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digital products

Digital Products – Why Relying on Customers to Tell You What They Want Won’t Work

digital productsIf you prefer to listen/watch a video instead of reading then click here to go to my youtube channel.

What’s the big deal with digital products? Why are so many people creating online products to sell? What are digital products anyway, and how do you create a digital product that sells?

Digital products are intangible assets, meaning they can’t be held, tasted, or touched.  What makes them especially appealing is that digital products can be created once and sold repeatedly to different customers without having to replenish your inventory.

Using digital media intellectual property assets such as downloadable or streamable files, MP3s, PDFs, videos, plug-ins, and templates – it’s possible to make products ranging from music to videos, ebooks to online courses, and more.  Be sure to check that you will own the IP rights as I’ve discussed in previous posts.


Low Overhead Costs

Digital products appeal to people because they involve low overhead costs to create and sell. 

You don’t have to hold inventory or incur any shipping costs. Once you have something that sells you benefit from extremely high-profit margins: There’s no recurring cost of goods, so you retain the majority of your sales in profits. You could even automate everything so orders are delivered instantly, letting you be relatively hands-off with fulfilment.

Digital products are ideal for creatives, artists, educators, and freelancers looking for new income streams that require less effort to maintain. The income can supplement the income that has to be earned on a traditional “time for money” consultancy basis. As such it should enable you to cover your regular running costs so you’re not on a roller coaster every month, constantly reliant on new business to cover your overheads.

An added benefit of creating digital products is that you can offer products for free to build your email list, or use them as part of your offerings. You could bestow a bonus or licence your digital products for use under a monthly paid subscription plan.  There are lots of options as to how to incorporate digital products into your business.

Due to their ease of distribution, many entrepreneurs build entire businesses around such intangible goods or launch digital product lines to complement the physical products or services they offer.


Some Challenges With Digital Products

Digital products come with specific challenges you’ll need to watch out for, particularly the fact that you’re competing with free content: 

With digital goods, consumers can probably find free alternatives to what you’re selling. You’ll have to think carefully about the niche you target, offer premium value with your products and build your brand in order to compete.

Selling digital products does involve having an online presence and being out there on social media platforms. If you run a business, that would be an appropriate activity in any event.

Digital products are susceptible to piracy and theft so take precautions to reduce these risks by making sure you’re using the right tools to protect your products and that your terms of business incorporate the right provisions.

Making sure your product offering is good is of paramount importance, so how do you go about making a great product?


The Journey to Product Creation.

It’s not uncommon for people to have little success initially when they launch their digital products, even if they hire mentors to help them through the process.

Some people gradually get there and achieve success with their online offerings.  Many don’t even achieve sales of £1000 after years of trying.

People tend to invest quite a lot of time and energy into creating their courses, using a trial and error approach, sometimes relying on surveying consumers to find out what they want.

But as Ford famously put it “If I had asked my customers what they wanted, they would have told me a faster horse” So, while it’s fair enough to ask people what they want, you are the one who will ultimately need to decide what to create. Take people’s responses into account by all means, but some of them need to be taken with a large pinch of salt.

Certainly, during my own journey of creating a digital course on the intellectual property, I have discovered that most people don’t even know what intellectual property is, let alone being able to tell me what they want from a course on the intellectual property!

I was also quite surprised to find that having any sales at all on your first attempt is considered a success!

People are pouring their heart and souls into creating their courses, some spending thousands of pounds on coaching and other support, only to have no sales or only a few sales and they are being congratulated on their “success” because they created something and achieved a handful of sales!

There must be a better way I think.


Ideas First Approach

The notion that you need to keep trying till you achieve success with new product creation generally probably lies at the heart of the prevailing attitude to digital product creation – that you need to just keep trying to make incremental improvements until suddenly something clicks into place and works.

The concept was developed by Tom Peters in his book, Thriving on Chaos  Peters said companies should, “test fast, fail fast, adjust fast—pursue new business ideas on a small scale and in a way that generates quick feedback about whether an idea is viable.”

IBM founder Thomas Watson also reportedly said: “If you want to succeed, double your failure rate,”. He supported this thinking and adopted a management style that did not punish failure.

As a result of such “ideas-first” thinking, which is still in widespread use in many organisations, innovation cannot be counted on for predictable growth and is inherently doomed to failure.  Companies using this approach to innovation struggle to achieve success rates greater than 10 to 20 percent.


A New Approach to Innovation

According to Anthony W. Ulwick in his book  Jobs to Be Done companies struggle to predictably create winning products because they fail to define their customers’ needs with the rigor, precision, and discipline that is required to discover, prioritize and capitalize on opportunities for growth.

