Successfully commercialising technology requires a basic decision

By our News Team | 2023

Before positioning a product or services relative to competitors, managers must decide in what form the innovation will go to market.

Much research has focused on the new product development process and its subsequent commercialisation. However, one fundamental decision regarding technology commercialisation remains relatively unexplored: In what form do we sell the innovation in the market?

According to the American Marketing Association, which publishes the peer-reviewed Journal of Marketing, Apple’s co-founder Steve Wozniak has suggested that the company’s initial plan was to sell circuit boards incorporating its microprocessor chips.

Business Strategy

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

However, that ambition took a different turn when Steve Jobs and Wozniak created the first personal computer in 1976, the Apple I. With its successor, Apple II, Apple became the pioneer in the personal computer industry. So much for being a seller of circuit boards.

A new Journal of Marketing study explores the ‘what to sell’ question that companies and investors need to answer regularly. 

Before they decide how to position products or services relative to competitors, managers at both established firms and new ventures must consider whether their innovations should be sold as:

  1. know-how (intellectual property),
  2. components (intermediate goods), or
  3. a system (final goods).

This product-form strategy (PFS) decision is deeply embedded within many firms’ product development and commercialisation processes. The PFS decision is linked to other fundamental questions of interest to marketers, including ‘Who is our direct customer?’ and ‘Who are our direct competitors?’

For early-stage ventures seeking to enter a market for the first time, getting their go-to-market strategy right in terms of the product-form and the associated revenue model may be their best chance for survival.

Using data from various sources, the researchers found that the resulting choice of PFS is due to three primary drivers:

  • the difficulty of technology mix-and-match,
  • the availability of marketing capabilities to sell the technology to end users, 
  • the difficulty of safeguarding the know-how against imitation.

“Our research discovers that when technology is difficult to mix-and-match and safeguard, decision-makers will choose to sell systems over components and components over know-how,” explain the researchers from the American University and universities of Arizona, Texas-Arlington and Texas Tech.

Assessing the firm’s marketing capabilities is a crucial element

“Marketing capabilities will also increase the likelihood of marketing systems over components and components over know-how. We also find key interactions among these drivers on the product-form decision,” they add.

The findings suggest that considering the technology market and the firm’s ability to protect its technology (against theft by supply chain members and competitors) is critical and that strategic deliberations about what to sell must include examinations of the wider environment and the firm’s own capabilities. 

Unlike much of the literature about business models that often conflates the ‘what to sell’ and ‘how to sell’ questions for business strategy, this study finds that PFS is a unique decision that comes before the ‘how to sell’ question is answered.

Product managers, entrepreneurs, and angel investors need to consider how these alternative product forms may increase the costs associated with selling one product form over another. 

Additionally, established firms mulling a market entry decision for a new technology should have commercialisation discussions at the technology level and choose the product-form that is the most desired for that technology, regardless of how their other product lines are strategically positioned.

You can find out more about the research A Theory of Product-Form Strategy: When to Market Know-how, Components, or Systems? here.

Digital Marketing

Digital Marketing

Analysis finds social media used by less than 4% of people, while mobile phone connections are equivalent to less than 60% of Malawians.

Read More »


E-commerce giant is yet another tech company that is finding the market increasingly tough. It has already cut 18,000 jobs.

Read More »
Customer Data

Customer Data

Survey finds 60% of marketing leaders believe collecting customer data while balancing privacy and customer value is now more challenging.

Read More »
Consumer Health

Consumer Health

It is not sufficient for consumers to want to decrease sugar intake. Brands should offer appealing products that help reduce consumption.

Read More »


Some influencers, themselves sufferers of an ailment, give well-intentioned advice. Others are paid to do so. The consequences are concerning.

Read More »
AMC News

AMC News

High-level Chartered Marketer (Africa) programme equips marketers to operate successfully in the continent’s complex and diverse markets.

Read More »
Email marketing

Email Marketing

Analysis of more than 10-billion bulk emails sent over three years finds a ‘landscape fundamentally reshaped’ by events.

Read More »