Archive for November, 2009

Inventions Ahead of Their Time

November 30, 2009 Jeff Lindsay No Comments » Innovators

One of my painful experiences in the pursuit of patents has been surprisingly close prior art. Even after serious and careful searching related to an invention that seems entirely new, one may later find that someone else pursued a very similar idea many years ago. Like the Good Book says, there is no truly novel thing under the sun, though there may be many nonobvious improvements thereof.

A great example of this is the iPod, a terrific innovation that may have been anticipated to some degree in 1979. “Suspiciously Prescient Man Files Patent for iPod-Like Device in 1979” is Dan Nosowitz’s recent post at Gizmodo pointing out how an old, expired patent hinted at several aspects of the iPod. Of course, music players and MP3s were already around when the iPod came out, but the 1979 data is rather surprising. That patent may have had some great concepts, but like many inventive concepts, it may have been too early to be practical and successful. Timing is so important for success in innovation: is the market ready, is the supply chain available, is there an ecosystem that can be tapped, can the concept stick and resonate with other innovations, and can it be offered economically?

Consideration of the market roadmap for a prospective innovation can be critical for success. Many times suceess requires adjusting the business model to find the resonances that can add energy to the offering and to find ways to present the innovation in a disruptive manner rather than going head-on against established incumbents. Innovation is often more about the business model and marketing plan than it is about the technology itself. The iTunes model was part of what made the iPod a winner. 1979 was the wrong digital era for that invention.

Do you have an invention that is way ahead of its time? Is you company pursuing a product concept too far ahead of its time? Why not considering tapping the expertise of the team at Innovationedge to look for ways to realize the potential of your innovation vision in the near future, rather than simply laying a foundation for future generations to benefit from your work (royalty free). We enjoy working with innovators to find the right way to position an invention in order to find disruptive innovation opportunities, or to find the right business model and partners to increase the odds of success, or to create the marketing roadmap that can identify the path forward for bringing the concept successfully to the market. It’s not easy, and sometimes the problems really can’t be readily circumvented, but when there is a fit with our skills and interests, we really enjoy working with others to help them find innovation success.

Thanksgiving sees trends in travel

November 25, 2009 Cheryl Perkins No Comments » Financial Trends, Trends

The Wednesday before Thanksgiving is seen as the busiest travel day of the year in the United States, and as I post this, millions of Americans are sitting in airports, train stations or in their cars waiting to get going on their Thanksgiving travel plans.

About 38 million domestic travelers are expected to go somewhere this holiday, but that’s 20 million fewer than in 2005 when the economy was brighter.  Thanks to the economy and higher transportation costs, many of you are opting to drive or take trains and buses instead of shelling paying for higher airline tickets.

The average price for a gallon of gas this weekend is $2.63, up about 65 cents over last year at this time. That will push the average fuel cost for trips of about 5 hours to about $101.

Certainly forgoing air and  long roadtrips  for Thanksgiving and opting for cheaper alternatives is a sign of our current times. But another trend I am seeing is families are staying home more this Thanksgiving, even if it means missing that yearly family get-together.

In the last two years Thanksgiving travel took a nosedive–by 25 percent between 2007 and 2008, and AAA doesn’t see that changing much this year. In fact AAA predicts there will be a 6.7 percent decrease in air travelers this holiday compared with last year.

Are you part of that trend? Wherever you are this year, I want to wish you a very happy Thanksgiving.

Starbucks hoping Via captures a niche

November 20, 2009 Cheryl Perkins No Comments » Innovation In The News, Packaging Trends, Trends

via-starbucksIt’s been a couple of months now since Starbucks launched its instant coffee, after spending years developing it and months preparing its employees to pitch the granules. The product is called Via, and comes in three-packs that go for $2.95.

So has Via been an idea that will work? I haven’t had a chance to give it the taste test yet. As a Starbucks fan myself, I will say that it targets the convenience factor when I can’t get over to the drive-through.

Some say the marketing is too aggressive; too much of a hard sell that could potentially turn customers off. What is interesting to me is the feedback about that from employees and customers who have been weighing in on Via and the marketing plan over on several blogs like the company’s mystarbucksidea.com and starbucksgossip.com.

