If you want to license your idea in the direct-response television (DRTV) industry, you had better go the extra mile! This is a unique industry. The lifespan of most products is incredibly short, but there's also potential for big money, which attracts a lot of inventors. In fact, DRTV ads generate nearly $300 billion in sales each year.

"Any advertisement that engages consumers and asks them to respond directly to a brand in the form of a click, call or purchase, including but not limited to mailers, billboards, social and display advertisements, emails, texts or calls is known as responsive or accountable advertising. When TV is the medium, it is known as Direct Response TV Advertising, or DRTV," explains Bill Cogar in his article about why direct response TV marketing is still effective today.

These days, DRTV companies also make great use of social media to precisely target potential consumers.

You know these products. We all do! I'm talking about the ShamWow, the Snuggie, the Slap Chop, the George Foreman grill, to name a few smash hits.

Today, six-second pre-roll videos are a standard. Yes, just six seconds. That's a far cry from the days when lengthy infomercials played only late at night on television.

In this industry, things change quickly, which is why staying current is so important.

Recently, I had the pleasure of interviewing Trish Dowling -- senior vice president of merchandising at Allstar Innovations, a longtime leader in this space -- about current trends and best practices. Before she joined Allstar in 2012, Dowling was a buyer for retail and catalogs. She estimates she has attended thousands of trade shows around the world. In other words, she knows product!

Sharpen your pencils. Here's how to win at DRTV in 2019.

1. My strategy of making simple improvements to existing products is not appropriate for this industry. Simply put, it won't work. DRTV companies are looking for something genuinely fresh and unique -- something that stops consumers in their tracks.

So, is your product truly new? The only way to know is by thoroughly studying the market.

"When we present a potential product to bring to market to the owners of our company, we just don't go in and say, 'Here's an item.' We go in with statistics, with what's at Wal-Mart that would compete against it, with what's at Bed, Bath & Beyond that would compete against it, with what's on Amazon too. Doing your homework means knowing what else is out there that's like your item and what makes your item different," Dowling explained.

An obvious way to set yourself apart and begin developing fruitful relationships with companies in this space is by not submitting ideas they can find in an instant using the Internet. When you do that, you're just wasting their time... and yours. They will categorize you as an amateur inventor and treat you as such moving forward.

2. In other words, your product must be new and even more importantly, have a "WOW!" factor. Something so tempting, so irresistible, a consumer will be motivated to purchase it right then and there. The importance of this factor cannot be overstated.

Dowling put it this way: "I get asked all the time, 'Well, what category are you looking for?' We are in all categories. It's not about a category. It's about the emotion and impression that the product makes on the public."

3. You absolutely must have a prototype. A sell sheet alone just won't cut it. Because Allstar does so little of its own product development, seeing proof of concept is a must. Dowling told me pointblank they can't work off of a drawing.

4. Patents aren't important. Not all ideas can be protected with patents. For those who are worried about intellectual property, know that this industry doesn't care. A patent is not needed in order to submit a product for evaluation to Allstar.

However, if you have a patent or have filed a provisional patent application, that does have value. Allstar will help an inventor obtain a patent if the situation warrants it.

You've got to love that!

5. Digital marketing has created new opportunities. In the past, because ads were run on television, DRTV products were tailored to the largest possible audience. That's changed. Through the use of social media advertising, DRTV companies can target certain kinds of consumers (like, say, cat lovers) very specifically. In short, DRTV companies are looking for a wider range of products and price points than in the past -- all the way from $59.95 all the way down to $19.95.

6. Make your product demonstration video so good, it's the one they use in future tests. A one-minute video is all you need. This way, you have the most control possible over how your invention is presented moving forward.

7. Develop an understanding of manufacturing costs. This is always helpful when developing products. A handy rule of thumb is the 5 to 1 manufacturing ratio. If you have a product that costs five dollars to manufacture, your product needs to retail for $25.

This is a persuasive reason not to overdesign your product. Please, no bells and whistles.

8. And if you really want to win at DRTV in 2019? Ensure your product genuinely works well. Don't overpromise. No one will reorder if your product fails to meet expectations.

Finally, please remember to be patient. Even in this quick-moving industry, on average it takes a year from when a product is submitted to be selling at retail. So, don't wait by the phone. Keep inventing!

Published on: Sep 4, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.