How do you market innovative products or methods that are proven but met with skepticism?

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linkedin pageIn the Construction Marketing Ideas LinkedIn group, a reader has posted a question that has sparked some rewarding responses.

“How do you market innovative products or methods that are proven but met with skepticism?”

Two answers have emerged.  In the first, provided by me, I suggest that the marketer needs to obtain relevant third-party validation of the product/service’s value before starting the marketing campaign.  This requires successful (in fact amazingly enthusiastic) reports from early test users and evaluators — creating the credibility and reference points for further marketing success.

However, this leads to a second question, equally relevant.  How do you find the test users?  And if your product/service is truly expensive to provide, you cannot perhaps afford to share a full free sample while they evaluate it.  Here, you you need to have earned the early clients’ trust and this requires both proven expertise and integrity.

Melissa Carroll writes:

I dealt with this in another industry (advanced diagnostic testing/healthcare) and we overcame the objections by understanding what our clients needed and filling that need as it pertained to our services. Once you understand the client’s position and challenges you can speak to them from their position and provide the answers they are looking for. You need to be a very good listener and ask a lot of questions.

To build acceptance and trust we had very strict policies about what we would and would not do for a client and worked to be above reproach in all areas. We never misled and never let them believe the product was anything more than was it was. We didn’t have good validation studies (the standard double blind trials were not ethically or financially possible) so we really had to work to gain the trust of our clients based on the value of our word. We did that by being very transparent about our services and by having peers that could provide feedback. Finding a client evangelist is priceless. In the span of about 5 years we went from barely surviving to being an industry leader with about 30-40% growth a year.

If you are an “also ran” then you need to offer much better service and customer support, etc. to get the client away from price. You have to be easier to deal with than your competition, so you need competitive intelligence. We had another product that was an industry “also ran” and struggled to get even to get active clients to move to our test. It was tough. We applied the same theory as the flag ship test, spent a lot of time learning this new market and listened to objections from active clients. Take criticism as a gold mine of information and use it to improve your offering. We found that even beating the market price (even free) didn’t move clients to change their habits. We had to find a much more meaningful trigger. Being easier to work with than your competition can be a strong drive to change. For this product we had to find a number of drivers before change would occur. Just don’t give up – slow and steady wins the race.

It can be done. You just have to stay the course and pay attention to what people are telling you and then respond to those needs and you’ll start seeing success.

Melissa makes an excellent point.  But what if you are offering a product geared to retail consumers which needs to be sold in large volumes through various distributors, or, in my case, if you are a publisher considering an author’s book?

In the latter situation, I accepted for publication (at my expense) a book from a client whom I trusted.  Over the course of a year, we put it through design, editing and production, and released it earlier this year.  I asked the client to encourage friends, colleagues and other clients to purchase copies and review the book on Amazon.com.

We sold about 15 books — but only one bothered to write a review.  (Friends are unlikely to write a negative review, but if they have integrity won’t fake a positive assessment, so in this case, silence is deadly.) Alas, I realized I had a dud on my hands.  I told the author I would suspend further marketing efforts and he could regain all rights to his book for a modest non-cash fee.

Lots of good ideas out there are difficult if impossible to market.  Many concepts “reach market” and flop.  Sadly, sometimes great ideas reach market, succeed, and then are quickly overtaken by competition.  It can be brutal out there.

Simply put, before diving in the deep end, you need validation, ideally from independent third-parties, but even as my book story shows, sometimes (if you listen carefully) friends and family can tell you what you need to know.   It is okay — in fact it is essential — to engage the people who are closest to you in the marketing process, at the beginning, as these will be the ones who can provide you the critical early feedback either negative or positive to allow you to move forward.  Listen carefully and be prepared to face the music, if necessary.

Here is a description of the LinkedIn Construction Marketing Ideas group, which now has about 2,300 members and is growing rapidly.

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