Written by Joe Driscoll

November 23, 2009

“Mousetrap myopia.” It’s an affliction that many businesses suffer from at sometime or other. There is so much happening on the inside that we forget about what’s happening on the outside.

“Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door”. In business, nothing could be further from the truth.

It all started with the writings of the 19th century author and philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson. In 1855 he wrote, “If a man can make better chairs or knives, crucibles or church organs, than anybody else, you will find a broad hard-beaten road to his house, though it be in the woods.”

Emerson’s words formed the basis for today’s cliche, “build a better mouse trap and the world will beat a path to your door.” There are few of us, if any, that haven’t passed that seeming wisdom on to some aspiring entrepreneur.

“Build a better mousetrap in your house in the woods” and all you’ll have is a mousetrap in the woods. Build a mousetrap that meets the needs of your customers, market the living day lights out of it, and you’ll build a successful enterprise. Marketing is the key skill for business success, even when you have a better mousetrap.

Take the example of two brothers who started a business producing custom automobile accessories. One of the brothers developed the products and the other sold them. As the company prospered, they needed to expand capacity. One brother wanted to develop more and better products, the other wanted to produce more of the products that they were profitably selling.

They decided to concentrate on manufacturing and marketing the products they were already selling at a profit. The one brother now says, “If we had concentrated on building better mousetraps, we’d probably be out of business today.”

Mousetrap builders are focused on tasks and activities. When occupied with tasks, we run the risk of ignoring opportunities. Opportunities have soft knuckles. When opportunity knocks, it does so quietly. You need to pay attention, or you might not hear the knock.

Only costs are generated inside a business. Opportunities exist externally. Good businesses are organized to capitalize on opportunities. Since the world isn’t going to beat a path to your door, you must go beyond that door, find the opportunity, and then build and market the mousetrap that will capitalize on the opportunity.

It is the need that exists outside the business, not the product that is created inside, that constitutes the opportunity. Satisfying the needs of your customers is the only reason for the existence of your business. When you become enamored with the product, “mousetrap myopia”, you run the risk of missing the opportunity.

The marketing system makes the customer, not the product, the focal point of the enterprise. Marketing is concerned with delivering to customers the goods and services they want.

Research is the starting point for the marketing activity. Market research does not have to be complex and expensive to be useful. The business owner that stays close to their customer can gather the information they need to lay the foundation for a successful marketing program.

Built on a foundation of customer needs, a successful marketing program requires management of the 4 Ps, product, price, place, and promotion. The product, its price, and its place of delivery are combined in a mix that delivers value to the customer and generates profit for the business. Promotion includes the various means that are used to communicate that value to the customer.

Build a better mousetrap if you are so inclined, but if you want to build a business around it, make sure you understand the market for mousetraps and are prepared to go out and sell it.

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