For product success, make what people want
Valcort 35 Keys to Business Growth: #9 Develop only products and services that are high priorities for current and future customers.
There are a lot of candidates for the worst product launch in American history. Rejection of the heavily promoted but underwhelming Edsel in 1957 made the name of the car synonymous with failure. New Coke broke the “do no harm to my brand” rule and was turned away in 1985. Many others rival these product busts (see our post 25 Big American Product Flops).
But leave it to the Government to make one of the biggest marketing mistakes in the last generation. The “product” was the Susan B. Anthony dollar coin, introduced with much fanfare on July 2, 1979.
People hated it. The most common reason they gave for hating it was that it was too close to the size of a quarter, confusing them when they reached into their pockets. But hatred for the coin seemed to be more visceral than that. Some believe it was because of the hideous engraving of Susan B. Anthony (feminist groups had complained that an earlier drawing by the artist made Anthony look “too pretty”). Others conjecture that the public wasn’t ready for a coin that they believed was promoting the feminist movement.
After minting the coins for one year, the government stopped. The banks didn`t want them, merchants didn’t want them, and the public certainly didn`t want them.
Launching Laudatory Products
You don’t have to rely on product sales for your livelihood very long to understand that there are many ways to sell more products, but just as many factors that make a product fail. What is often difficult to understand is which of the factors, positive and negative, are impacting your products and business.
Among the key questions: Are the products you are developing and manufacturing the ones that today’s customers want to purchase? Are your products and services high on customers’ priority list?
At The Valcort Group, we help our clients grow by successfully taking their products to market. Among our recommendations are these eight:
- Probe current customers’ attitudes toward existing and new products and services. This is an obvious method, but it’s also one of the most effective means for gathering ideas. Listen to your customers in order to gain an informed outside perspective on your current offerings and on what is missing in your product line or portfolio.
- Ask your current customers for feedback on other companies’ products and services they currently use. Ask your customers what they have purchased from other businesses, how satisfied they are with those products and services, and what features influenced their decisions. This will give you a clearer understanding of your customers’ purchasing habits and how you can better serve them.
- Determine the pain points of customers and prospects. Ask you customers and prospects about their biggest problems and issues they face. Once you have this information, you can tailor your product and service offerings to better meet the needs of your customers, and modify your marketing strategies to reach prospects.
- Do market and industry research. Search available industry and general market information and databases to learn more about the current condition of the industry, market, competitors and opportunities. Information is more accessible to you than ever, of course, but to be thorough you need to do more than a Google Search of your company and product name or category. Firms such as Valcort include this level of research as a part of our services. In addition to Google, resources include Lexis Nexis, industry publications, academic studies, U.S. Census, foreign country and market information. It’s work, but it beats showing up with an unnecessary or inadequate product.
- Build trust before change. It’s crucial to tread lightly when making changes to your products and services (see New Coke or Instagram) because your customers have become accustomed to what you already offer. Regardless of your size, keep your customers in the know when it comes to changes to your products and services that affect them. Heavily research whether changes to your products could alter public perception. Be methodical in how you communicate the changes to your product and services. Tell your customers when you’ve made a change. Be honest about when you’ve made a mistake and when you got it right. A healthy mix will give your customers a transparent look into your company that can’t be forged. Truth builds trust, the essential currency of commerce.
- Watch trends. Follow industry and market trends. We wrote extensively about the rationale for this, and tips for being trend savvy.
- Be Selfless. An others-focused approach was well presented by Lauren Hasegawa of Bridgit, writing in Entrepreneur: “When you set out to make your product solve a defined problem, you'll soon realize that you can't get by being selfish. Your venture will rise or fall on the backs of its users, making their problems your problems, their needs your needs, and their happiness your success.” The selfless approach:
- Share a lens with your customers. To find out what your future customers need, you have to see through their eyes and identify their everyday problems.
- Find experts. Part of being a selfless is realizing that others know a lot more about their industry than you do, and the only way to learn what they know is by asking them.
- Build relationships. Get to know our customers and users. Get to know them better than any of your competitors.
Business credentials simply aren't as important to success as the ability to empathize with other people and offer solutions to their problems.
8. Match the product and launch with the market. Remember that a product may be innovative, but it isn’t revolutionary—and economically feasible—if there’s no market for it. Don’t gloss over the basic questions “Who will buy this and at what price?”
A good illustration of the unyielding need for answers to these questions is the Segway. News of this secret new product leaked a year before the product’s release it was positioned as nothing less than an alternative to the automobile. When investors and the public learned that the invention was actually a technologically advanced motorized scooter, they were confused. The price tag—$5,000—doomed the launch. Instead of selling 10,000 machines a week, as the creators predicted, the Segway sold about 24,000 in its first five years. Now it sells for far less to police forces, urban tour guides, and warehouse companies, not the general public.
The lesson: Leaders must learn to engage the brand, marketing, sales, advertising, public relations, and web professionals early on, gaining valuable feedback that can help steer a launch or, if necessary, abort it. Hearing opposing opinions can be painful—but not as painful as launching a product that’s not right for the market or has no market at all.
The Valcort 35 Keys to Business Growth. Over many years and hundreds of client relationships and strategic marketing opportunities, we have established the Valcort 35 Keys to Business Growth, best practices that build trust, align values with products and practices, and create organic growth. We are exploring these 35 practices, one at a time, on these pages. Find them all, as they’re introduced, here.