Many years ago, a client of mine in the plastics business was driving his expensive motor home during the winter in New England and his windshield wipers kept collecting ice. Aggravated that he had to lean out his window while driving this large $250,000.00 vehicle and bang the ice and snow off of the wipers, he decided to invent a heated windshield wiper.
Inventing this heated wiper was no easy task. His patented technology involved special elastomers and heating devices that would operate over a wide temperature range and not burn out. The wipers also had to be easy to install and users had to be willing to pay more than one hundred dollars for a pair. Since I had been publicizing products for his plastics company at the time, he asked me to prepare a news release for these new heated wipers. Naturally, he wanted them photographed on a motor home. The first thing I had to do was convince him was that was the wrong approach.
I wanted to show them in a generic way because I wasn’t convinced that the motor home market had been defined yet. In other words, if I photographed the wipers on a motor home, that would limit his potential exposure to editors who only had an interest in motor homes. So, what we did was borrow an actual windshield and stage a photograph with fake ice and snow which illustrated the chief benefits of the wiper: it melted the snow, prevented ice buildup and cleared the windshield. The windshield we photographed represented virtually any type of vehicle. Then I wrote a very concise, but generic press release about this innovative product. My goal was to not identify the product with a specific market.
In order to get the best “market test,” my next step was to create a list of media outlets that might have an interest in heated windshield wipers. I figured they would include publications (this experience preceded the Web) in several major markets including aviation, trucking, buses, municipalities, police, fire, loggers, etc. My thought was that editors would pass judgment on the heated wiper and either publish it as “product news” or they wouldn’t. In that respect, each editor represented a significant constituency. If they did choose to select my press release about the heated wiper and publish a brief story about it, then they would pass judgment on its usefulness for “their market.” Most importantly, thousands of readers would then see the product news and seek more information if they were interested. This is a great way to reach critical mass with a new idea.
This method of using product publicity to uncover new markets really works well because news is objectively presented by editors to their readers. Then the interest generated by that readership is measured by actual reader response rates. Today the process is better, faster, and involves measuring website traffic. In the case of the heated windshield wiper, truckers, especially fleet administrators, police and fire departments were key markets we uncovered. Therefore, our next press release focused on these “new” markets by featuring the wipers on the front of a large Mack truck.
Ironically, the market for which the product was invented did not exist. As it turned out, most folks with motor homes were down South where it is nice and warm during the winter! It was the safety concerns of truckers, fleet administrators, and police and fire departments that justified the expense of these hundred dollar plus heated wipers.