By Amanda Bowman
Whether you’re an aspiring entrepreneur building your first product to compete with established companies, or a large, established company looking to innovate, product design and product development is critical to success.
Unfortunately, as many as nine out of ten new product launches fail. Give your product every chance to be successful by following a proven product development process.
Fortunately, there are four important steps to the process that apply to any form of innovation. If you follow them, you’re much more likely to hit the market with a viable and competitive product.
Some of the best ideas happen entirely by accident. These moments of unexpected inspiration don’t always fall into our laps, though – many great ideas come through careful investigation and research.
Talk to your customers
Listen to your customers. Engage in conversation with them, and find out what they have to say about their experiences.
Voice of the customer (VOC) research is a great starting point for figuring out your customers’ unmet needs. Four in every five industrial innovations are a direct result of customer input – that’s a statistic worth listening to.
While you shouldn’t rely on customers’ input alone to generate new product ideas, it is vital to listen to their feedback and opinions. Maybe you’ll come away with a great new product concept, but you’ll for sure come away with a clearer idea of what your business is doing right – or wrong. One good approach is to use the Jobs to be Done (JTBD) framework.
Conduct market research
There are many insights you can learn from market research, and those insights play a critical role in product design. Research can not only help you validate product ideas; it can also uncover opportunities for new products or areas ripe for disruption.
Many companies use market research as a way of reducing the risk of failure, by determining where the need is greatest for new products. It can help focus the scope of a new product and what the roadmap might be for future updates.
Research alone cannot answer all of the questions you may have, but it can bolster support and justification for decisions you make during the design process.
Perform competitive analysis
It’s difficult to know if you’re on the right track with an idea if you don’t know what products or companies may be competing against you. You need to know if your idea is a good fit for the market and if it has a compelling advantage over its competitors.
Give yourself a clearer picture of who’s out there and what they’re doing by asking a lot of questions, such as:
- Who is your competition?
- What are their products or services?
- What portion of the market do they control?
- Who are their customers?
- What are the defining features or value they provide to their customers?
- What are they doing well? What are they not doing well?
Make sure you invest the time and energy required to do a thorough analysis of the competition before you dedicate yourself to an idea. You’ll help prevent yourself from spending too much time on features or ideas already well-represented by your competition.
Measure the opportunity
An idea is only as good as how good your customers think it is.
Make sure that you’re not missing your mark and engage in valuable concept testing research – before you commit too many resources to your innovation.
Concept-testing market research is a reliable way to determine if your product stands a reasonable shot at success. Market research should take a close look at the following:
- Your customers’ impressions of your idea,
- What your customers like (or dislike!),
- How aware of similar products your customers are,
- How customers are to make a purchase, and
- What their price perceptions are.
Now that you have the foundation of consumer input, it’s time to develop your idea.
Build your (business) case
You’ve fleshed out your idea, you know it satisfied a real need in your market, and you’ve decided you can build it. So what’s next?
You need to build a business case for your idea.
A business case is a document that examines the benefits and risks involved in launching your product. The conclusion of your business case should be a compelling argument for moving forward with your idea.
A business case elaborates on the following key points:
- A description of your product – what does it do? What are the more technical specifications and details? What kind of market does it belong in?
- A justification for creating your product – A close look at your intended market, and how much potential your product has for success in it, and
- A project plan – make sure you include your steps for a successful launch, an estimate of how much everything will cost, and what your sales targets are.
Cover these three major points, and you’ll have one case-closed presentation on your road to innovation success.
Develop the idea/concept
You want to give yourself time to iterate and flesh out your idea. That way, you can validate precisely what you need to build, how it should work, what features or qualities it should have, what materials you need, and ideas on how it could look or appear.
This process is essential because this is where your idea or product starts to take shape. You should produce something that you can test with customers and your team to make clear if your idea has potential, and what direction you should take the design.
There are some fundamental best practices you can apply, whether you’re creating something tangible like a manufactured good or something destined to run online.
- Know your target medium.You need an in-depth understanding of your target market. If your product needs to be physically manufactured, “designing for manufacturability” (as we discussed in our look at product design best practices) needs to be considered throughout the product design process. If it’s a digital product, have a development team available that can turn your idea into production-level code.
- Check in. Be available for feedback from your build partners and check in routinely. You want to catch potential issues early – well before they balloon into full-blown crises.
- Be flexible and sensible.Opportunities (or issues) happen, so be prepared to improvise or make adjustments to your plan. Whether it’s a challenge or a happy accident, keep your original goals and research in mind.
Leverage focus groups
An easy way for your product to fail before it gets off the ground is by failing to take into account valuable customer feedback. This is where focus groups can be instrumental.
A focus group is a product research tool for getting the opinions of a small but diverse number of people focused on a specific product. In a focus group, each member reviews your product and any accompanying marketing materials.
You’ll want to ask questions to find out how likely the participants are to buy your product. You can also ask for feedback on what they think a fair price point might be. A focus group is also a chance to compile additional suggestions or ideas for improvements to your current design.
In many ways, most crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter serve as big focus groups.
Listen to customer service/support
What better resource than a team who spends their day answering questions and responding to feedback from your customers? Take this input and send it directly to your product development team. The potential for meaningful product improvement is unmatched.
Take advantage of social media
Polling is a great tool that social media has made easy to use – and it’s hard to argue with the immediacy of the feedback. There are some great tools such as Poll, Polldaddy and Cup.li you can use to poll your customers.
Product design processes can and do vary from one business to another. It’s important to make sure that your process is a good fit for your product and your company.
Amanda Bowman works in customer service at crowdspring, one of the world’s leading marketplaces for crowdsourced logo design, web design, graphic design, product design, and company naming services. Amanda helps guide crowdspring customers through the easy process of obtaining affordable, high-quality custom artwork and content for their business.