How to make benign neglect work for you!

The other day one of the morning shows did a segment on men’s socks, an area of commerce which has seen little change over the years.

Until recently, men’s socks came in three styles: boring, dull, and bland. The last major innovation to push the “sock envelope” was the Argile sock, and the invention of that pattern and its application to socks dates back to the 1600s.

So, it’s been a while.

One of the new companies setting the men’s sock world on end is Stance and the company’s co-founder and CEO Jeff Kearl. It was by studying a wide variety of products on sale at Target, that Kearl got the inspiration to start Stance, which offers colorful, designer, and performance socks.

When his attention focused on the men’s socks at Target, Kearl found an important consumer item that had been suffering under benign neglect for, well, centuries. I need to note that Stance isn’t alone in its effort to pump new life into men’s socks. Search for men’s socks on Amazon and you’ll be treated to a rainbow of attractive footwear.

I tell you this story because there are probably thousands of important consumer items that are suffering under the same benign neglect. And, when someone comes along and finds a way to stir the pot, that person can end up creating a new category.

Here’s a question: How many of us have walked by the men’s sock collection at Target and NOT seen it as an opportunity for innovation? I suggest that virtually all of us would be guilty for not seeing the possibilities, or recognizing the fact that little had changed in men’s socks for years and years.

I often tell the story of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream and the basic idea there is the same. They created a new category – “designer” ice cream, if you like – when they broke away from the standard chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry. And in many ways, Apple did the same thing with the original iMac. If you remember, instead of a boring beige box, the first generation of iMacs came in “flavors” like blueberry and strawberry.

The good thing about creating a new category, is you don’t have to invent an item from scratch. You just need to find a way to put a new spin on an old product. Discover a way to make it appeal to a young, lucrative market.

Here’s one idea: Look for products that are used by both men and women. Determine which is “ahead” in terms of innovation or aesthetics, then take the one that’s lagging and bring it up to speed.

And if you can’t think of anything right off the bat, why not do what Kearl did and head over to your nearest Target? Find some items that have fallen by the wayside in terms of modernization. List them all and then start doing some market research to judge the potential size of a category, were you to decide to go for it.