After a short break from the column to indulge in the show season, my colleague Dr. Jim Wyatt (known to most as Robot Jim) reminded me of how many inventors are also treading the show floors looking to present their fabulous products and do some deals.
I had my own inventor presentation experience just the other day and you could say I blew it. More of which in a moment.
An inventor not only has to fulfil the role of an engineer, but has to come up with the great idea in the first place. Furthermore, an inventor that can actually sell their product or idea will need to work out how it fits into the current market amongst competing products and then communicate that information to the toy company, customers or investors.
And communicating the 'WOW' of that toy is key. Doing it quickly, or rather easily and quickly can lead to great riches, which is why the obvious stuff that fits that bill has often been done before.
Obviously, there is likely to be some familiar element to most inventions.
For example, one of my Wow! Labs teams' inventions I have referred to before in this column is RealFX. It riffs on slot car racing, RC and video games, but at the same time delivers a completely fresh play pattern as well as patented technology. But that's rather a mouthful of a description for anyone to comprehend, especially a toy company exec with attention deficit disorder.
So, where's the single USP (Unique Selling Proposition)? And herein lies the toy company/inventor dilemma.
We recently presented a product to Spin Master's cool, eccentric product genius Ben Varadi. I like Ben. He's forthright with his views whether you agree with them or not. He's spotted tons of winning inventor lines over 20 or so years as a co-chief at Spin Master, but will also be the first to admit he has missed some biggies too. He's not always right, but his hit record is way beyond just about anyone else I know.
So we presented one of a line of three 'physical meets digital' product platforms to Ben just the other week. After 30 seconds he became distracted. After 15 minutes he just came out and said it, "Roger, there is nothing I like about this whatsoever. Absolutely nothing". Yep, he calls me Roger, as in Roger Daltry from The Who. Long story. Anyway, that's not the point I'm making.
The point is he didn't say "That's really nice but not for us", or "Coool, but...". Nope he told me he really hated it and why no one would ever buy it. To be fair, he gave me some super detail of why in his opinion this was so and it rested on this; anything that takes 15 minutes to describe is not going to be bought by a seven year old kid with less attention span than the length of a 30 second TV ad. And he's right, well most of the time, just not in this specific product case of course.
But at Wow! Stuff we have the very same dilemma when we look inwards at our own branded toys or inventions.
What is the USP of Real FX and can we put it across in a few seconds? After more than 6 years of development you'd think we would know?
Was it the speed on track? Or the coolness of using Artificial Intelligence to create slotless racing? It was not that Real FX can battle (though they can be programmed to), nor was it that they simulate the richness of video gameplay (they certainly do that).
After much deliberation it was as simple as the day we named our very first toy, a robotic monkey that sat on the shoulder and acted like a ventriloquists dummy. With that item it was a lot less about the product features and functions it was more about the brand positioning. This was a Cheeky Pet and therefore the most obvious USP was staring us in the face; everything should be a little tongue in cheek(y).
We called it DAVE, it farted, job done. Within three (well 30 seconds) the TV advert did the job and drove great sales. The item was genuinely cool, cheeky and DAVE the name just worked.
So what about Real FX? Just a cool name won't cut it at £100 quid retail.
We knew it was more absorbing for the kids than any other RC or track racing product when we gave it to them to play with. But summing that up in 30 seconds let alone three... Ummmm. We asked the kids what they thought. They couldn't sum it up either! Yet we (well their mums) simply could not pull them off the product, it was simply an incredibly absorbing product.
That's when we thought about what the 'it' was that was so absorbing. This analysis led to us finally getting the Real FX USP; "The most realistic racing cars, outside of the real thing!" Ok, it takes four seconds to say and 30 to sink in when you see the advert but I'll settle for that.
Next week Robot Jim will take over the column while I'm off to Melbourne for the official launch of Real FX at the Australian Toy fair, Melbourne. Ho hum.