“But all my friends thought it was so cool!” That’s the usual lament we hear from the producers of failed products. Why? They fell in love with their product, so much so that they actually thought success was based on the product itself.
Probably the most important factor most often overlooked by new product producers is the product-market fit. It doesn’t do you any good to come up with a cool idea, even one that solves a big problem, if the market isn’t ready yet or doesn’t understand it, or if you can’t gain access.
So, the first step in the product development process is to discover what the market wants and how you can penetrate it. For us, for instance, we flat out asked. We asked everybody that was associated with the distribution system and the retailers, “What’s missing?” “What do you need?” and “What does the product and packaging need to look like to get in at all?” We were surprised by the answers. They painted a very different picture of what our product should look like in terms of pricing, appearance, and target market than what we had imagined. What if we just ran with our initial product? We would have run into many walls in frustration.
But the buyers told us that there was a gap in our category at a specific price point and package that, if we addressed it, could open some doors for placements. And that was golden. We have seen so many products rotting in warehouses, sold at extreme discounts, or forced to sell direct to consumer because the big retailers wouldn’t take them.
Even if you know how to get into the market, your new product development process should include a robust feedback loop. We highly recommend that you test the market. Get out there with the product that can gain access to the market but sell it in a very limited territory at first. Work with a small beta group to find out what’s wrong with your product before you attempt to go large.
The temptation is always to make that big sale right off. You’ve spent all that money on product development, right? But, until you knock out the bugs and understand the cost of sales, expansion is a big mistake. You can actually expand so fast that you simply can’t service what you’ve sold, or worse, you can’t execute a big order – or a big recall. The biggest mistake we see in new product development is that the producers grossly underestimate the cost of sales– not the cost of goods, the cost of sales!
We are talking about what it costs you in time, personnel, and money to keep your product in the market. “Oh, that’s the distributors’ job,” or “That’s the retailers’ job,” we often hear. It’s not. It’s yours! By testing the market in a limited space, you will discover what’s really required of you and your product. It surprised us. It will surprise you. As we like to say, “Get your act together before you take your show on the road!”
Understand the distribution system long before you finish your new product development, design and packaging. There are physical requirements that are absolutely demanded by the distribution system. Understand them.
For instance, there is the height of the shelves in retail for your product category. You must not only fit into those limits, but you must maximize your number of units on the shelf. Your multi-unit shipping carton must be light enough to be lifted by hand. That means 35-40 pounds max. In some markets, like Europe, it’s even less.
Most commerce moves on pallets. You must design your shipping cartons to maximize the pallet space. And at the same time respect the height and weight limitations of that loaded pallet for trucking purposes. What if you designed your product and your packaging and then found out about these limitations?
There are many studies out there for a step-by-step procedure that you can follow for your new product development process. Our advice doesn’t come from a study. It comes from hard-knocks experience and success. We actually did develop a new product. It was successful. It did sell! But we faced unexpected difficulties in these three key areas that almost killed our product more than once. Since we monetized our brand equity, we have offered our help to others on marketing their products. Many are too far down the road for us to help. They have already finished developing their product. They overlooked these critical requirements. Our advice? Start with market access, consumer testing, and respect for the realities of the distribution system. Then, and only then, fall in love with your product! We are here to help.