No one wants a better mousetrap

Back in the day, product innovation was driven by the mantra:  “Build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door.”

The days of improving on the category leader are over.  Your customer doesn’t really want a better mousetrap, she wants rodent control.

Recently, at Natural Products Expo West, the trade show showcasing natural, organic and eco-friendly products, I was again surprised at how many start-up companies were hoping to find buyers and brokers to make their dreams of the “better mousetrap” a financial reality.  

Better is no longer a clear differentiator—being different is.

Al Ries said it best in his Advertising Age article from 2/19/07:  “…you have to think differently, not better.” 

Netflix was the category killer for video rentals because of its delivery system was different (home delivery), not its product (movies).  Silk (my former brand) created the soymilk category by Americanizing taste and packaging, even though Asian-style soymilks had been around for ages.  Fresh Express created the packaged salad mix category.  Can you even name another competitor who has survived?

Being different, rather than better, still is not sufficient for a profitable brand strategy.  The points-of-differentiation must be meaningful to the target customer.   

On the trade show floor at Expo West, Nordic Naturals wasn’t just exhibiting bigger/better omega-3 capsules; they had fish oil in adult gummies—a different delivery system as well as solving a consumer need (no more fish oil taste or horse pills to swallow!).  Zico was sampling coconut water, a new beverage with naturally-occurring electrolytes, not just a “better” functional water, as so many other companies hoped to introduce.  Clementine Art redefined non-toxic art materials with their natural line of art supplies for kids.  There were other innovative products at the show, but you get the idea.  Being “different” requires a breakthrough, not just offering three new flavors. 

With retailers cutting their offerings to one or two per category (perhaps with an additional store/private label brand), how many “better mousetraps” will go by the wayside this year?

For a full Expo West trend report, read last week’s blog (3/16/10) categorized under Natural Products.

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    1. […] that the salsa recipes are different.  I wrote a blog post on this topic last year called “No One Wants a Better Mousetrap.“  There are lots and lots and lots of start-ups that think they can make an improved salsa […]

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