Thomas Edison’s 7 Billion Dollar Marketing and Promotions
Most immediately associate the name Thomas Edison with … the light bulb. But what most people don’t realize is that Edison really didn’t invent the light bulb.
The light bulb originated with Sir Humphry Davy, almost 80 years prior to “Edison’s invention.”
No, I’m not trying to discredit Edison’s work… because he did make radical improvements to the light bulb. But we can learn powerful lessons from Edison’s clever and calculated marketing efforts.
Michael Michalko, author of the book Thinkertoys (which you should own), knows more about Edison than any other person that I know.
I was curious about Edison’s work, and success, from a marketing (and money-making) perspective, so I asked Michael if he could help.
Here’s what I asked Michael:
Thomas Edison was one of the most creative business thinkers of all time… how important was marketing/publicity to Edison’s success?
Michael’s Response: Edison was an extraordinary product marketer. To attract major investors to invest in his light bulb, he invited potential investors to a banquet at his expense at an upscale restaurant. He met the investors outside and led them up a dark staircase into a dark ballroom. At the appropriate moment, he flipped a switch and the room was magically illuminated with Edison’s light bulbs. The investors were stunned with the sudden brightness and couldn’t give him their money fast enough.
Edison wrote his own press releases and frequently organized and held press conferences. He would announce a dramatic and innovative breakthrough long before the invention was ready for prime time. His image as an inventor was part of his carefully cultivated and controlled public relations and media strategy. He was opportunistic and extremely media savvy. Once when asked why he called it a “light bulb,” he told the apocryphal story about showing the invention to a five-year old and asking the child what he should call it. The child’s father was completely bald and his head reflected lots of light, so the child said, “Call it a light bald.” Hence, the name light bulb. He charmed the media with vignettes like this.
He had a special office set up at Menlo Park and carefully designed the entire operation from a media perspective such that he was able to brand himself as the world’s greatest inventor.
In Thinkertoys you mention that Thomas Edison would often state that the only reason he invented was to make a lot of money… what led him to this philosophy?
Michael’s Response: Thomas Edison’s first invention patent (#90,646) was an electric voting machine. He spent a lot of time and effort on it. The machine was a marvelous vote tabulating machine, but Edison discovered that the last thing politicians wanted was a machine that could count votes accurately. He resolved he never again would spend effort on something that would not sell. His primary goal was money. His next invention fared much better: an improved stock market ticker-tape machine (1869), which earned him an instant $40,000 [about $800,000 today].
Thomas Edison became a very wealthy man. His creative imagination made him one of the richest inventors who ever lived. The IVM Chronicles states that he was worth about 7 billion dollars; other books said that he was worth over 20 billion.
Michael Michalko is one of the most highly-acclaimed creativity experts in the world and author of the best-seller Thinkertoys (A Handbook of Business Creativity), ThinkPak (A Brainstorming Card Deck), and Cracking Creativity (The Secrets of Creative Genius).
Michael has provided speeches, workshops, and seminars on fostering creative thinking for clients who range from Fortune 500 corporations, such as DuPont, Kellogg’s, General Electric, Kodak, Microsoft, Exxon, General Motors, Ford, USA, AT&T, Wal-Mart, Gillette, and Hallmark, to associations and governmental agencies. In addition to his work in the U.S., Michael speaks and provides workshops in countries around the world.
You can learn more about Michael on his website at: www.CreativeThinking.net
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