How to Tap into Consumer Needs in Times of Crisis and Sell Your Invention ©

What do lipstick, chocolate, Pepto-Bismol and inventive products all have in common? They all sell better during recessions. There’s been quite a media buzz about inventive products during this recession; from infomercials being the subject of documentaries, to front-page newspaper and website profiles of new innovations, never before have inventions been so hot. Newsweek even went so far as to declare The Snuggie, that soft blanket-like robe with a hit infomercial “an emblem of our times”, as the sensationally funny, yet useful product became the source of jokes for Jay Leno (The Tonight Show), Saturday Night Live, countless blogs and YouTube videos. Whether they comfort or entertain, save money or time, inventions offer newness in a marketplace full of products consumers may already own. The challenge for the inventor is to tap into the needs and desires of the consumer in crisis, so that we may create products that help him in a time of need.

Market research shows that while consumers in a recession may have little ability or will to spend money on big purchases like appliances or vacations, they still reward themselves with small indulgences like fancy ice creams, chocolate, modest gifts, or personal amusement and variety products. Because financial desperation is scary, there is an atmosphere of insecurity and anxiety. Candy, and other stress-relievers, such as liquor and movies, help alleviate that anxiety, and make people feel good temporarily.

Saving money by “do-it-yourself” (DIY) methods is, of course, the most obvious trend in recessionary products. This includes inventions that are suitable for reuse and those that enable people to repair other products (both of which are cost-saving and environmentally green measures). It is no surprise that gardening has come back in vogue- the success of the “Topsy Turvy” hanging tomato planter and Aquaglobe automatic plant watering device are examples of this. Michelle Obama has even planted a vegetable garden at the White House- the first ever since the victory gardens of World War II. Gardening appeals to people who want to save money, but also to our survivalist, pioneering, do-it-yourself ethos. Gardening associations predict this trend to go up by 40%, while vegetable seed sales have already jumped 30%. This is also a continuation of the green environmentalist trend, and urban, container and rooftop gardening are other niche markets within this category.

More Americans are stocking up on food, concerned about shortages and inflationary price gauging. Self-sufficiency is of the essence here, so inventors who create accessories for hunting, fishing and camping equipment could also do very well. Items that help people stow away, store, or can goods are useful. For a more exciting approach to grocery shopping, the fashionable Itslastik spandex bag expands to over twice it’s size, and holds up to 45 pounds flexibly in any direction, while bouncing with the step of the user, making the load feel lighter. The product is meant for reuse, and is therefore certifiably “green”. It is also inexpensive, bright and appealing to current ‘hipster’ fashion trends, and proudly made in the USA.

Where there is fear, there is a need for safety. Crime rates are already spiking in these desperate times, so sales of security system and personal protection products are up. Meanwhile, the Snuggie did well because of our apparent need for a “security blanket” to comfort us. Stress relieving products (think the “Squeeze Ball”) may do very well. Sex, love and romance also relieve stress, and, historically, romance has thrived during recessions, as there is more social upheaval, and the need for security drives people into the arms of another. That’s why condom sales and ads for personal dating sites are up. The Snuggie, big enough for two, and clearly geared towards cuddling and nesting, also speaks in the language of love.

Because many consumers lack the disposable income to vacation or go out to restaurants, they are spending more time at home, entertaining, cooking, and organizing, so that their home is more pleasant and functional. Home organization products are critical, as consumers begin to control what little they still have- the home and their current possessions. Organizing and cleaning give a sense of control in a chaotic and unstable world. The highly successful ShamWow super-absorbent, reusable cloths are intended to replace disposable paper towels. Another popular nesting product doing well is The Wonder Hanger, an organization product that triples closet space by holding up to five garments on traditional hangers in a vertical cascade. Consumers during recessions are pushed to take stock of, inventory and repair what they already own, as opposed to going out and buying more stuff. As cheap credit has virtually dried up, the number of Americans driving significantly older used cars has seen a dramatic increase. These older cars often need more repair, so accessories related to auto repair and maintenance could see a huge spike in sales.

‘Trading Down’ to cheaper products is a given during recessions. To obtain a new look, many women replace buying a new outfit with the cheaper trick of buying a new lipstick or accessory. The “Lipstick Index”, a term coined during the Great Depression, has never been so high as it is now, as women flaunt their need for visibility, and desirability, by purchasing and wearing lipstick (often red). In recessions, there is a greater need to look one’s best- no slouches will be tolerated in the already precarious job market. Clothing repair and reuse is big, as are ‘DIY’ salon/beauty replacements. For example, the REM Spring facial hair removal tool has become a big hit, as many women who normally would pay for someone to wax off their unwanted hair are now using this reusable, battery-free metal spring instead. Meanwhile, acne and wrinkle reduction treatment has been revolutionized with the invention of at-home light therapy kits. Verilux offers the ClearWave® Soothing Skin System, a hand-held light ‘wand’ that uses Natural Spectrum® light to kill acne bacteria and reduce fine lines. Unavailable several years ago, the market for this only stands to grow.

With accessories being paramount during recessions, Tweakerz bra clip, Bosom Button and Winkee cleavage covers have all become popular for their ability to help consumers alter clothes they already own. Tweakerz bra clip creates a ‘lift’ in a woman’s cleavage, reenergizing worn bra straps. Bosom Button is a gem-like pin that enables shirts that are too low-cut to be made more appropriate by fastening fabric together. The Winkee is a piece of fabric that attaches to bra straps and covers the gap in cleavage revealing shirts. These products make women’s wardrobes more wearable and functional, saving money and facilitating re-use.

The marketing of inventive products has never been more visible than it is now. Major drugstores now have prominent spaces devoted solely to ‘as seen on TV’ and inventive products. As traditional advertising budgets are slashed, infomercials have gained access to the more expensive primetime ad space on television. The more unemployed and underemployed people there are, the more people there are staying at home, watching TV, and thereby watching infomercials. The internet also expanded the market for inventive products. Asseenontv.com is a great place to learn about inventions on the market.

I have been in the invention licensing, marketing, consulting and sales business for over 15 years. This month, in the heart of the recession, my company experienced our highest sales ever. The bottom line is that unique and inventive products do very well in a poor economic climate. If history is a guide, then innovation and invention will be essential to getting us out of this recession. Inventions could not be more relevant; the time to launch yours is now.

Joan Lefkowitz, an original marketer of TopsyTail ™, is president of ACCESSORY BRAINSTORMS, NYC, a licensing agency, sales representative and consultancy for Fashion/Beauty Accessory and Lifestyle Inventions. Accessory Brainstorms is always looking for inventions in these categories, and offers one-on-one consulting. ACCESSORIES Magazine awarded Joan for “Most Inventive Products” and cited her as one of the 100 most important accessories industry “Movers and Shakers”. Contact at www.accessorybrainstorms.com.