Success in a creativity economy hinges not on the uniqueness of an idea or product but whether that product has utility in the market, according to renowned professor, author and consultant David Reibstein.
Reibstein — a marketing professor at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business who has done consulting work for Google, British Airways and Major League Baseball, among many others — recently spoke at the University of Southern Maine as part of the Maine Center for Creativity's Creative Toolbox series.
Reibstein said creative entrepreneurs should focus on researching needs and wants of customers, rather than just creating unique, new products in a vacuum. He explained how top executives at Harley Davidson annually invite die-hard motorcycle riders to their production plants so they can see new models roll off the assembly line. Once the riders go inside the plant, members of company's research and development team scour the parking lot to note the alterations made on the riders' personal bikes. The most common alterations are then incorporated into future models, he said.
To properly develop a successful product, entrepreneurs must also understand important difference between marketing and sales.
"Selling is the process of getting rid of that which we have," says Reibstein, who created the shopzilla.com and bizrate.com websites. "Marketing is the process of having what it is that we can easily get rid of."
Reibstein cited examples of creative ideas that failed in terms of sales and market penetration, either because they were not created to meet specific needs, not properly priced or ahead of their time. Among the failures he cited was the Segway, which has not taken off despite the hoopla that it would revolutionize transportation. Other failures cited include the USB-powered toothbrush and the motorized suitcase. The success stories he highlighted tended to be simpler: the ballpoint pen, two-sided toaster, the bar code and the no-iron shirt.
"Just being creative in and of itself is just not enough," he said.