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New Product Development Out of the Box or Not?
Susindar K Subramanian
Friday, July 31, 2009
Sleepless nights with all kinds of butterflies in one’s stomach, if one gets to sleep - nightmares about market reaction to the advertising, readiness of the distribution chain, and the worry of a rain that could affect the launch event scheduled in an open arena characterize a product manager who puts his entire life behind the success of his product. There are some new products, which move off the shelf on the day of launch. Some other products grunt and groan their way to the shelf with less or no life on the shelf. Product management is a unique science. In my opinion, it is as much important and intricate as parenting a child. Whether it is a commercial idea from an advertising agency or a new recipe in a five star restaurant or a new VAS launched by a telecom company, the success or failure of these ideas depends on a lot of factors. Simulated conjoint analysis software cannot help you reach development of a product from your desk.

Learning from Failed Products

When we look back and check why some products had failed while some others had succeeded, we will end up with a few factors that were cardinally right or wrong. The story of the vacuumizer launched by Real Value in the mid-1990s with a heavy advertising blitz would still be fresh in many minds. It was a perfect product. Arguments could be there to prove that it was highly priced and a lot of other reasons may be shown that could have marred the product’s success. But in my opinion, its failure was because it was ahead of its time. The lifestyle of an urban affluent housewife had not entered the portals of ‘wellness in storing food’. Real Value did conduct seminars and programs for the housewife to understand the product and its advantages. But still not many housewives thought it wise to buy it. Whom to blame? You got to get the timing right.
When was it that you last saw a television with picture-in-picture facility and enjoyed a full-length show? A popular consumer durables manufacturer ran a campaign, which promoted this unique feature in their TV when there were not even two good channels to receive from your roof top antenna. Here the case is not that it was launched ahead of its time (easy guess), but that it was an impractical idea (best to avoid) to ask people watch two things on their TV screen simultaneously when the people from your neighborhood were sitting in your drawing hall (that was how TV watching was, in those days) to watch the popular movie that was being aired by doordarshan.

Any seasoned marketing individual could reel out the stories of many more products that failed. But each one has a different context and different product promises. Factor analysis could help the concerned people understand these in detail. While it is key to learn from those mistakes, it is equally important to learn from the success achieved by many other new products. New product development calls for out of the box thinking.

Success Stories of Out of the Box Ideas

Toyota Qualis: Remember the advertisement that said ‘a hundred reasons why you should buy a Toyota Qualis?’ Those hundred reasons could actually be paraphrased in one line: It fulfilled an unmet need, that too very forcefully. There were very few passenger vehicles in the category that offered all the conveniences and advantages that Toyota Qualis offered. The hundred reasons were an interesting list to go through and understand. But just imagine the sheer velocity of an idea. So powerful, all encompassing, virtually die cast into the unmet needs of thousands of users.

Reynolds ballpoint pen: Introduced with a promise of smooth writing at a time when ballpoint pens were a prized possession. . Before the launch of Reynolds, it appeared that people wasted a lot of time buying a ballpoint pen and got their pockets stained with ink in the process. Reynolds offered more value for its price, encouraging to buy a Reynolds and use it. The blue cap and the white pen shell soon became ubiquitous in every office, school, and college across the country.

Shampoo sachet: The now commonly seen shampoo sachet is a good example. Ever imagined packing a liquid in a sealed leak-proof polyethylene bag that is easy to display and sell? You could have it in your pocket at a friendly cost of just one rupee. I am sure that this would have got dismissed as a joke among a team of highbrow product managers. The shampoo sachet introduced by Velvette was a success. So much a success that large MNCs redrew their plans and soon rode piggyback on the new successful packing method. Here is an example of a product priced right with assured benefits cutting across all segments. The success of this product lies in its pricing and the well designed unique response to satisfy an unmet need.

Identifying, Pricing, Timing, and Fulfilling an Unmet Need

Responding uniquely to satisfy these needs is key requirement for the success of a new product. New products are not created in the design labs; they are just given the final shape there. New products often begin as a thought, a figment of your imagination, which may be called an intuition, in a mind that is trained to think through consumer need responses. But this thought needs to get converted into a workable idea, which needs to be tested at various stages among the targeted consumers for their feedback. One also cannot risk losing sight of the competition. Imagine a bright idea being hijacked by a competitor who can muscle his way onto your idea and turn you into an also ran.

New products can also offer a combination of benefits to the consumer, but be sure that you do a practicality check. Here are some new product surprises: A foot massager built in your shoe; A shoe that can physically morph into a sandal; A toothbrush that can massage your gums. These products too will have to stand the test of time.

There is a lot of challenges that could confound an entrepreneur who wants to launch a new product. He has to do a lot of homework before even approaching the bank or investors for funds. The glue stick was launched even as someone was talking about the benefits of the product as an idea. Faster turnaround time from idea to execution, comprehensive understanding of the market, targeting the right segment, a ready network for distribution and sales, positioning the new product appropriately, creating visibility for the product, and very importantly a quick feedback mechanism which will give you advance information about the performance of your product, all play a vital role in the product’s success.

Listening and learning are the two key factors that can make or mar your new product dreams.

Susindar K Subramanian, Head, VP, GM-PR, Corp. Communication, Infotech Enterprises
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