So, extrapolating from his message, to avoid this trial and error approach to digital product creation involves looking at customer needs in a totally new way.

This involves gaining a deep understanding of what a customer is trying to accomplish. What “job” is your customer looking to get done? Understanding what they’re trying to achieve is the key to creating products that are likely to meet their needs.

Having delved into this Jobs to Be Done Theory which was developed by Clayton Christianson, Harvard Business Professor in his book Competing Against Luck I’m committed to using the approach to get to the bottom of what outcome people desire when they look to “protect their IP”. What job are they really trying to get done?

If one can uncover related jobs that they’re trying to accomplish, particularly the emotional and social aspects of them, it’s much more likely you would create a product that customers want to use.

However, it’s worth noting that wants, needs, requirements, benefits, problems, tasks that the customer is trying to accomplish, and jobs which the customer is trying to get done are all terms that people use. These are not conceptually the same. The trick is to understand the nuanced differences between these terms and use Jobs-to-be-Done Theory to work out what your customers want.

I feel that the Jobs to Be Done Theory represents a breakthrough in innovation which I want to fully introduce into my own business, and then help my clients with.

I will discuss it in future pieces. For now, the important message I want to convey is that the current approach of trial and error when creating digital products is wasteful of time and resources. You would do better to focus on understanding what outcomes your customers are trying to achieve before attempting to create any digital products.

What is Intellectual Property and Why Does it Matter to You?

What is Intellectual Property and Why Does it Matter to You?Every business will have intellectual property to protect, although the actions to take will be very different depending on the business and the intellectual property involved.

Say you’ve invented some innovative way to solve a problem that no one else has managed to solve. In the case of Anywayup cup it was a baby cup with an innovative lid that didn’t spill. For C-Pen it was a pen that scans the text of a document directly to your computer. A patent is available in both these situations to protect your investment.  Arguably, for product-based inventions a patent is essential because it gives you a legal monopoly in the invention. The patent, if well drafted, makes it difficult for others to copy your invention. Without patent protection well-resourced manufacturers could enter the same market once they realise you are onto something, and use their greater financial muscle to produce and publicise a similar offering.

Then suppose you have selected the perfect name for your invention and had a logo developed for it with an attractive design. How would you feel if you were to find out after spending time and resources promoting the name, that it couldn’t be exclusive to you because the name is incapable of functioning as a trademark? This is what happened to Tesco’s Clubcard. The name it chose for its loyalty program has proved impossible to protect. If this was you, wouldn’t you prefer to know about it in advance, so you could make a better choice? Or, say you find that the name is not legally available and you then lose everything overnight when a trade mark owner is able to put a stop to your continued use of your name? This is what happened to Scrabulous whose business on Facebook went up in a puff of smoke. And did you know that if you don’t take the right actions in relation to your logo, you could find yourself on the wrong end of a dispute as happened to Innocent who at one point lost the right to use their iconic logo. Would you have the resources to appeal such a decision as they did? These are just some examples of what can happen when you don’t get timely IP advice.

Every business has IP issues to consider because every business has a name, a logo, a website, a database of contacts and more. These are all intangible assets which are important to the success of a business.

What is IP?

IP is the collective name for the rights that protect creativity, imagination and ideas. It’s very wide ranging and the rules are often complex.

Trademarks identify your products or services, secure exclusive rights over the name of your business and contain the value of your brand. With the right name you can stop competitors stealing business away from you. Copyright is another essential intellectual property right. Every business uses copyright works because every business is likely to have a logo, website, brochures, photographs, packaging, software etc. Design protection is another type of IP right which is often overlooked. However, it is a powerful tool for protecting your market share and preventing competitors from copying your ideas.



The Benefits of Protecting Your Intellectual Property

Strategic decisions about IP should be made early in the business so as to make good choices of IP, and determine how best to protect yourself with your available resources.

IP presents both risks and opportunities. Used wisely, IP advice and protection

  • increases the value of your business,
  • helps grow your profit margins,
  • creates income streams,
  • attracts finance,
  • protects your market share,
  • prevents competitors from copying your ideas,
  • reduces future risks and liability (including personal liability of directors),
  • protects the effort you put into your business, and
  • gives you a legal monopoly.

Common IP Mistakes

A common mistake is to assume that IP advice is just needed if a business has a potential patent or trade mark to register. In the digital economy IP support is needed for every business.

Another error we often see, is businesses simply registering their trademark without doing any due diligence searches. It’s important to note that a trademark registration can be cancelled if someone else has better rights to the name. This is what happened to Microsoft who had registered Skydrive as a trademark only to have its use of the name challenged. Rebranding to Onedrive cost millions. Not every business has the resources of Microsoft to shoulder the costs that a rebrand invariably involves.

