Three years later, touchpads had taken over more than half the new laptop market. But competitors edged Cirque out of much of that growth, and in the much larger desktop market, Cirque's touchpads still were dwarfed by the mouse.
Cirque turned to Tom Quarton, a veteran of Richardson-Vicks and former Glendinning Associates consultant, to apply his package-goods marketing savvy to the technology sector.
With help from Sawtooth Group, Woodbridge, N.J., Cirque's new president-chief operating officer repositioned Cirque's touchpads as the EasyCat, SmartCat and PowerCat. Then, he set about chasing the mouse with a combination of product publicity, ads in computer magazines and package-goods-style category management advice for retailers.
Industry awards and positive reviews in The New York Times and elsewhere followed.
"With those writeups, the whole mouse vs. cat thing has come to life," Mr. Quarton says. "We found the editors took that theme and had a good deal of fun with it."
Cirque's first target was the $300 million input device aftermarket, in which 7% of computer users annually replace their mouse. In the six months after the August 1997 repositioning, Cirque increased its market share more than sixfold, from 0.8% to 5.2%.
Consultants estimated the relatively high-priced Cats could take 10% of the mouse market, Mr. Quarton says. In six months, the company was halfway there.
Of course, the electronics industry is full of stories about seemingly superior technologies that fell victim to better-marketed competitors. But Cirque is determined to use marketing savvy to claw its way into more of the new desktop market and other electronic devices, such as personal digital assistants.
"My left brain tells me we can get 10%," Mr. Quarton says. "My right brain tells me we can beat the mouse."