Most new products fail. If you’ve ever been involved in developing and launching a new product you will know that you are facing an uphill battle. According to Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen, 80% of the more than 30,000 new consumer products launched each year fail. Nielsen research listed the failure rate at 85%, whilst a study by the Product Development and Management Association (PDMA) showed that failure rate varied based on industry, but even the best performing industry saw only 35% of new products fail.
Those findings are staggeringly high. That kind of failure rate might make sense for companies trying to launch their first product, but the vast majority are released by established companies that already know their business and market and that have the advantage of brand recognition and an existing relationship with their customers.
What’s more, a Nielsen study showed that 63% of consumers like when manufacturers offer new products. These findings can only lead to one question: why do new products fail and what are companies doing wrong in their approach to designing and launching new products?
There can be dozens of reasons for why any one particular product fails (poor design, overpricing, ineffective marketing, etc..), but the high failure rate of new products boils down to a lack of understanding of who the ideal customers are and what they want.
This impact of this high failure rate is more important than ever before. The digital age has meant that innovation has become an integral part of success in every industry. The importance of innovation can be summarised by 3M’s CEO stating that 40% of their revenue in 2017 was from products that had not even existed 5 years ago.
Involve Your Customers
With innovation being more important than ever before, companies have had to rethink their development process.
Whilst market research, focus groups, and product testing can guide the development process, the customer input often comes too late and involves too small of a sample size. In fact, reliable customer feedback often comes only once the product has hit the shelves.
The easiest way to properly gauge what your customers want from your new products is quite simple…involve them in the development and design process.
Unilever’s shift to focusing on co-creating and using customer ideas to develop new products came after CEO Paul Polman made a 2015 announcement that smaller, nimbler brands were able to launch new products faster and more successfully and that the global giant had to adapt.
By inviting customers to share ideas and be part of the development process, not only are companies able to have a better sense of what their customers and the market want, but they are also able to project a more innovative and inclusive brand image that is usually reserved for small companies.
The Customers You (Don’t) Want
It might be easy to think that all customers are created equal, but the reality is that some are less savvy than others. Research carried out by Professor Anderson at the Kellogg School of Management found that it is just as important to pay attention to who the customers are as it is to track how they react to the product itself.
The study found that whilst feedback can play a vital role in determining whether or not a new product will be successful, there is a unique subset of customers who are consistently attracted to products doomed to fail. The study refers to these customers as ‘harbingers of failure’.
By studying major retailer loyalty card programs, the researchers were able to find that new products chances of success depended not only on how much is sold, but also on who is buying.
What these findings reveal is that to successfully involve customers in the development process requires an extra step. As Anderson explains:
These are products where a manufacturer went out, they did concept testing, they talked to customers, they brought it to retailers, the retailers piloted it in their stores. The retailers said yes, it’s a product we want to roll out to our entire chain—and then it doesn’t last very long. What seems to be happening is these customers have preferences that might be nonmainstream, or as we like to put it, they’re not representative of the overall population
To avoid this problem, Anderson and his colleagues found that it was important to have a more rounded sense of who your customers are when they are providing feedback. Engaging with them over the long-term and having a sense of how they interact with other products and brands can help to avoid customers whose taste is not reflective of a larger population.
As Unilever can attest, the Braineet platform presents a unique solution that can address many of the problems associated with product development. Not only does the platform allow customers to share ideas with companies and co-create new products and services, but the multi-brand approach allows companies to have a better sense of the overall profile of their customers.
This multi-brand aspect is key to avoiding the ‘harbinger’ customers and also drives user engagement and retention, areas that are so often a problem for marketing and social media campaigns.
Braineet has helped companies around the world to develop new products and services, each time ensuring that they do so knowing that the innovations will not only be well received but are actually in high demand.