new product

As we’re embroiled in the circus that is CES (consumer electronics show), I thought it made sense to give some tips on how to help your new product score big. So. let’s dive right in.

Tips for helping your new product score big

1. Solve real customer problems

Of course, I could be done at this point, since the biggest single factor in new product success is meeting customer needs, but that wouldn’t be much of a blog post.

Consumers don’t buy products.

I know that sounds insane as we all know consumers buy products and it’s this factor that ensures our survival or failure.

But, consumers don’t buy products. They buy solutions.

The first step in creating a successful new product that flies off the shelves is to start by solving a consumer problem.

What do consumers need? By all means, don’t ask them or you’ll get some gobbledy gook that’s meaningless. Consumers just don’t know what’s possible and it’s not their job to think up new products for you. Sometimes they can’t even articulate their problems because, without a solution, they don’t often think about something as a problem.

A good example is the new lift gate on many SUVs and Minivans that opens using your foot or by pushing a button on your key fob. If you asked consumers about their biggest problem with these products you probably didn’t get that it’s hard to open the lift gate with your hands full of kids and groceries. But, watch them for a couple of days and you see them struggling — a big problem.

Ask consumers about what they need and your new products will also be derivative rather than transformative. Derivative products require a strong brand image and expensive marketing if they’re to have any hope of succeeding, while transformative products can come from 2 guys in a garage with no marketing budget.

If I see one more startup pitching a dining app, I’m gonna scream. Grubhub and several others own that market. Unless you have something transformative, a derivative product enhancement isn’t gonna fly against the money they’re investing in advertising.

If you’re a big brand, like Proctor & Gamble, you can develop a derivative new product like Tide Sensations to build on your powerhouse brand (and still flop). But, if you’re like most startups, you can’t afford a mistake like that. Even if Tide Sensations were successful, it’s unlikely its sales would have resulted in a strong ROI.

Instead, take a page from the Apple playbook and give consumers products that solve problems they didn’t know they had. Take the iPhone, for instance. iPhone was so successful it survived rampant criticism that the phone element is almost useless and other features were, at best, substandard. Part of iPhone’s success is certainly due to the reputation of Apple for “cool” products, but much of it is based on first mover advantage — iPhone made the market for smartphones when none existed.

Now, if you’d asked the average mobile phone users if they wanted something to connect them to the internet and allow them to play fun games on their phones, most would likely say no. An even bigger group would have nothing to say if you asked them how to improve their existing mobile devices. But Apple execs were smart enough to see problems we faced in our daily lives, problems they could solve by creating a transformative product that combined traditional phone features with the things we needed most from a laptop on the go.

Witness the power of transformative new product development. Facebook did the same thing — Zuckerberg and his buddies wanted to find women (hot women) to date — like almost any red-blooded 20-something male. His first attempt failed because it created more problems than it solved. His second attempt, Facebook, flew around campus as each man invited his friends to the experience. Today, Facebook boasts over 1 billion users.

2. MVP

MVP stands for minimum viable product.

Let’s say you discover a great problem and develop the perfect solution. Asking consumers if that’s something they want is fraught with danger. Asking them if they’d be willing to buy it is even less likely to produce accurate results.

Instead, develop a prototype representing an MVP and test it out with real consumers to validate your idea. Even though you’re solving a real problem, you may need to tweak your idea based on this customer feedback. Not only will testing result in a much better fit with your customers, it helps dramatically in convincing investors to provide working capital to get your product to market.

3. Protect your product

You need to file for patent protection because anything you created can be copied by someone else. And, if you’re a tech startup, Google or someone can come in an recode your new product, putting their cadre of smart developers to recreate your solution in a couple of hours instead of the weeks it took you to create the original.

I know it’s expensive, but hire a really good patent firm, don’t use your cousin the tax attorney. I think the phrase: “penny wise and pound foolish” was created for just this case.

4. Marketing is not an option

Money comes into the firm in 2 ways — and only 2 ways. You either borrow it (or get it from investors, which still places restrictions on the firm) or you make it. There’s a limit to what you can borrow, but you can make an infinite amount of money. Making money requires effective marketing (not selling) and tracking to improve marketing performance of your new product.

And, unless you have about 10 years of marketing experience, don’t try doing it yourself (see above about hiring an experienced patent attorney). Despite what many seem to think, marketing does have rules and tools. It’s really expensive to discover those rules by making mistakes rather than hiring someone who already knows them.

If you really have a tight budget, hire a consultant to develop strategy and provide oversight, then implement the marketing strategy yourself. Bring the consultant on early in the process to help identify problems using social media and other conversations — such unstructured data is where disruptive, transformative new products come from. Involve them in the development of your idea and in testing your MVP. Then, have them create a marketing strategy that bootstraps your existing resources to build interest in your new product and stimulate sales.

Likely that strategy involves using content marketing (the new SEO), social media marketing (especially engagement that amplifies your messaging), and building relationships with customers that drive loyalty. You can implement these strategies internally (if you have time) rather than paying an agency to do them. While this isn’t optimal, it can save you a ton of money.

On a routine basis, bring the consultant back to review the market performance of your new product — not just sales, but intermediate steps along the customer journey. A good consultant uses these metrics to suggest tweaks to your initial strategy focusing efforts on what’s working and using performance to identify additional strategies that might improve performance.

5. What’s next?

Lather, rinse, repeat.

Certainly you’ll want to carefully monitor what consumers say about your new product and make improvements on it to better fit consumer needs. But, you should already be thinking about the next transformative new product you’ll develop. Instead of resting on your laurels and spending all the profits, resolve now to recycle a portion of your profits back into the next new product.