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Will It Sell?TM
How to Determine If Your Invention Is Profitably Marketable
(Before Wasting Money on a Patent)

Jim White
Marketing help for inventors and small businesses. James E. White & Assoc.
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"As the author himself admits, some may find some of his advice as too negative. But if you were facing expensive, life-saving surgery, would you choose a bad surgeon with good bedside manners or a great surgeon with poor bedside manners? Humor aside, this is a book no inventor or new product enterpreneur should be without. And at its low price there is no reason not to get a copy today."
Bill Bazik, Inventors Connevtion of Greater Cleveland, members.aol.com/icgc/ and The Entrepreneur Network, www.tenonline.org


Advertising Claims for Your Invention

No Lies Please

The short rule regarding the claims you make for your invention is: DON'T MAKE ANY CLAIM YOU CANNOT SUBSTANTIATE VIA EXISTING DOCUMENTATION OR AN OBJECTIVE TEST. That is pretty simple—it means don't lie. But, you say, "All marketers are liars." That is almost universally false. A small subset of marketers often do provide you with information which you fool yourself with but that is all. The major areas that people fool themselves in are greed, love/sex, and vanity.

I manufacture a 1 cent pill that can help you lose weight and get the attention of the lover of your dreams. Distributorships are available but going so fast they are no longer available in some counties. For high profit resale information just check the box when you send $19.95 for your sample bottle of 200 fully guaranteed pills.

Note that was not really a commercial interruption, please do not send $19.95, my hypothetical pill does not exist. But you should see that the writing does at least attempt to strongly appeal to greed and love/sex and possibly vanity. It does not, however, promise anything except to deliver 200 "can help, fully guaranteed" 1 cent pills for about 10 cents each and, at a minimum, information on how to become a distributor. Any belief that anything else was promised was generated entirely in your head.

You Gotta Know Your Limitations—The FTC

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) (www.ftc.gov) is constantly on the lookout for consumer fraud—i.e., advertisers selling but not delivering what they promise. Unfortunately, most FTC "watchdog" action is taken only in response to a pattern of complaints. A number of advertisers do try to skate as close to the thin edge of misrepresentation as possible but, if you take the time to look at the next 50 ads, commercials, etc. you come across you will probably find that most companies play the game pretty safely. The reason is simple—successful companies want your business again and again and again and they want you to recommend them to your friends. Why? Because the solidest foundation for a wealthy businessman is repeat and referral customers. First time and one-time customers are often gotten at a loss. True rip-off artists that stay within the law have very tough going because they must be constantly inventing new rip-offs that (just like inventions) may or may not pay off. Maybe we should call those semi-rip-off artists. The blatant fraud rip-off artists on a mass consumer scale are usually "one-shot" people that get caught during their second or third try at fraud (usually because they got just a little greedier).

Please don't just believe that all you have to do is give a demonstration to someone and they will believe you. I had a farmer friend who was in the market for a new tractor. He was talking to a salesman about various features and the salesman brought up the (extra cost?) easy-change tire system and started to give a demo right there in the showroom. My friend's comment was (approximately) "Would you mind if I asked you to hold off on that demonstration till I have a flat tire in a low spot in my field in April when there is a light drizzle, its 35 degrees out, and the wind is gusting to 30 miles an hour." Aside from the fact that you are likely to do the demo in ideal (rather than real-world) conditions, people are also aware how easy it is to perform unseen "magic" when the inventor is in total control.

Objective Claims

Where you should really concentrate your effort is on the objective claims you can make. These are claims that can be tested and proved to be true or false. Only make claims that you know can be proven true. The FTC can require you to provide documentation that verifies the claim. The FTC will not accept documentation that simply asserts that the claim is (or is believed to be) true. While it is not mandatory, I strongly recommend that you spend the money necessary for an impartial (except that they know who is paying for it) entity (testing lab, consumer surveyor, etc.) to validate your claims. To have really strong claims you can also have a third party submit your and your competitors products for simultaneous independent testing. If you do this however, the FTC requires that the competitive products be reasonably comparable major brands—Brand X does not qualify if better ones are commonly available. If your invention is a medical device, the federal Food and Drug Administration (and the law) mandate that your claims be validated by rigorous scientific testing AND THAT ANY POSSIBLE SIDE EFFECTS BE DISCLOSED. Anecdotal evidence (I did it and it worked for me) is not acceptable.

Fuzzy Qualifiers

You should not try to make a claim and surround it with fuzzy qualifiers. The fuzzy qualifiers may actually have the effect of increasing your testing cost should you be called on to do it. For example "cleans a grill in 3 minutes" is a cheap test to perform; 1 grill (with presumably unbiased selection) and 3 minutes of time will give you a proved/not proved answer. If it takes 3 minutes and 10 seconds your claim is obviously false but may still be considered within acceptable "hype" tolerances. On the other hand the claim "you'll typically clean your grill in less than 3 minutes"" can require considerably more effort to prove. Now you probably need to get a representative set of grills (big, small, fairly clean, very dirty, etc.) and time the cleaning of each of them with everyday users rather than your factory experts. An average time of 3 minutes and 10 seconds may not be considered tolerable for this claim.

However, if qualifiers are essential for the claim to have any validity (or even believability) you MUST include them with the claim—at least to avoid being ignored. For example "my invention will take anything from 0 degrees to 3,000 degrees in 3 seconds" is a pretty bold claim. Nobody will believe it and you clearly cannot prove it true. If I asked you to prove it by raising the temperature of the Moon to 3000 degrees Celsius I am certain you could not do it. I would be willing to bet you $1,000 you couldn't even do it for a 2-inch cube of steel. Without putting qualifiers on such a claim you pretty much guarantee that you will loose 99.999% of all potential sales because you will simply be tuned out. If you know what you can substantiate—"I have invented a heater that outputs .01 BTU per second at 3000 degrees Fahrenheit within 3 seconds of startup"—then state it clearly and a lot more people will be interested. Remember, as the inventor it is in your best interests to get your message across. It is not your target's responsibility to correctly understand you.

You should also be aware that, from a marketing perspective, your claims must be tied to the best interests of buyers. "Made of heat treated 330 C Steel" is a wasted claim since few people will know what benefits heat treated 330 C Steel has relative to any other steel (or material for that matter). "Making this product of heat treated 330 C Steel allows us to guarantee that it will hold its cutting edge for 20 years—even when used daily on the hardest granite." Now we know something about how heat treated 330 C Steel benefits us even if we don't know that 330 C Steel is just a designation that I made up.

Your Very Own Institute

While you can create your own club or organization or even something you designate as an "Institute," and then wear some hat in that institute while you make some proclamation or claim that you intend to advertise the hell out of, I don't recommend it. It is not illegal although I suspect you'll find a fair percentage of the population who believe it is. It is clearly in the broad gray area of ethics but approaching the darker end of the area. If, when wearing your "Institute" hat you make a blatantly fraudulent claim you can still get into real trouble but if your claim is fuzzy and your ads hype up the "Institute's" proclamation your likely "punishment," should the FTC ever get enough complaints to take any action, will probably be to include a suitable, small print, footnote in your future advertising noting the relationship between the company and the "Institute." Worse is if customers lose faith in you and take their business elsewhere. Why risk it? If your best claim for your product has to be vague why not work on another product that really gives the customer something? Unless you are pathologically immoral, you'll feel better about your profits too.

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