Marketing Your Invention
Yet, raising awareness can be difficult. In the following, we provide a number of suggestions for tackling this daunting task.
A Preliminary Step: Establishing Rights
Whether you have invented a product or a system or a method, often one of the first steps to take is to secure or establish your rights to your invention. In some cases, this is a matter of getting to market as soon as possible in an effort to dominate a new marketplace; the 'first mover advantage'.
However, in many cases, establishing legal protection for an inventive feature can be an excellent way to complement market presence. For example, such protection can often enable new firms to break into competitive marketplaces by carving out a set of exclusive rights or can enable first to justify and protect an investment of resources into developing a new product or service.
Where maintaining the secrecy of an invention is practical and it is unlikely to be independently discovered by someone else, a judicious use of contracts and other mechanisms can often ensure that an invention is maintained indefinitely as a trade secret. Where secrecy is not practical, patent protection may be available to give the inventor time-limited exclusive rights to make and use and sell the invention.
In either case, taking steps prior to making information available to others is important. Disclosing potential trade secrets outside the proper framework can destroy the secretary of the information. Disclosing potentially patentable inventions prior to filing an application can destroy the novelty of the invention. While in both cases steps can often be taken despite potentially destructive disclosures, it is typically best to avoid such disclosures whenever possible.
Identifying a Target Market
When you are ready to begin raising awareness, the first step is usually to identify the types of consumers who you would like to target. Some factors to consider include the following:
- Where your invention is meant to improve or replace an older product, its market is likely to be similar to the market of the older product. However, where your invention significantly changes an older product or introduces new features you may also wish to consider whether it could be used in ways the old product never was. As an example, the addition of features to allow cell phone users to access the Internet has dramatically changed how cell phones are used and who they are used by.
- Where your invention is meant to compete in the market with the products of competitors, its market is likely to be similar to the market of your competitor's products. Research into your potential competitors may also help you gauge the prices that consumers would be willing to pay for your invention, and may provide you with an indication of how large the current market is.
Traditional marketing methods can still prove to be a useful tool in increasing awareness of your invention, particularly when appealing to older demographics. While television or radio advertisements can be expensive for an emerging company, many traditional marketing methods remain accessible:
- News coverage, such as in newspapers and magazines, can be a great source of free or nearly-free publicity. Examples of inventions which may be interest to journalists include inventions which are targeted to a particular problem, which relate in some way to a current event or value, or are surprising or otherwise able to capture the interest of the public. While news coverage can sometimes be broad, attracting the attention of targeted media platforms may enable you to get your message out to an identifiable group.
- Similarly, you may be able to advertise your product on local radio shows or talk shows. By getting in contact with the producers, it may be possible to obtain exposure if your product is relevant to the audience of the outlet.
- Do not discount the power of word-of-mouth advertising. The recommendations of personal networks are often taken as more trustworthy and sincere than those originating from other sources. Enlist your family, friends, colleagues and other people invested in your success to try your invention and recommend it to others if they like it.
In recent years, online marketing has largely overtaken traditional marketing as the most effective and cost-efficient way to reach consumers. Most people now regularly use some combination of web surfing, e-mail and social media, with Internet use almost universal among younger demographics. As such, having an effective online marketing strategy is essential to connecting with your consumers. Below are some common methods of creating and maintaining an online presence:
- One of the first steps to promoting a product online is to create a website that outlines the advantages and selling features of your invention and/or your business at large. The website can act as a landing page for other forms of Internet marketing such as paid advertisements, e-mail newsletters and social media, and can provide the essential information necessary for your customers to familiarize themselves with what your product can do for them and where and how to purchase it. A website can also act as a tool for interested individuals to provide their contact information for follow-up marketing.
- Social media can also be important in creating an effective online presence. Depending on the nature of your invention, some networks which may be useful for connecting with consumers include Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, FourSquare and Instagram. Each of these networks allows for the creation of a business page or profile that can then provide information to consumers about your product and be used for targeted advertising on the chosen platform.
- An e-mail newsletter can also be a great way to connect with consumers that have already established an interest in your invention. While there are laws to abide by such as Canada's Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL) regarding who you can communicate with by e-mail as a business, an e-mail newsletter is key for keeping consumers in the loop about potential new developments or any offers related to your product. Regular communication can also ensure that potential leads are turned into sales.
- Another useful marketing method may be creating an easy platform for consumers to submit reviews and testimonials or your product. Depending on the nature of your invention, customers may be able to review it on websites such as Google, Amazon or Yelp that simultaneously suggest to other customers interested in similar goods or services whether your product is worthwhile. Another option may be to integrate reviews and testimonials solicited from customers into your main website.
Business to Business Marketing
Another avenue to consider in marketing your product is business-to-business marketing. This may be helpful if you are hoping to sell your invention through multiple venues, such as wholesalers and online sale platforms, or if you are hoping to secure a licensing deal on your product after a patent had been obtained. Below are some strategies that may be useful if you are looking to develop a relationship with businesses in your industry:
- Check out both local stores and larger vendors to see if they sell goods or services that are similar to your invention. If they do, they may consider distributing your invention, which may provide you with an already existing consumer base and enable you to take advantage of the marketing platform already built by the channel of distribution that you are using.
- It may also be useful to check out online wholesalers such as Amazon to see if there is demand for products or services that are similar in nature to your invention. If so, once you begin bringing your product to market you could use these online channels of distribution to display and promote your product.
- If you are hoping to sell or license your trade secret or patent rights, research the key competitors in your industry and connect with them to see whether your invention would be a useful addition to the goods and services they provide. You can do so through trade shows and magazines, local chamber of commerce listings, and online searches with keywords specific to your invention, among other methods. Once you have identified competitors with suitable consumer demographics, you can reach out to them to promote your product and explain its features and the opportunities it can bring.
- Another useful avenue for some inventors is exploring the institutions available to help develop and promote inventions. For example, if your invention is high tech, there are a number of university and other technology incubators that may be able to provide funding and marketing help in the earliest development stages of your business.
Raising awareness of an invention often adds greatly to its commercial value. Once you have taken steps to establish legal protection to complement you market presence, marketing efforts are likely to only increase the value of your products or services and the value of any legal rights you may have to an invention or trade secret.