One of the greatest mistakes companies make is developing products based on a “great idea.”

My friend and fellow consultant Rob Olic used to be Marketing Director for Small Business Development at the Wharton School. Every week, entrepreneurs would tell him, “Man, my company developed this exciting new product that’s so good, it sells itself. I’ve got a warehouse full of these things. Can you help me get rid of them?”

Great ideas are a dime a dozen. But even if they’re well-executed, that doesn’t mean they’ll be successful in the marketplace. Winning products and marketing messages talk to people about things they’re already wanting and thinking about. They address irritations that have been lurking under the surface. They solve problems that have been keeping people up at night.

Several years ago, I was working with a company whose “great idea” was the scheduled delivery of household products. The idea was that just when you were about to run out of something like Kleenex or vitamins or peanut butter, the service would replenish your supply. It was a convenience for customers and an automatic revenue stream for the company.

It looked promising. But nobody loses sleep because they might run out of toilet paper or shaving cream. Nobody even thinks about it. So it was a great idea from a salesman’s point of view, but not from the customer’s. And it was a flop.

I, and a lot of other people, lost money in that business. Why did it fail? Because the idea had nothing to do with a conversation that was already going on in customers’ heads. It didn’t harmonize with what they were already thinking about.

Marketing on the Internet is a good example of what I’m talking about.

Search engines give us a powerful — and free — way to obtain new customers. If someone types a specific phrase into a search engine and your product comes up in the first few results, it’s free advertising. I’ve gotten boatloads of quality leads this way.

But it’s not as simple as throwing some information on a website and waiting for the orders to start coming in. There has to be a precise match between the words your prospect is typing in and the content on your website. It requires you to know exactly what your customers are looking for. The phrase they type into Yahoo! or Google is part of the conversation inside their head. Tap into that conversation and your product will sell.

[Ed. Note: Perry Marshall, the world’s foremost authority on Google AdWords, is a marketing consultant dedicated to helping both online and brick-and-mortar companies generate sales leads and Web traffic, and maximize advertising results. Perry is offering a Special December Promotion for ETR readers only: Buy 1 Perry Marshall Product, Get 6 Free Gifts, including the Definitive Guide to Google Adwords. Find out more here.]
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