Premise – If you aren’t reinventing yourself every year, you will fall behind the competition.
If you are in business, almost certainly you have a physical product or some type of service that you sell. We will call both of these things, products. Each of your products has a very long list of attributes: cost, sell price, unique selling proposition, size, color, specifications, packaging, warrantees and guarantees, quality, delivery plan, terms of payment, likely distribution channels, margin estimate, estimated sales potential, accessories, associated products, competitive products, brand, patents, user demographics, and many others.
Whether you are introducing a new product or making changes to existing products, it pays to start from scratch every time.
And the opening question is
WHY do we have this product in our line?
WHY does it have the shape, size, cost, etc., that it does?
WHY not make it a different size, color, selling price, change packaging?
WHY are people buying this product from us?
WHY are competitors achieving some market share?
WHY are we selling the product the way we are now?
A brainstorming session or two reviewing all possible whys could and often does, result in breakthroughs. Those breakthroughs could include gaining market share, increasing margins, improving the entire brand’s success, reducing cost, increasing margin, adding stock-keeping units (SKUs) to existing customers, increasing market potential, and so much more.
Sometimes the product doesn’t even exist, but the customer is coming to you with the need. Alternatively, you have seen the need, even if the customer doesn’t know they need it yet. But how to solve the need?
The Internet has made this so much easier. Even 20 years ago, product development done right meant going out and walking through retail stores or setting up meetings with those who might use your service. Now, you can do all the research online. If you can’t find it online, it probably does not exist, at least not as a viable product.
The research, combined with individual creativity or group exercises such as brainstorming will almost always result in the first iteration of the solution. Now comes the really hard part. How do you test the product to find out if there is a market?
Creating a prototype along with brochures, a website page, etc., can provide you with enough ammo to show your potential buyers. This can now be done by teleconferencing like Zoom meetings, but in person is probably better. Trade shows are amazing. You can also assemble panels of prospects at any level in the distribution channel, and have the panel brainstorm. Zoom meeting is a likely way to do this inexpensively.
Crowdsourcing is the best way, in most cases. Perfect for physical products, Kickstarter is the king of crowdsourcing. For around $2000 in art, videos, copywriting, PR, and social media exposure, you can test your product on Kickstarter. During the course of a 60-day campaign, you can even change the product to see if those changes increase the sales.
Crowd sourcing will certainly tell you if you have a winner, but a failure on Kickstarter or other similar platforms does not absolutely mean the product is a dud. You must have some kind of following to help goose the algorithm. And you do want to spend some money on PR and possibly social media ads to help the product get exposure. You are unlikely to get enough exposure merely from the fans of Kickstarter.
For very little time and money, you may find that one of the attributes of the product just isn’t what the market wants. They may want a different color, size, or potential use. You’ll often learn these things in a good campaign.
Another option for physical products is to go first to Amazon. Again, there’s no actual cost to list a product on Amazon as a seller. You can use Amazon advertising to attempt to move product. You can add social media ads, PR, etc. Like crowd sourcing, you are likely to learn from this exercise.
Market tests for retail products are often possible. You might choose a city like Phoenix, which is rather isolated from other markets. Place the product in retail environments there to see what happens. You may even decide to provide salespeople on a Saturday to talk to consumers about the item. If successful, you can expand into other cities or go national.
Trade shows are an outstanding place to get immediate feedback from dozens of industry folks in a few days. Local trade shows, farmers' markets, and similar events are places where service products can get an airing. You might also try lunch and learns when you want to reach corporate employees.
Of course, both products and services can be “tested” through YouTube, vlogs, social media, PR releases, and any of a list of online methods. These approaches are not quite as targeted as the others, with the exceptions of Facebook and YouTube advertising. Those are much targeted and can reach end-users at a low cost per view but expect to spend several thousands of dollars to prepare the videos and more thousands for advertisement spend to get useful results.
If your new product idea is potentially patentable, you will want to take precautions to protect any intellectual property from competitors. Contact a good attorney for help with patents, trademarks, or copyright.
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