Product Development, as a process, is an integral part of building the longevity of a brand. When developing and launching a new product, each company establishes its own series of steps to move through the product development process, from idea to concept to commercial launch. It is that process, often adapted from standard practices and methodologies, that is unique to each company, and its execution makes all the difference in the success of the product.
As far back at the 1950s, people began to consider the potential role that the consumer could play in the product development process. At that time, a Viennese psychologist, Dr. Ernest Dichter, established a new method of engaging consumers to hear their opinions and translate those opinions into actionable efforts for product development. The Betty Crocker company hired him to figure out why housewives were reluctant to use their revolutionary, time-saving cake-in-a-box product. The market research insights collected by Dr. Dichter had four key outcomes.
- He learned that housewives felt guilty about the convenience of ready-made and thought they were short-changing their families. For the first time reported, the emotional connection to a product was documented.
- The formulation scientists went back to the bench to create a cake mix that required an egg, which made the bakers feel like they were “baking” a homemade cake.
- Sales soared and box cake mixes became a product that persists in the market today.
- The product development process at the Betty Crocker Company – and all others – was forever altered.
Focus Groups Alone Won’t Get It Done
Nearly 70 years later, after Dr. Dichter’s ground-breaking research and the resulting impact on the product development process, a few things have changed. Admittedly, focus groups did bring a new level of critical insight into the process. However, there are a few limitations to this methodology.
False positives can pose a threat. Depending solely on small, in-person focus groups for information about several diverse markets is risky. With 30-40 people as the average grouping, this sample size is likely too small to be an all-inclusive indicator of market truths for multiple industries. Companies need to collect enough feedback, from a large enough group, in order to analyze trends that are meaningful. A broader perspective on all relevant markets is necessary to be representative of the total market potential for the product being developed. The “group think mentality” is another drawback to focus groups that can lead to false positives. All it takes is one person to dominate the group and be more vocal than the others. In this case, the others either nod in agreement or tune-out as they no longer feel that their voices will be heard.
The lack of follow-up post-research is also limiting. A focus group is usually a “one-and-done” market research tactic, which prevents researchers from going back to ask for clarification or to develop an idea further. Ultimately, a company could end up aiming to satisfy the needs and wants of a tiny niche group but miss the main event so to speak. Maintaining communication and contact with the customer is critical to making them feel fully invested and still involved. This leads to a greater post-launch engagement and often results in championing behaviors, which creates word-of-mouth marketing, a critical piece of product promotion that generates awareness.
With the setbacks of focus groups and the value of prospective customers in mind, it’s important to focus on employing a comprehensive product development process that uses a set of diverse tactics to obtain the highest quality insight.
Our Recommended Product Development Process Template
Product development should be a formalized, dynamic process within every organization. In some cases, the order itself is not as important as is the careful execution of every step. Follow the steps below to ensure a successful product.
- Identify the category or expansion area desired to develop the new product in.
- Identify customers (as well as potential customers) who will be most likely to help and add value. While everyone is creative on a different level, it is important that the customer has an affinity for the category plus a likely future use for the product to offer relevant feedback.
- Let the customers shape the ideas. Encourage cycles of divergent and convergent thought to maximize ideation.
- Let the customers work together to improve these new product ideas. People can spark ideas so facilitate those sparks by encouraging pair work and group work. Consider Discussion Boards and/or tools like KL’s CrowdWeaving™ solution which maintains an open dialogue with the customers and allows researchers to ask questions again and again until the feedback is clear.
- Have the client review and prioritize the ideas collected from the customers. Detail why some ideas bubbled up, why others were eliminated and capture that reasoning.
- Reiterate the ideas. Have an additional ideation session and discussion on how to refine and improve the proposed ideas. Next, go back to the customers to collect feedback on the enhanced ideas.
- Record why changes were made and the reaction to those changes to serve as a future learning.
The product development process varies from company to company, but one consistent element is market research and the inclusion of the customers’ collective input. Listen to your audience and check in with them regularly. Don’t wait until you’ve launched to gauge customer reaction after revenue targets are missed. Instead, collect customer feedback upfront at the concept stage as well as after the product has been on the market for a while. Remember, it could be as simple as adding an egg to transform your commercial success!