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Introduction to Selling Blue Elephants: How to Make Great Products that People Want Before They Even Know They Want Them

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Learn how to use a systematized solution-oriented business process of experimentation that designs, tests, and modifies alternative ideas, packages, products, or services in a disciplined way so that the developer and marketer discover what appeals to the customer, even if the customer can't articulate the need, much less the solution!

Business Wisdom from the Mouth of Dr. Seuss

One of the most publicized stories of extremely aggressive development and marketing for a "revolutionary" food product is Dr. Seuss's Green Eggs and Ham.1

Like any good salesman, Sam-I-am, the marketer and indefatigable creator of the new product, is full of energy and passion. The story starts with a grumpy "customer" who leisurely reads his newspaper. Using stratagem after stratagem, Sam tries to get his customer to try his revolutionary product: green eggs and ham. The customer repeatedly refuses, claiming he simply does not like it. Sam tries multiple tactics to win the customer, but without success, which, in the end, lead to frustrating trial-and-error iterations, not particularly productive, always painful, and sometimes costly.

Sound familiar?

Sam randomly tests different ideas: a train meal ("on a train"), fast food ("in a car"), even an outdoor picnic ("in a tree"). None works. Then Sam tries a "home-made" message ("in a house"). Different packaging options still do not produce expected results ("not in a box"). Sam's emotional messages, playing on the appeal of friendly dinner situations ("with a mouse...with a fox") still fail to increase purchase intent. All those messages fall on deaf ears. Sam's clever insight was to manipulate color ("in the dark"), but by then, it was too late; his customer had already formed new and unwanted preferences, so Sam simply ran out of luck.

Although successful (the product was finally sold, with an ecstatically happy customer as a result), Sam's nonsystematic "trial-and-error" approach was simply too inefficient. Even worse, Sam might well have antagonized his customer during his pursuit, leading to the customer's complete rejection of the product—and possibly the rejection of Sam's whole brand.

What was wrong? Sam felt that he was doing his best. He was sincerely following a typical strategy: seemingly haphazard, random experiments to find a selling formula for his product. Sam wasn't particularly successful, expending lots of energy and going far out of the way to achieve his marketing goal. The missing critical part was the systematic nature of the experiments—or, more correctly, its absence.

Fast-forward. Meet Allison-the-Entrepreneur, a very ambitious and entrepreneurial recent MBA graduate fascinated with Sam's work. Armed with Sam's experience, as limited as it is, and dedication, Allison decided to put an even more revolutionary product, blue eggs, on the market. How would she design and promote her innovative food item in today's highly competitive market of egg-based products? Instead of random, haphazard efforts, we will see how Allison grabs hold of the full power of Rule Developing Experimentation (RDE). Allison-the-Entrepreneur will show how today's new development tools take her far beyond Sam, into a competitive world, with a lot less effort and a lot more success. Indeed, she will soon discover that RDE can help her create, market, and sell virtually any product better and faster. Even selling blue elephants will not be a particularly far-fetched business proposition for Allison!

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