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The mousetrap the world has been waiting for? May 11, 2010

Posted by Mike Gospe in Integrated Marketing, Just for Campaign Managers, Marketing Operations, Marketing Persona, Messaging, Positioning.
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Conceptually, the theories of persona-building, positioning, and messaging are easy to understand.  However, sometimes it’s helpful for a marketing team to critique a real example and then discuss the parallels to their own business.  An example that everyone can easily relate to, and that is separate from the business you represent, is also an effective way to diffuse any emotion that may hinder folks from seeing the lessons associated with trying to execute a poor go-to-market strategy.

The following is a true story: the case of a better mousetrap.  In 1955, an eager entrepreneur introduced  a revolutionary new product that was destined to change the world of “rodent control”.  In addition to producing leaflets, promoting through friends and family, this ad (click on the link below) ran in  a variety of publications at the time.

Ad for a better mousetrap, circa 1955

Issues and Opportunities

You can infer a lot regarding the marketing strategy by looking at an example of the execution.  While the product design clearly is creative (and not for the squeamish), the entrepreneur fell into several traps that are common today, especially in hi-tech marketing:

1) Failure to focus on a clear target segment/persona

Who is the target audience/user/buyer?  It looks like pretty much “everyone.”  For fear of leaving a sales opportunity on the table, the entrepreneur attempted to be all-inclusive.  In a single swoop, he went after farmers, restaurant owners, food processors, meet packers, ships, homes, and orchards.    Although the confusion of trying to address multiple audiences at once maybe obvious to us gentle bystanders, one wonders if anyone asked the entrepreneur the following questions:

  • Who is most likely to buy your product? Who is the persona?
  • Do all these audiences look alike? behave the same way? have the same concerns?
  • What problem(s) are you trying to solve?
  • How well do you really understand the target buyer?

2) Failure to properly position the product

Every product needs to have positioning statement.

What’s in a name? Clearly, not all “mousetraps” are alike.  In 1955 (and even today!), the top-selling mousetrap is the Victor snap-trap.  In 1955 the snap-trap sold for 5 cents.  Our entrepreneur’s mousetrap sells for $29.95.  Branding the product against a generic “mousetrap” nomenclature will not serve his marketing interests.  (Although, a branding effort would introduce its own set of challenges.)

A new category? He’s attempted to establish a new category of mousetraps, namely, the “sanitary, self-setting, portable” mousetrap.  This is good, and goes a long way to justifying such a massive price increase over the competitive alternative. However, what you can’t quite make out in the photos is the following:

  • The mousetrap’s dimensions are 3 ft long, 8 inches wide, and 18 inches high.
  • It holds 3 gallons of water, and is quite heavy (especially if loaded with 102 mice!).

NOTE: Years ago, when I developed my first Positioning Workshop, I had the opportunity to view and touch this actual, very real mousetrap.  Unfortunately, it is actually neither, sanitary, self-setting, nor portable.  We have a category mis-match.

Benefit?  Which benefit? There are many benefits floating around in the ad.  Which one is most important?  Some seem hard to believe.  Again, it’s the “everything for everyone” approach.

For a benefit to be meaningful, it must be relevant to the target audience.  It must also be single-minded, clear, substantiable (e.g. you can prove any claim with data), and differentiable.

Differentiation? We come back to the 5 cent snap-trap alternative.  If anything, this ad makes the competitor’s product look better.

3) Failure to have a crisp, clear “elevator pitch”

Because there was no positioning statement to guide the marketing strategy, the messaging is a confused mess.  The entrepreneur would have greatly benefited from the Message Box template where he could underscore 4 key messages:

  1. An “engagement message” designed to establish relevance with the target audience and their primary “rodent control” pain points they are trying to address.
  2. A “solution message” that illustrates why not all mousetraps are the same, and certain applications require something much more than the standard snap-trap.
  3. A “reinforcement message” that shows how his invention is superior to alternatives.
  4. A “value message” that describes how the target’s life will be better than before after using his new, revolutionary product.

Critique your own work

How well does your ads/direct mail/website stack up?  Use the mousetrap example as a teachable exercise.  Never be afraid to critique your marketing strategies with regards to your persona, positioning statement, and messaging.  It’s not about placing blame; it’s about reaching the “next level” of marketing effectiveness.  Otherwise, your success may be limited to selling 4 units to your brother-in-law.

Good luck!

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