Some great ideas immediately catch on -- like fire (which, while I wasn’t there, I gotta believe was immediately popular) or iTunes (a million songs sold in the first weekend, remember?). Other great ideas never quite get there, like Betamax or the metric system. And while there is no telling what will catch the collective consumer’s attention and excitement, there are plenty of ways to screw up a good thing. There are several big and damaging mistakes that companies big and small make when launching a new offering.
Mistake #1: Too narrow a focus.
It can be frustrating to be an entrepreneur who has a product idea that everyone praises as money in the bank, only to face a bland, non-reaction from consumers. Some flops are high profile, like Segway's initial refusal to sell to the general public, preferring instead to focus on mail carriers. (When was the last time you saw a mail carrier on a Segway?) When the product was introduced, Steve Jobs and others hailed it as one of the most important inventions of the twentieth century. People talked about the Segway changing the way cities were built.
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Mistake #2: Identity crisis.
Some ideas take time to develop, and sadly they cannot be rushed. This often leads entrepreneurs to rebrand the offering as something else, and when that doesn’t work they rebrand it again and again, until the consumer is so confused that they wouldn’t take the offering if it were given to them.
Mistake #3: Death by improvement.
I won’t call out any social networking sites by name (they know who they are), but let’s just say that the leading social network and the leading business networking sites have “improved” themselves to the brink of destruction. Every day I hear from people leaving sites because they were completely happy with the product the way it was, and how too often, in order to “improve,” the site dropped or dumbed down popular features. Improvement?
Mistake #4: Death by complacency.
Even people old enough to remember sites like MySpace or America Online probably have only a dim memory of those sites because which they were quick to abandon them for Facebook and others that came to dominate the electronic landscape. AOL (the rebranded too little too late poster child) waited too long to acquiesce to what it’s members wanted, and I’m not sure MySpace even tried to compete. Sometimes when the going gets tough the tough take their ball and go home, I guess.
Mistake #5: Quitting too soon.
When you have invested hard-earned dollars, time, and sweat into an offering, it’s easy to get impatient and want to see a return on that investment now. But as I mentioned, some ideas take time to mature before becoming familiar to the buying public. For years IBM sales people sold what were by many people’s standards over-priced and underperforming equipment simply by intimating that “no one ever got fired for buying IBM.” Early adopters still represent a very small percentage of many markets and if you have something truly innovative and fresh you will likely have to be patient before your offering takes off.