Very few businesses launch new products. Yes, they will say that their product is “new” but it’s really just the same but different. The problem with products that have never existed before is that it takes deep pockets to develop and promote them and lots of time to educate the consumer or business-to-business customer.
Take the bagless vacuum cleaner that James Dyson came up with in the 1970s. It took him at least two decades to get it manufactured and accepted by the market. What average small business owner can wait that long to make an income from a new product?
There have been several electric cars but let’s look at the much publicised Tesla niche luxury electric car. It’s a new product but is only settling in the thousands. Motoring journalists have been worried about Tesla not taking off in a big way. The short trips and long hours for charging are some of the main drawbacks. The jury is still out whether it will take off in a bigger way. (“Time” magazine recently reported that the federal auto safety regulator announced that it is investigating battery fires in the luxury Tesla Model S electric cars following a series of fires.)
A product that is not new but different and has taken off massively is the Oxo Good Grip Line of kitchen tools. All Sam Farber really did was to bring comfort and pleasing design to the conventional potato peeler which has been around for decades. When the Oxo Good Grip potato peeler took off, Farber modified a whole lot of other traditional kitchen tools and they too were successful with consumers.
A while back I went through a list of about 100 “new” food products in a food manufacturing trade Journal. As I went through the endless list of products I saw that most were new variants, new flavours and some really only had packaging changes. When last did you see a brand-new product from a food manufacturer?
For the small business start-up it’s probably more viable to come up with something that’s a little different, better tasting or superior functioning product or a knocked down version of a product or service that is out of reach of most consumers or buyers.
When people say it’s better to be a copycat, they don’t mean that you should duplicate what’s already on the market. That would be fraudulent. What is meant is that you should come up with something that customers already know but that gives them better value or performance.
The old investors’ rule of thumb about not coming up with something that is more than 15% “new” may seem arbitrary but it’s a good measure to bear in mind when coming up with new product ideas.