Some business owners justify ignoring IP on the grounds that they don’t have the resources to litigate. They wonder what is the point of protecting their IP. You’re actually much more likely to get into a dispute if you don’t register your rights than if you do. Owning registered IP rights can be a very useful bargaining tool if you find yourself threatened by a competitor. Unfortunately disputes relating to intellectual property may arise when your business has taken off and your IP has acquired value. Not protecting it could lay yourself wide open. So don’t expose yourself to litigation by not taking some basic steps to protect yourself.

How To Protect Your Intellectual Property?

IP help is important when you’re deciding how to implement your idea because the choices you make when bringing your ideas to life are all IP decisions. By consulting an IP lawyer at that early stage you are much better placed to make effective choices, and reduce the likelihood of having to undo ill considered decisions later on.Taking a holistic approach to IP is crucial.

We are well placed to help you to take control of your intellectual property so your business can flourish from a secure foundation. Do get in touch for a no obligation confidential discussion.

How to stay in control and avoid giving too much away during the pitch process

The Pitch Process – How Much Should You Reveal?

How to stay in control and avoid giving too much away during the pitch process

It can be difficult to know how much to reveal about your business during the pitch process. If you’re pitching in a public forum, should you risk giving your original ideas away? Is the exposure and possible investment funding worth the risks?

During the pitch process you are necessarily disclosing information about your business plans in order to impress a potential investor or client. The need to find the right balance between disclosure and secrecy is crucial for the protection of your intellectual property.

Seeking funding

In situations where a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) can be used, that might be a solution to the problem. However, in practice it’s unlikely that potential investors would be willing to sign NDAs. It’s more to your advantage that they hear what you have to say than it is to theirs to listen to you.

Statistically there are a lot more people looking for investment than there are investors. Moreover, while non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) protect you don’t take too much comfort from the mere signing of a confidentiality agreement.

Beware of others stealing your best ideas

If you have an idea which the other party could implement better than you – such as the situation that arose for the Winklevoss twins who shared their concept for Facebook with Mark Zuckerburg – then avoid going to them for investment if you have a potentially lucrative idea. Or if it is essential that you communicate the information to a third party without the benefit of an NDA in order to progress it, could you perhaps reveal the broad idea without going into too much detail?.

Another aspect that is worth considering is conducting a background search about the potential investor or client. Checking their reputation might provide useful ways to assess how much information is safe to reveal to them.

It’s important to be mindful of your business before divulging information. With some ideas you simply shouldn’t discuss them without an NDA if loss of confidentiality would lose you the opportunity to patent the concept. What if you have an idea for a product-based concept – such as Mandy Haberman’s Anywayup Cup? You would lose the opportunity to patent if you don’t use an NDA. Mandy Haberman could not have succeeded had she not patented the cup before going to market.

Patent pending applications

In practice, it is a mistake to go to an investor without having first applied for patent protection. Once you have a patent pending, you could proceed to raise funds. The costs associated with such first filing are not as high as you might assume.

The initial filing gives you 12 months’ protection worldwide, and an inventor who has intellectual property like a patent application, will be more attractive to a potential investor.

Names need protecting

Another issue to consider is protecting the name you want to use for new products and services you’ll be discussing while pitching in public. If you haven’t protected the name you are at risk. This is because names are not protected by copyright and a member of the audience could easily steal the idea, register the name as a trade mark and gain the benefit of all the publicity you generate.

Do take advice on names as there are many pitfalls for the unwary. If the name you are using is not legally effective, and suitable for your business, you might waste your resources in applying to register trade marks.

In conclusion, any ideas or names you have for a new business concept or product that you might want to divulge during a pitch are worth discussing with an IP lawyer before divulging them to others. Our IP Audit offering is the ideal way to access such advice. It includes a search, templates, and videos too.to help you protect the future value of your ideas, products and services.

Shireen will be discussing this topic on the panel at the 4th Drum Brief Encounters Conference on 20th of October. It’s at the Congress Centre in London. You can book at http://briefencountersthedrum.com./.

How to stay in control and avoid giving too much away during the pitch process

Does Copyright Protect Ideas?

Of all the IP laws, copyright is the most wide-ranging in scope and application.      However, there is confusion as to whether copyright protects underlying ideas. Does it protect ideas incorporated in a piece of writing, or a film or CD?

Many people assume copyright does prevent the copying of ideas. However, copyright in written materials only prevents others from copying your text word for word. It does not stop them using the ideas embodied in your text and communicating them  in their own words.

