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Igniting Interest and Desire: Smart Ways to Tout an Innovative Product

by Marcia Yudkin

A client asked me, "How do I describe something people aren't looking for, because they don't know that it exists? It's different from every other product on the market."

I love challenges like this because they give me a chance to do some mental jiu-jitsu, conceptual calisthenics and verbal acrobatics. 

First, you jump onto the ceiling and look down at the product instead of standing close up to it, as the product creator does. From high up, you can see that however innovative a product, it's not actually completely novel. What does the product do for its user? Find a general category that it belongs in. 

You may remember the buildup to the introduction of the Segway in 2001. It was called "The It" - the ultimate non-informative label. Yes, it was something we truly hadn't seen before, but even so, we have a general category into which we can put it. It gets you from one place to another place without expending your energy on walking. We now call it a "personal transporter."

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My client's product was an audio product that helped people struggling with everyday personal issues. What was innovative about it was the way they worked, something that had to be carefully explained. However, to start off, the product line could be accurately described as self-improvement audio products that help the average person overcome everyday problems like low self-esteem, communication difficulties, stress, out-of-control anger and so on in just seven minutes a day. 

Second, you compare your product to alternatives. For the Segway, we can compare it to other forms of transportation, like walking, bicycling and driving a car. The audio products could be compared to other forms of coping such as talk therapy, trying to understand the roots of the problem, taking medication and continuing to suffer by doing nothing. My client created a chart contrasting the safety, ease, effectiveness and cost of his self-improvement materials to traditional office therapy, self-help products by qualified professionals, self-help products by unqualified gurus and psychiatric drugs.

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Third, you make a bold claim and then back it up. I found the "seven minutes a day" a pretty bold claim. My client, a licensed marriage and family therapist, was able to explain its foundation in psychological research. Other ways to support a claim like this might be that the product worked for X number of people, the process was based on theories that have been proven in other areas, the product passed a clinical study, it was acclaimed by respected people or it was featured in the media. Even simply explaining why seven minutes a day is enough for personal change helps. Sometimes there's an origin story that helps make the innovation credible. Or a guarantee.

It may be helpful to add a reference section documenting in greater detail how and why the product achieves its results. Let's imagine a financial service whose bold claim was keeping retirement savings safe against economic collapse. The reference material - tucked away somewhere for optional reading - would spin out scenarios that showed how the service protected someone's life savings. For the self-improvement audio products, I advised my client to make available an explanation why the method works, first in layperson's terms and second at a more advanced level for people who had more background in psychology. 

Fourth, you talk about successes. This is where the Segway fell down. They had President George Bush (the first one) try one. However, President Bush fell off the Segway, which detracted from its safety image. The company also got a lot of negative coverage because of cities outlawing their use on sidewalks, so they didn't have a lot of successes to talk about. 

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My client was in better shape on this score, because he had a boatload of letters from happy customers who had achieved the results they hoped for. Testimonials and success stories round out the picture that consumers are building in their minds about the innovative product.

It's vital to accomplish all of the above in ordinary language, without mind-numbing jargon. Once the Segway was unveiled, people who saw video footage of it understood instantly how it transported people. For more abstract innovations, however, it's hard to find the picture that equals a thousand words. Instead, deploy metaphors that give people a mental picture of the distinctive benefits of the product. 

For example, the financial service described above "provides a kryptonite vault for your savings." Or talk about the "triple shield" precautions taken by the company for customers' peace of mind.

Copyright 2015 Marcia Yudkin.  All rights reserved.

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