The innovator trap is where we can end up if we confuse educating with marketing. Going out and telling the world about something completely new and revolutionary certainly stands a good chance of generating interest, but not necessarily any sales.

Certainly innovation can work as a marketing tool, but generally only with an audience who already know and trust you. I'm not suggesting that we only market in the mainstream with existing contacts, but we need to be aware of what works and what doesn't and if necessary make some changes.

Often the changes involve little more than a slight dilution of our proposition - evolution can sell easier than revolution, at the outset. Once effective marketing gives us a foot in the door, we can guide our prospects and customers toward a brave new world.

Let's look at an example. In fact it's a real one from a conversation I had a while ago:

David had developed a product that revolutionises the way corporations store and access electronic information. In other countries similar systems were slowly being embraced and put to extremely good use. In his home market, however, things were trailing a little behind.

David was being invited to talk at numerous conferences and expositions, there was much interest. The joint was jumping. Well, it undoubtedly felt like that for a while, but when I caught up with him it was getting a bit tiring.

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Sure there was a lot of interest, but not enough sales. David was educating and doing a great job of it. His family meanwhile were getting fed up with beans on toast.

So what would you do? Keep bashing away? Go into greater debt maybe? Put the house on the line?

After speaking for a while, we came up with this solution for David:

1. Look much more closely at what's been learned

  • Take time to do some research - had he been educating or marketing?
  • Ask the tough questions and be ready for straight answers.
  • Talk to some of the people who invented the wheel in those other more advanced markets - What lessons had he perhaps missed?

2. Get clear on the options

  • How long could/should he give to your current path?
  • If he made a shift, what would or could that be?
  • Are there any real signs that the market is changing?

3. Think more like a marketeer and less like an innovator

  • If David looked at his revolutionary product as top-of-the-range, what's a possible 'entry level' product? Something to get a foot in the door.
  • How could he modify his language to talk in terms that satisfy a current need, rather than focussing on a future 'maybe-want'?

As soloists it’s fine to use innovation as a marketing tool to get noticed, but it’s important we have products or services that our customers want to buy NOW. Little by little we can up-sell and do more of what we really want.

“ Certainly innovation can work as a marketing tool, but generally only with an audience who already know and trust you. ”
 
Robert Gerrish

Robert Gerrish is one of the Flying Solo crew and supports soloists as a coach and consultant. He presents at conferences and networking events and bangs on to the media or anyone who listens, about all things micro. Along with Sam Leader and Peter Crocker, he's the co-author of Flying Solo – How to go it alone in business.

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