What the Snuggie, the Roomba, and other innovative products can teach you about turning an unknown name and product into a consumer success.
hen TV commercials for the Snuggie launched in October of 2008, they were difficult to take seriously. For anyone with an extra sweatshirt in their closet, a lounging woman's debate between keeping her arms warm and completing simple tasks like answering the phone or knitting was hardly inspiration to direct-order a $20 sleeved blanket. And by the time the ad showed an entire snuggie-clad family cheering at a sporting event, some viewers were too busy laughing to pick up the phone.
But when four million Snuggies were sold in four months, the Snuggie's creator, Allstar Products, had the last laugh. Within months of its introduction, the Snuggie transformed from a virtually unknown product into a pop culture phenomenon, appearing on The Today Show, referenced on hit TV comedy 30 Rock, and featured in the tabloids. Hundreds of Facebook groups and YouTube parodies spread awareness and boosted sales.
"Once we got people talking, it turned into a great product," says Scott Boilen, Allstar Product's CEO. "It was almost like why wouldn't a blanket have sleeves?"
Today, more than 25 million Snuggies have been sold, making the brand an exemplar for one-of-a-kind products seeking mass consumer acceptance. With tens of thousands of inventions conceived each year, turning an innovative new product into a consumer staple isn't easy. It requires creativity, ingenuity, and persistence to break into a market and convince consumers they need something that never existed before. Follow the example of the Snuggie and other successful products to make your own invention into a sensation.
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Yes, the creators of Snuggie were in on the joke. Allstar Products intentionally gave its product a quirky name and an over-the-top commercial to promote fun and fashion. But, the Snuggie still upheld Allstar's core purpose: problem solving. "We're a problem-solution company," says Boilen. "We show a problem to a consumer and give them an excellent way to solve it at a good price."
In order to make a new product something consumers can't live without, it needs to serve a purpose in your customer's life. Defining that purpose depends on your individual product's functionality. Allstar's problem-solution method takes daily activities and enhances them with a new idea.
The direct marketing consumer product company used a similar solution-based method when promoting Topsy Turvy, a device that allows tomatoes to grow upside down to provide fresh-grown produce without the traditional hassles of a full garden. "That was more about functionality than fun," Boilen says. "It was a different message that took a little longer for people to get out there. But it was also a big hit."
For Vapur, a two-year-old company that designs foldable, reusable water bottles, defining a purpose was twofold, both solving a problem and embracing changing consumer desires.
"We knew there was a lot of need for a green water bottle because the green movement was taking off, the economy was tanking, and people were looking for away to get off bottled water," says co-founder Jason Carignan. "The problem with traditional bottles was that they were as bulky empty as they were full."
A few rare products are able to leave their purpose undefined, using their customer's imaginations to fill in the blanks. The Oona, a versatile smartphone holder recently funded through Kickstarter defines itself as Whatever You Need It To Be. "We wanted to create a stand that could do as many things in the physical world as your phone can do in the virtual world," says co-founder Sam Gordon.
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