Last month I invited readers to share some of the problems and challenges they need to address in 2014. I offered a free consultation to one lucky winner who asked the most interesting question, which could also be of interest for me to answer for other readers.
Well, the winner is Jean-Francois (JF) who has just started working with a start-up in the tech and app areas – I feel that’s more and more of us these days, don’t you? His question was:
“I would like to commercialize a new XXX; what would be the right approach to identify the consumer need and then the market potential, considering that the company has very limited financial resources?”
This is a great question and a reminder that not every organisation has access to large market research or marketing departments and extensive budgets. In fact, in many companies these roles are being h andled by one and the same person with very few resources; is that your case? If so then you will definitely find this post of interest, but even if it isn’t, I’m sure you will still find value from the ideas shared.
As I had promised, I gave Jean-Francois a one-on-one consultancy which ended up lasting several hours, as he had planned well for our session together. He also happens to be really passionate about his innovative idea, as well as in finding solutions to all his challenges.
The product JF and his team want to launch doesn’t exist on the market today, although there are some products which are unsuccessfully trying to address the perceived customer need. The proportion of product launches which fail every year is generally “accepted” to be about 95% – although why companies continue to accept such levels is beyond me! With such odds, I think it is incredibly courageous to start a whole company based around just one new product idea, but that seems to be the norm in many areas today.
Let’s start by taking a look at some of the reasons new products fail and identify ways to reduce if not completely eliminate them for your next launch.
- The process itself: Innovation is by definition a creative process, but many organisations use a well-worn, restrictive and uncreative process to develop their new products. They are at best most likely to come up with renovations than true innovations. The solution is to introduce some creativity into the process, and why not include potential customers in the process too?
- Meeting company quotas: It is surprising that with such miserable statistics concerning the likely success rate of new products, that so many companies – and which shockingly include many of the largest CPGs around – fix quotas on the number of annual new product launches. How crazy is that?! It just encourages too many new products to be launched too early, and almost guarantees failure! I believe it would be much better to seriously limit the levels of acceptance amongst all new product ideas proposed in any year, then only the best would get through.
- Lack of customer underst anding: This is most likely one of, if not the most important reason for new product launch failures. And I don’t mean that you should ask the customer what he wants, he doesn’t know until you make it available to him in many industries. No, I mean starting by looking at a customer’s lifestyle and seeing how you can make it easier and more enjoyable for them. If you already have a new product idea, which was the case for JF, then consider how it would make the customer’s life easier or better. If it doesn’t, then you perhaps need to reassess its market appeal.
- Lack of category underst anding: This follows on from customer underst anding, in that you need to identify how the customer is currently working around or compensating for their need today. Don’t assume you are competing in a certain category until you have identified what the customer is currently doing or using. That is the way to identify your true competition.
- Not living up to your promises: If you promise a better, cheaper or more enjoyable experience, then customers deserve to be able to confirm this if they buy. Especially in today’s connected world, if you disappoint by not meeting customers’ expectations, your product will fail even more quickly than in the past, since early-adopters will Tweet or leave comments on Facebook, Blogs or other social media platforms for all to see.
- Not being sufficiently differentiated: Following on from living up to your promises, customers need a reason to change behaviours, and depending upon the category this can be costly, whether in time, money or effort. Many customers prefer to continue buying an inferior product or service than making the effort to change – think Telecom, Banking, Hotels, Air travel or Insurance as some of the most typical examples of such industries. These businesses are in a constant battle to differentiate themselves and provide a real advantage to attract new customers.
- Being too different: Whilst not being sufficiently differentiated can be a certain cause of failure, being too new can also meet with no success. The reason for this is that if customers are totally unfamiliar with the new product or service offering, you will need to spend considerable resources to educate them. If you are unable or not willing to invest the time and money in doing this, then you will undoubtedly fail to attract more than just a few customers who take the time to underst and what you are offering.
- Pricing yourself out of the market: Here I’m not just speaking of pricing your product too high; being too low can also negatively impact your likely success. Underst anding how much potential customers value your offer to essential to the success of any product. Getting it wrong can result in lost revenue or worse a promotional spiral leading to br and hell (read more about this in “Are you on the way to br and heaven or hell“)
- Inappropriate distribution: This can be the consequence of an incomplete underst anding of your customer and is also linked to differentiation. Whilst you can just follow near competitors into their own distribution channels, why ignore the possibility of being available where and when your customer might buy it most? By reducing the effort necessary to change their habits and buy, you can attract more potential customers to at least try your new product.
- Being too far ahead of the customer: There are many examples of great products that were ahead of their time. Gillette brought out 2–in–1 shampoos with conditioners included in the early 70’s, but they were a dramatic flop. Ten years later most personal care manufacturers offered these products, and were met with huge success, even if such products have gone out of fashion somewhat since then. It took Nespresso almost twenty years to become profitable and Philip Morris has needed similar levels of patience for their most infamous of br ands Marlboro, in many markets. If you can’t afford to wait for your customers to catch up with your new product idea, then you should certainly reconsider your launch decision.
These are ten of the most common reasons for new product launch failure. Which do you think is most prevalent in your own company? What are you going to change to increase the success of your own new products? Is it some other reason altogether, that I’ve missed? Let me know and share your thoughts below.
Coming back to JF, most of our time together was spent discussing ways to collect information on many of the above points. As he has little budget for extensive market research, it was important for him to find other ways of gathering the much needed information and not to just bypass that stage; perhaps many people don’t bother to search out the information they need to truly assess the likely success of their new product, which would explain the high failure rate mentioned above.
By the end of my session with JF, he had a clear plan of action and I have since heard that he is progressing incredibly fast, so watch this space for an announcement concerning the launch of his new device.
I will be sharing the tips I gave him in a future blog post, but in the meantime feel free to continue sending me your own questions; I’m always ready to have a short Skype or phone call to assist you with your own marketing and innovation challenges.