Thursday, June 05, 2014

New product development - getting the product idea

New products need investment
Some of the best product ideas are not inspired by focus groups.

When it comes to new product development, engineers who turned to marketing hold a strong card, particularly in the technology and engineering industries. Today much of what is discussed about marketing is only marketing communications, but without new products and another overlooked area - intellectual property such as patents and trademarks - the scope of the marketing role is incomplete.

Typically the driving force behind new products is a product manager who champions the product from concept to launch and then manages it within a portfolio of products. The role of the product manager is unusual in that the people who carry out the work at key stages are not direct reports so enthusiasm, persuasion and good communication skills are necessary  characteristics of a successful product manager.

Often the concept for a new product is prompted by the need to replace ageing products, advances in technology, new manufacturing techniques and changing needs of customers.  The 'game-changing' products that Apple have created are a different matter, some creating new markets as the iPod and iTunes, or the iPhone turning the mobile phone market on its head. More often new products are more modestly pitched to give customers a better way of doing what they need the product to do.  Whether the product manager provides the vision for the new product, or someone else encapsulates the idea in a flash of inspiration, it is likely to be more viable than the output of a committee, or worse still a focus group of users.

Viewers of the Dragon's Den on television will be familiar with the procession of hopeful inventors and would be entrepreneurs who troop their new product ideas in front of potential investors. Amongst the crackpot, ill thought out ideas, every now and then a genuine and investable product pops up. Large companies I  have worked for get a constant stream of wild ideas proposed to them. One example comes to mind of an Australian would be inventor who claimed to have developed a high frequency electronic ballast the size of a matchbox for the control of fluorescent lamps . This of course when that product category was still new. A demonstration was set up in the board room with the product development committee at one end of the room and the inventor and his matchbox which we were not allowed to examine at the other. Or the American who in a first class piece of personal PR managed to be first to step off the inaugural Concorde flight from America to Heathrow. I  recently saw his interview re-run on the Discovery channel. He announced he was here to sign this great deal, in fact it was to try to sell us polarised diffusers for office lighting all backed up by weird science. Then there was the non-exec board member who had taken a tungsten halogen floodlight, mounted this on a length of conduit and stuck this into the centre of a car wheel as a base. I was summoned to the chairman's office to examine this great idea!

So getting a viable product concept is just the start. Getting backing for its development is just the first hurdle on the road to a product launch.

1 comment:

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