Atari vs. Intellivison

Intellivision_Plimpton“Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door.”

It’s a truism, but is it actually true? I can immediately think of a few counterexamples. As a child of the ’80s, I can well remember a skirmish between two competing video-game platforms: the Atari 2600 and the Mattel Intellivision. The Intellivision was a much better machine — there was surprisingly little argument about that. And George Plimpton popped up on your television regularly to offer a smug reminder. (How many of you played “Pac-Man” or “Adventure” on the Atari? Painful.)

Yet the Intellivision remained a cult console. In my small town, I had two friends who had one, and dozens of friends who had Ataris. Despite the unflagging efforts of poor George, Atari simply did a better job in promotion and market penetration.

A similar story played out, just a little later, when VHS and Betamax competed for videocassette supremacy. Everyone agreed that Betamax was better. But we all know that VHS won the battle.

Business lesson? Being the “better mousetrap” only gets you so far. You have to hustle, promote, and get your name out there. After all, it doesn’t matter if you’re the town’s best nonprofit copywriter if none of the big 501(c)3s know your name.

I am preaching to no one but myself here. I have relied heavily on word of mouth, and very little purposeful marketing, since starting this business seven years ago. I think it may be time to think a bit more “Atari” and a bit less “Intellivision.”

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