For example, copyright law cannot be used as a tool to stop your competitors setting up a similar line of business. So writing down your business ideas will not stop others using those ideas. Only a patent can give you a monopoly over ideas (assuming those ideas take the form of a product that is capable of being patented).

It’s important to note that while copyright does not prevent others using ideas embodied in your materials, there are some forms of copying which though not word for word copying, could nevertheless amount to infringement of other people’s copyright. For example, if you take so much detail from a work that it could be argued that you have copied a substantial part of it.

The Ipkat today reported ‘The soccer side and the flip side: copying biographical works’ a copyright decision (Jodgon and Jarvie v Isaac and Notting Hill Movies (2011)) which helps illustrate this concept of substantial copying well. The question in that decision turned on whether a film script of the book Flipper’s Side was an adaptation of it.

Only the copyright owner has the right to create an adaptation of a work. It is worth reading the details of the case on Ipkat In deciding this question Judge Birss said

When the book and the DADM script are each considered as a whole, the DADM script is in fact very closely related to the book in terms of its plot, characters and the striking incidents and events which take place. The text is almost entirely different but nine episodes in the DADM script revolve around striking events present in Flipper’s Side and five more include notable events from Flipper’s Side as important parts of the episode. In as much as it is possible or meaningful to quantify such things, in my judgment roughly half of the dramatic incidents in the DADM script derive from Flipper’s Side.’

So having read both texts, the judge decided the script amounted to a substantial copy of the book because the main characters, many of the settings and contexts in which the events took place and good number of the incidents themselves were featured in the script.

In conclusion, if you consider that someone has copied your work it’s worth noting that even though there may not be word for word copying, if a lot of detail has been copied  you may want to take legal advice.

Does Copyright Protect Ideas?

I attended a talk recently which was advocating book writing as a way to promote ones personal brand.  Then the speaker said:  “Some people are reluctant to write about their area of expertise because they fear they might be giving away too much information.  However, they have no need to fear this because they have copyright….”

I thought if someone who has spent a lifetime working in publishing can make this basic mistake about copyright ( a mistake I notice others commonly making – even paralegals who come out of law college with distinctions in their final solicitors exams) then it’s worth my writing a short blog post about it.

The notion that by writing down your idea for a product or a business or a way of doing something you can stop others copying the idea is very widespread. But you do not get any protection at all over the end product – that is the idea – when you write it all down on paper.

We see this mistaken notion in action all too often.  Sometimes, people want to know how to protect their idea for a book, or a TV format before they discuss it with a publisher or broadcaster.  Other times, they wonder whether they can stop others drawing inspiration from their idea for something like a piece of software or a building. Often people want to deposit evidence of their patent idea with us thinking that if they write it all down and officially file it with us they will have the equivalent of a patent monopoly over the product.

This view that copyright protects ideas underlies a lot of the confusion that exists about how copyright law works. Another common mistake is to assume that if you contribute ideas to someone who produces a work, you have some rights over the resulting work.  That is not so.  You only get rights if your contribution is concrete and in tangible form.

So, copyright in your written work does not protect the idea as such – it merely protects the way in which the idea is expressed (your choice of words).

The principal way to get protection for your ideas is to use a confidentiality agreement or letter.  However, people should not get a false sense of security from the use of confidentiality undertakings.  The best protection is to be careful who you show confidential information to in the first place.

To recap:  copyright comes into being when an idea is fixed in a tangible way.  So if you have written out your idea, you will have copyright in that piece of writing.  However, this does not give you rights over the information the writing conveys.

Facebook Dispute

Aaron Greenspan’s continuing dispute with Facebook owner, Mark Zuckerberg has taken the form of a petition to cancel Facebook’s trademark registration in the USA mentioned here. The origins of the dispute lay in Greenspan ’s claims to have had the original idea for the social networking company.

Two interesting points arise from this – firstly how the question whether a trade mark is too descriptive can differ based on culture and language. While in the USA ‘Facebook’ is apparently a generic term for the kind of photo directory that many schools have published annually for years – see here. In the UK the word has no such meaning, so that the trade mark FACEBOOK is distinctive.

The other point of interest is the way in which people want to claim ownership of an idea – as if it is the idea which is responsible for the success that is achieved with it. Anyone who has been in business knows that it is how you implement an idea that determines whether it succeeds or not. But if you do think yours is a brilliant idea then the only way to protect it is to keep it to yourself, and only disclose it to someone else if you trust them, and have a good, properly drafted confidentiality agreement in place. The agreement does need to be tailored to the situation in hand if it is to have any value whatsoever.