by Merlin Hernandez

 

If only I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard someone sing the praises of some great widget and how much money there is to be made if the creator should go into business. Without trying to diminish the value of innovation, by itself it may not provide the most solid foundation required to make a success of a business venture. There is an old adage that a superior product has a good chance of doing well in the marketplace but a mediocre product with a well-defined strategy will perform far better. Many brilliant and talented innovators never make it in business because they do not have a full appreciation of the business dimension to their work. This is to emphasize that regardless of how good the product is, it is the application of sound business strategies that will bring success.

In developing the business idea, it is necessary to first determine the core benefit to be provided to the consumer. This would come from market research that identifies a basic need. Too often in the small business sector, product development is a feature of the notion that a good product will create its own market – the idea of selling what is made rather that making what the market needs. But businesses need to be market-driven with customer satisfaction as the primary focus. A viable product is a result of information on marketplace trends, customer needs, wants and preferences, customer consumption patterns, and the activities of competitors so that the right marketing mix can be developed. The product idea will therefore be defined by the targeted market segment and the client profile.

To screen and select the idea that has the greatest potential for market success, the idea is also measured against resource capabilities to be applied to production and marketing. The ability to successfully develop, produce, and market a product depends on having the right mix of available resources. The business must be sufficiently capitalized to support key research, the right personnel, the most suitable raw materials, manufacturing equipment, processes, and marketing strategies that would bring desired returns. These elements need to operate in a delicate balance – I have seen a great marketing strategy realize sales volumes that could not be fulfilled on time because of inadequate production capacity leading to cancelled orders and low profitability. The other side of the coin is strong manufacturing capabilities and a weak marketing budget which can result in poor sales, high inventory, lower prices, and financial loss.

The process of developing the full product concept will be more meaningful through consultations with potential customers to better understand the benefits they value and the necessary product attributes for market viability. This kind of partnership culture opens up a first level commitment to the idea from the customer. It is also useful at this stage to engage professional advisors, potential partners, suppliers and other stakeholders in the process for feasibility and logistic input. The concept development phase is probably the most important exercise as it introduces the product idea to the potential market as well as explores the company’s ability to make the product available. Any negatives emerging from this phase would be a clear indication that the product does not have the potential for success.

Before any commitment to the idea, an analysis of the costs of bringing the product to market should be measured against the potential contribution to sales and profits. Furthermore, an in-depth market analysis should explore the competitive environment and other environmental factors – like the climate of innovation which might put an investment into the new product at risk. For existing businesses, possible new marketing strategies should be integrated into existing marketing objectives using channels and tactics that have demonstrated success. The rationale is to diffuse the cost and structure of marketing the new product throughout the marketing system in order to achieve cost efficiencies. R&D can now be charged with developing a prototype based on product attributes identified in the market intelligence and resource capabilities, with special attention to consumer contributions obtained at the concept development phase.

The market testing phase is aimed at collating customer responses to prototypes. It provides information for product modification and refinement, as well as full development of the marketing plan. Market testing could also determine whether the product should be abandoned due to poor consumer interest. Once results of testing are favorable, the business idea has been effectively developed and the product may now be ready for commercialization and the introduction to the market. Commercialization is the action plan for introducing the product to the market. It includes timing, pricing, distribution, budget, advertising and promotion, launch impact, and adoption by the target market, along with strategies to incrementally increase sales volumes and build the brand. The process is meant to leverage the effects of marketing strategies on ROI and optimize market spend in relation to competition.

Market success does not begin with a product but with the way it delivers value and benefit to the end user. Many businesses are incorporating the customer as a partner to their product development initiatives as a way of building strong external partnerships, demonstrating the value of the customer to the organization, ensuring delivery efficiencies based on articulated customer need, while availing themselves of a ready market down the line. In developing the product idea it is also important to differentiate the product by finding new ways to extend product value beyond expectations through the addition of new layers of customer satisfaction to the development matrix.

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