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Do Your New Products Have Real Competitive Advantages?

Think Outside The Box Image
It’s a well known fact that brand marketing and new products have radically changed as portrayed by Don Draper and his team in AMC’s “Mad Men” TV series. Back in the 50’s/60’s, mass marketing / advertising / new products seemed to be more of an art than science. Things like intuition, gut feel and luck seemed to have more to do with brand and new product success than a disciplined process. However, since then marketing / advertising / new products have “grown-up” with sophisticated analytical and process models. While a lot of these new tools certainly have their place I would argue some have been at the expense of solid strategic and creative thinking. This thinking “gap” means brand and new product innovations have not been as “disruptive” enough relative to the past – and thus lack real competitive advantages. Reasons include:

  • Retailer and manufacturer consolidation – Unfortunately, stock price pressures from Wall Street have created a myopic view of how to effectively manage and grow businesses – particularly in consumer product companies. The number of retailers and manufacturers serving consumers has radically dwindled since the 60’s. A lot of companies and retailers either no longer exist or now part of bigger concerns. The result has been lower headcount, lower tolerance for long term payback and lower new product activity (source: Nielsen).
  • The retail landscape continues to shift – Brick and mortar outlets have been losing share to online outlets due to consumer “show rooming” purchase behaviors. Moreover, private label / control brands now comprise roughly 25% of all retail sales dollars (source: Private Label Manufacturers Association) decreasing the importance of national brands. Finally, lack of store buyer continuity and buying habits continue to put downward pressure on retail prices – even if a disruptive new product is launched
  • Consumer demographics have shifted – Millennials are changing the face of marketing forever (source: Boston Consulting Group). Millenials will likely outnumber baby boomers 78 million to 56 million by 2030. This segment will have different habits and purchase behaviors vs. boomers and will impact marketing activities to reach them.
  • Marketing and information technology are merging – (if not done so already) – The growth of social media along with more sophisticated analytical tools are bringing these two separate functions together. Older marketers need to better understand social media and tactics and become more “tech savvy”; while younger marketers need to have a better understanding of strategy since more media is now BOTH traditional and digital. Allocation of marketing dollars to the most effective media channel to drive sales is critical since consumers are harder to reach
  • Idea generation/intellectual property have become too narrowly defined – Historically idea generation and intellectual property were sequential activities. This meant you had to have good ideas BEFORE you had a patentable intellectual property. However, some companies have recognized good ideas can come from anywhere – both from inside and outside. As a result, they have formalized their idea generation and intellectual properties processes to ensure they have both sustainable and robust streams of new product/business ideas (i.e. P&G).

As a result, many consumer product companies are losing/lost their competitive edge / advantages and not really innovating any longer. This can be seen in the Boston Consulting Group’s latest white paper: “The Most Innovative Companies 2013”. In this report, BCG continues to track the state of innovation via interviews with 1,500 senior executives which rate and rank their views of their own innovation plans and competition. They rank the 50 most innovative companies and their movement up/down this list over time. The sad fact from their latest report is only 5 consumer product companies are listed:

Boston Consulting Group’s Most Innovative Consumer Product Companies

Boston Consulting Group's Most Innovative Consumer Product Companies

So what can you do to make sure your new product programs have the right kinds of competitive advantages? I would argue you need to think big and “outside the box”. You need to persuade your CEO and CFO that investment in new product initiatives are worth the time and effort – despite the risks. However, that being said you do need to prepare compelling case(s) or basis of interest(s) so other senior line managers can better see opportunities. You can do this by following 10 steps:

1). REALLY understand your consumer / customer – Figure out what really motivates your customers / consumers to purchase your product or service. This could mean going beyond just focus groups to real quantitative analysis that gets to the core of purchase behaviors and attitudes.

2). Think big – Be creative and think outside the box. Remember the customer / consumer might not think about your product category in the same way you do. This is where creativity, intuition and gut feel really counts – if you need help get it.

3). Involve more than just marketing people – While marketing people usually drive new products, they don’t know everything. Good ideas can come from other functions beyond marketing….and also listen to your customers who resell to the ultimate end user. They see what your competitors are doing.

4). Test the validity of your ideas/concepts and prioritize them – Once you have a range of ideas you need a way to quickly screen them with the right target consumer. Quick concept market research screens are usually the best way.

5). Put together alternative business proposition(s) – At this point you need to summarize your top product ideas so senior management can better judge their attractiveness relative to other options. I recommend “single sheet of paper” approach summarizing the a) opportunity, b) barriers to entry, c) product line strategy/expansion potential and d) rough unit/$ volume potential.

6). Use a new product development process – If you don’t have a new product development process – get one. There are many staged tollgate new product models that can fit your business. Each “approved” business proposition should have its own tracking model and metrics for go/no-go decisions.

7). Put together new product roadmaps – Product life cycles are now incredibly short due to a combination of changing consumer needs and competitive offerings. You should plan a multi-year new product roadmap outlining what could be follow-up innovations to extend their new product life cycle.

8). If you sell to a reseller – be sure to highlight the opportunity from their perspective. – You need something to give your reseller (i.e. retailer) a reason to stock and carry the product. Otherwise, end users might not never see your idea.

9). Put together a comprehensive marketing plan – You will need to “broadcast” your new product news so customers/consumers can see it in the marketplace. Don’t just assume consumers will “find” your product on the internet or word of mouth.

10). Go back and re-evaluate if your new product programs were successful – Once you launch a new product or service it should be re-evaluated to see if it performed as expected and if not why?

Developing and launching new products are challenging – no doubt about it. However, if your business follows the above steps you should have much greater probability of success. You need to assume your competition ALWAYS knows as much or more than you with end users. If you keep this in mind don’t be surprised if you show up sometime on future Boston Consulting Group’s most innovative company lists. This is a great way to measure your success/failure as an innovator – because it from your peers.

Rick Steinbrenner
Global Marketing Officer
Brand Marketing Advisors
www.globalbrandguy.dot.com