Clarity Tip Sheet...

The Marketing Approach to Superior Product Development

Studies show that most new products fail.

That’s often for two reasons: there’s not enough insight about customers’ wishes and requirements, and a too traditional approach has been applied in the product development and launch process.

So, is “Marketing” to be blamed for the failure?
When it comes to new products, it’s not always easy being the Marketing Department. In many companies, if the product is a success, the research and development department is credited with the achievement.

If it’s unsuccessful, Marketing is blamed; insufficient intelligence on customers and competitors, or the introduction and launch has been handled incorrectly.

Around 40% of new B2B products fail!

No wonder someone needs to be held responsible.

You’ve probably heard this one before, but it’s worth re-iterating: products are becoming increasingly identical.

This may seem paradoxical because new technologies and innovations are created every day, but perhaps the predominance of “grey mass” products is caused by the tendency of most people to think conventionally and, hence, like their competitors.

The answer: Segment! Target! Position!
Marketing’s response to this problem is segmenting, targeting, and positioning. That is, to overcome product similarities, the approach is usually to break down the market, select certain segments, and become a market leader within these segments.

But is it profitable?
This is a wise approach, but the problem is that these segments have to be increasingly smaller if you really want to be different than your competitors. This way, they are not necessarily profitable in the longer run.

Expanding the market
In combination with segmenting and positioning, the Marketing department could also apply its creativity to think of new applications and uses of existing products and technologies and so expand the market. You see, revolutionising concepts are relatively rare, and innovation is often the result of combining to known concepts.

However, to do this you must have insight into the market, customers thoughts, needs, and requirements.

Ask customers - but exercise caution
Everything speaks for finding out what customers think, but it’s not as straightforward as many believe. Do the customers actually know what they want? And, if they do, are you capable of posing the right questions that make customer reveal it?

In Product Development it’s crucially important to realise that there are three different levels of product characteristics...:

Expected Features (e.g. that a computer has a monitor, a modem, and a mouse)
Expressed Features (e.g. that a computer has auto shut-off, a CD-ROM writer)
Exciting Features (remarkable attributes which the customer has not thought of).

Exciting Features are precisely what can make a product a success because they are different by solving a problem or covering a need which customers have not yet realised.

Thinking creatively and expansively
It’s a particularly good starting point to ask customers, for instance in a focus group. Even if customer are unlikely to come up with revolutionising ideas, the feedback can be a good basis for the subsequent creative process.

Notice here the concept of “creative”, because that’s indeed what it’s about – thinking differently. Thinking too “rationally” can be limiting and it’s far from the best starting point for the creative process.

Five different types of innovation
The best way of creating innovation is to first think traditionally, and then break down barriers and try to think in new ways. For instance, consider one of your existing products and split into smaller elements. Then, for each element, think of it in terms of...:

• Substituting (use something else instead)
• Combination (use it together with something else than today)
• Inversion (use it in reverse)
• Elimination (don’t use it)
• Exaggeration (use it much more or much less).

If you are a panel of people, and you pride yourselves in thinking differently, there’s no doubt that a lot of ideas will emerge by simply thinking of the product elements in terms of the five angles above.

It doesn’t matter if you end up with a majority of unfeasible ideas. What matters is that you discover one or more that can make your product stand out from those of your competitors (who will most likely think conventionally).

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