Business Week’s recent article on the new instant surmized,

“That Starbucks would even create an instant coffee is surprising enough. After all, the company celebrates the ritual preparation of coffee, and the sense of comfort, indulgence, and sometimes community that its customers experience. It is telling that, before introducing Via in three test markets, the company told employees an elaborate story about its creation: that it was a two-decade-long quest begun by a researcher named Don Valencia; that Valencia passed away before scientists at the company finally came up with a micro-grinding technique that allowed Starbucks to make an instant coffee that passed the exacting Schultz taste test; and that the name itself is in part homage to Valencia.” Read more…

The story itself is part of a trend in corporate advertising. Stories sell–even more so than customer testimonies.

For the first time ever, Starbucks unveiled a national TV and print advertising campaign focused on a single product. For its part, Starbucks is banking on the hopes that Via will be a hit. The potential is there. Instant coffee is a $21 billion global market. And Starbucks made a significant investment in Via, the biggest product rollout in its history.

Friday fun: “Flyover” advertising?

November 13, 2009 Cheryl Perkins No Comments » Innovation, Innovation In The News

Could the smallest commercial gimmick in the world become a new trend in advertising?

Maybe not, but I couldn’t resist posting this innovative and unconventional way of delivering messages to customers.

At this year’s 2009 Frankfurt Book Fair a German book company, Eichborn, decided to create an ad campaign that was highly unusual, but effective nonetheless.  At their booth, company execs attached tiny ad banners to flies, and let them loose. That’s right–branded insects!

Check out people’s reactions to the can’t-miss ad delivery method:

Inventory is one of the biggest challenges stores face this holiday season

November 9, 2009 Cheryl Perkins No Comments » Alpha Moms, Financial Trends
zhu zhu pets

This is a "Zhu Zhu Pet," retailing for about $10. It's one of the hot toys this season, but don't be surprised if you can't find it.

Remember the hot toys from years past–Tickle Me Elmo, Cabbage Patch Dolls and Furby? This year the holiday season’s early hit is the Zhu Zhu Pets hamster, an interactive mechanical rodent. But it is also almost impossible to find as the holiday shopping season draws near. It’s not because parents are rushing out to buy the robotic mouse.

No, instead of those parental buying binges of the past, the empty shelves are pointing to another trend in our down economy: The shortages come from stores that are concerned about ordering too much (like they did last year), and are keeping their inventories thin.

The result, with seven weeks to go before Christmas, is that popular toys and perhaps even the unpopular ones are already hard to find.

(Other hot “must have” toys this year are Mattel’s Mindflex, a Nerf dart thrower called Nerf N Strike from Hasbro Inc., and Barbie Fashionista.)

One analyst at Timetoplaymag.com predicted shortages of the top 100 toys by early December, rather than the traditional top 15.

Other analysts report that in recent weeks toy makers have dispatched executives to China to make sure they get enough products to keep shelves full.

Last year retailers ordered too much merchandise and had to take huge discounts almost as soon as the products hiot the shelves. You’ll remember the headlines last year that said holiday sales posted their biggest decline in at least three decades. That was enou8gh to put stores like Circuit City out of business.

This year, Karabus Management, a retail advisory firm reports that inventory is 8 to 13 percent smaller for mid-price clothing, and 10 to 15 percent smaller for home furnishings.

My advice as inventories are shrinking: Shop early. Better yet, do something really radical this holiday season and find creative–even philanthropic–ways to give gifts to loved ones!

Greenhouse gas goes underground

November 2, 2009 Cheryl Perkins No Comments » Innovation, Technology, Trends
Toshiba, displaying the pilot site of a coal plant with carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology at the Mikawa power station.

Toshiba, displaying the pilot site of a coal plant with carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology at the Mikawa power station.

Here’s an interesting article sure to raise controversy in the scientific community: To reduce greenhouse gas emissions, scientists at Toshiba Corp. in rural Japan are working on a way to send noxious pollutants deep into the ground.

It is a technology called “carbon capture and storage” (CCS), and is being tested at the Mikawa power station, located near the coast of Japan’s southern coast. Five large-scale integrated CCS projects are now operating in North America, Europe and North Africa.

With worldwide coal use projected to rise in the next few years, especially in China and India, Toshiba says this cutting-edge technology can help fight climate change that is melting ice caps and threatening eco-systems.

Here is what proponents are saying:

“CCS will be the only technology to reduce emissions on a grand scale,” said Shigeo Murai, who heads a study group on storing carbon dioxide, or CO2, at Japan’s Research Institute of Innovative Technology for the Earth. “At the same time it won’t be able to reduce overall emissions on its own. It will need help from solar and wind power.”

You can read the whole article here: