have a bank account to support that position. Comedian George Carlin said, “The reason Santa is so jolly is that he knows where the bad girls live.” These people are not part of his target market, but it illustrates the point that you need to understand the demographics of the marketplace you plan to enter. There’s nothing wrong with “laughing all the way to the bank.”
• Search for Alternate Entry Methods, Such as the Chimney:
Look at the marketing situation faced by Santa. He really only has two choices for delivery of presents into a house: down the chimney if the house has one, or through the front door (or a window). If he comes through the front door, he might be spotted by a neighbor or, worse, wake up the dogs that would bark and wake up the household.
As an inventor, you also need to identify and describe any barriers to entry into your target market and, if there are any, determine how these apply to you and what steps you need to take to overcome them. However, you potentially have more options than Santa to enable you to market and sell your new product. Examples would include through distributors, directly to consumers, internet advertising, major retailers, infomercials, etc. As in the case of Santa, you will need a plan and strategy for doing this.
• Enable the Dreams of Others:
Santa Claus is all about dreams, delivering presents to all well-behaved girls and boys around the globe. This is similar to the objective of inventors—that is, to deliver a solution to a problem that meets an unmet need for which many people may dream of a solution, and hopefully with at least enough such dreamers to make the new invention commercially viable. Remember that customers spend money because they believe that what they buy can solve their problems, fulfill their needs or satisfy their desires. In order to be successful in the marketplace, you must have a value proposition that captures both the unique value that your invention idea presents and enables a customer to see past the competition and choose you.
There’s much to be learned from Santa Claus’s approach to commercializing his services. He has to have been inventive, or how else could he have met such challenging performance delivery requirements? Besides, he’s been doing this successfully for a long time.