Think Like a Buyer and Pitch Like a Pro
If you’re like most people, you’re probably reading this on one of several open tabs on your browser, listening to music, getting interrupted by a colleague or a kid, and you haven’t gotten up for hours even though you really, really have to pee.
There is so much to watch and play, and there are so many more “channels” for consumers to access content, that it’s no wonder their attention is so fragmented and their tastes so fickle. In addition to the deluge of content, social media habits make it so that fads come and go faster than ever, far more quickly than the product development cycle.
If this current human condition is making your job as an inventor challenging, imagine what the merchant at the other end of the supply chain feels like. In addition to having to make sense of all of the above, they’re currently living in the era of the “retail apocalypse!” No one is safe!
So now, more than ever, when you’re pitching a product to a potential licensee, it’s important to think about what it will look like to the person whose job it is to make it move off the shelf. That person is not the Inventor Relations representative you’re pitching. It’s not the product developer at your friendly global toy manufacturer who will be tasked with making your concept come alive. It’s the buyer. AKA the merchant. AKA the peddler of plastic.
Put yourself in their shoes before you craft your pitch, and you’ll make the job of everyone involved in developing your product that much easier, and yourself more successful. Pretend you’re responsible for maximizing revenue and profit for a set amount of space, and that space is already full. Maybe a little too full. What would it take to convince you to carry a new item?
The best way to come up with the answer to this is to shop. Shop a lot, and know your market. Before you begin to write your pitch, take a representation of your product to several retailers, and figure out where it would be best merchandised in their aisles. That is, where would customers look for it? After you’ve done your research on the products that already exist in that area, find the blogs and press releases about what’s coming into the space but is not yet on the shelf. This is about as close as you’re going to get to the set of information that retail buyers are working with when they select their assortments. They’ll, of course, know more about yet-to-be-released products, but using this method, you’ll be working with a decent enough approximation of what you’re up against.
Now, given all this information, how does your product stack up and stand out in comparison to its neighbors? Again, retail shelves have a finite amount of space -- so what does the buyer have to get rid of in order to make space for your product? In economic terms, what is the “opportunity cost” of giving you a chance?
These are all answers that the manufacturer who licenses your product will have to provide buyers who would list your product, so why not help them as only the creator of the product can do? Armed with the knowledge and confidence that good research can give, craft your pitch sheet and create your video for presenting to a potential licensee.
Yes, if you want to pitch like a pro, you should have both a pitch sheet and a video.
Your pitch sheet should be just that -- one sheet, and pretend you’re writing an assignment in Journalism 101:
Headline & Subtitle - the name of your product and its tagline or slogan
Who - is it for? Number of players, age range, etc.
What- unique hook or selling point of your product.
Where - what category? What is it merchandised next to?
When - how long it will keep people occupied?
Why - should it exist? Does it satisfy an unmet need? Is it capitalizing on a trend? Why would people want it? What’s new about it? Function? Material? Play pattern? Is it some zany new thing that has never been seen before? Or is it an improvement, added value, or new perspective upon what already exists (which is ok, but be prepared to explain its significance).
How - how is it played, and how much should it cost?
Picture - of course you’ll need a picture of its components and ideally a comp box (even in the age of e-commerce shelf presence makes a difference).
Your (very important) video should contain most of the information in the pitch sheet, in a fun and engaging way. These days, anyone with a smart phone can make a great video. Learn how to make a crisp, 30-60 second video with good lighting, clear sound, and a well-thought-out script that covers all of the same components of the pitch sheet, and show people actually playing with the product.
If you’re a new inventor and all of the above sounds daunting, don’t worry! It is daunting, and it’s that way for everyone. But if you’re passionate about seeing your creations on shelf, don’t be discouraged and do not give up! Anyone in this business will tell you that adoption rates are quite low, so calibrate your benchmark for rejection appropriately. You’ll be told “no” 100 times before you’ll get a “yes.” And just because your idea doesn’t work for one company doesn’t mean it won’t for another, or that it won’t later for a company who initially passed. Success is a combination of right time, right place, and right partner. All three of these factors, and probably a few more, plus a dash of luck, have to Waltz together for an idea to take hold. It isn’t easy, but when it happens, it’s magic. Good luck!