Post first published 11/20/12 in the “MENG Blend” on the Marketing Executives Networking Group website –  The destination site for leading marketing executives looking to stay ahead of the curve.  We have more than 1800 of the leading marketing minds in the world eager to meet, communicate, help and share our expertise.

Improving Your New Product Success Rate

How can you make sure your new product idea doesn’t fail?  The answer is: do your upfront homework to fundamentally understand how your consumer/customer thinks/feels/uses your products, not just what they say or tell you in person.  The marketplace “wasteland” is literally littered with failed new products because companies didn’t do the right homework/research and/or took short cuts because they thought “we know what the consumers/customers wants better they do”. As most general managers know, alot of new products fail in year one of their launch.  According to Schneider Associates and other leading marketing professionals, nearly 3/4 of consumer products launches fail to achieve to $7.5MM in sales; and only 3% of launches achieve ~$50MM of “critical mass” and/or distribution.  The main reason seems to be most consumers tend to buy the same 150 items, which can constitute as much as 85% of household needs; thus it’s hard to get something new on the radar – according to Jack Trout – formerly of Trout & Ries. Doing the right kind of homework/research can dramatically improve your chances of new product success.  However, not everyone agrees research is the right answer.  Much has been written about the late Steve Jobs of Apple not believing in marketing research.  In Mr. Job’s obituary on the New York Times Web site, John Markoff quoted his aversion to market research this way: “It’s not the consumers’ job to know what they want.”  In other words, while Mr. Jobs tried to understand how technology could solve problems for his consumers, he wasn’t going to rely on them to demand specific solutions, just so he could avoid ever having to take a risk.  He referred to this as “leading”. I agree with Mr. Jobs to a point.  Research never really can “lead the way” to success – it never has.  Only creativity, ingenuity, enabling technology and yes, intuition are the only real ways to achieve new product success.  Research really only helps sort the “wheat from the chaff” and can help point the right way and/or reduce risk.  Market research is simply a tool; it doesn’t replace – and never has – good solid thinking.

The question is how a company can encourage outside the box thinking which could result in new product success.  One way is to break-through functional “silos” is use of cross-functional teams focused on the problem(s).  Kraft Foods taught a powerful strategic planning framework that assisted in the idea generation process to many of its senior managers.  It was called STEPS – short for Situation Analysis, Tracking, Execution, Plans and Strategies.  This technique either a) assisted solving complex problems and/or b) help identify new areas of opportunities.  The concept is summarized below.

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When used effectively this framework could help identify a company’s or brand’s “strategic competitive advantage” based on marketplace differentiation and value.  You knew you had a competitive advantage if you could answer “yes” to the following: a) do we have an advantage?, b) do competitors want it?, and c) do consumers really need or desire it?  If you couldn’t answer “yes” to all three criteria you didn’t have a “SCA”.  This usually drove the next step – idea/concept brainstorming – commonly called the “fuzzy front end”.  This is where creativity, ingenuity and intuition come together to develop product concepts potentially addressing gaps in the strategic competitive advantage or “SCA”.

It starts with identifying consumer/customer, competitive and enabling technology trends for specific product categories and individual product concept opportunities.  You then move down the “funnel” using various marketing research tools to verify you’re using the right brand name along with the right product concept.  A concept needs to be specific – meaning how should it perform, what brand should be used, how does the product look, taste, smell, touch, to be substantially different vs. its competitors.  Product concept screening is the primary tool for this part of the process.  Below is a schematic of the opportunity identification/discovery “funnel” framework for the “fuzzy front end”.

Conceptual Framework

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One thing to remember – while its fine to conduct monadic concept tests to help screen winners from losers; this is usually not sufficient to determine final marketplace viability.  Concept testing only yields simple purchase intent scores and other measures, but the key issue is how the concept(s) would perform in the marketplace relative to other consumers/customers product choices.  Once you identify “good” ideas via branded product concept testing , the next step would be to test these concept(s) by placing them in simulated marketplace situation.

Finally, one must also remember not all market research methodologies are created equal.  In my experience, I’ve found there seems to be a positive relationship between deeper levels of consumer/customer understanding and higher market share/volume.  This is because a substantial difference can occur between what consumers/customers say vs. what they actually do or think in purchase decisions.  Generally, qualitative research focuses on how consumer/customers describe themselves; while quantitative research facilitates can give insights into how consumers/customers think or feel – which tends to be more predictive of actual consumer behavior.  Below is an illustrative conceptual model: 

Conceptual Framework

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Yes, quantitative research can be more expensive than qualitative.  However, I would argue the cost of bringing a bad idea to market and failing is FAR greater than doing the right research to help make the right decision in the first place.  You can actually save money via the right testing protocols.

So in summary, how does one make sure new products don’t fail or at least improve one’s chances of success?

1. Make sure your product/company is correctly aligned about your strategic competitive advantage.

2. If you don’t have one form a cross-functional team (usually led by marketing) to recommend how you can identify one.

3. If a new product is needed to help obtain a SCA, use the opportunity identification/discovery funnel to help focus the team’s creative juices to develop the right concept(s) with the right brand.

4. Finally, use the right  kind of research to pinpoint the strength/weaknesses of individual concepts  and ultimately how would it perform vs. competition.

If you follow this process, you will have a better chance of not having your next new product become one of those ideas ending up in the “marketplace” wasteland and also potentially detract from your company’s valuable reputation.  Good luck.

Rick Steinbrenner Chief Marketing Officer/Principal, Brand Marketing Advisors The Global Brand Guy