A lot of new products fail in the marketplace. In innovation, we analyze the data and our systems to try to prevent another failure in the future. Yet, success of new products and services in meeting goals and objective continues to be an ongoing problem across industries and corporations. What is going on and how can new product development (NPD) practitioners improve success rates?
Launching vs. Landing
A key concept in NPD is the difference between launching and landing. Most NPD systems focus on the end goal as the product launch. A lot of companies use a staged and gated process for innovation, with the final stage identified as “Product Launch”. Unfortunately, launching a product is not enough.
The obvious analogy is air travel. I certainly don’t want to fly with a pilot who only knows how to launch the aircraft. To arrive safely at my destination, I trust that the pilot knows how to land the plane. (Image from one of my favorite comedy movies – Airplane. My husband can’t stand when I start reciting lines from the film when we are traveling… but that’s another story.)
Likewise, product launches are only the start of the customer relationship. Launching a new product includes a marketing campaign to build awareness of the product, its value, and its benefits. A product launch might include education and training as well as demonstrations and integrations. The point of the product launch is to show the world the new product.
Landing the product is what really counts for successful innovation. I have long been an advocate for post-launch reviews (PLR). The lessons learned in a PLR allow the NPD team to learn and grow and allows the sales and marketing teams to make adjustments in targeted areas as needed. PLRs focus on revenue and volume for new product sales as well as net profit. Thus, the PLR measures the landing of a new product.
For example, a new product may be specially designed to meet the needs of a target market, but these customers are not exposed to the product. Imagine the breadth of products that are designed to help manage incontinency. If all the advertising is on YouTube and smartphones, a large target market (elderly folks who may not be internet or phone savvy) may be completely missed. The PLR helps to land the product with the right audience through sales data analysis leading to a successful television marketing campaign.
Landing the product is all about customer satisfaction. And honestly, the PLR can be a last-ditch effort to save a product. Customer needs (both known and unarticulated) must be met with the features and benefits of the product. Needs assessments should be conducts long before the product launch – ultimately, a new product project is not undertaken unless there is a right-sized market potential.
Agile project management and lead product development offer tools and techniques within a structured ecosystem to help new product practitioners learn customer needs. I also really like the tools within Design Thinking to help the NPD team retain a focus on the customer from idea to development to launching and landing. Design thinking asks us to first discover customer needs. Once we fully understand and build empathy for another person’s challenges, then we can define the problem in traditional NPD terms and processes.
Design Thinking Tools
Design thinking follows a cyclical model of Discover–>Define–>Create–>Test–>(repeat). Again, discovery involves intimate relationships with customers and potential customers. Market research is often qualitative at this stage because we are seeking to understand the exact challenges that our customers face. It is important to listen to people closely as their emotions will help the NPD team discern their most pressing problems.
After concluding listening sessions, shadowing, and customer journey maps in the discovery stage, the NPD team moves to defining the problem. Sometimes the real problem is unstated or buried below the surface. Tools like customer empathy maps and affinity diagrams can help to sort out the biggest customer challenges that we think we can address through new product and service development.
Next, we switch to more traditional NPD process techniques to create potential solutions to address the defined customer needs. Here, tools like brainstorming, brainwriting, and A/B testing are used. It is crucial to maintain customer involvement in this stage of work. The NPD team needs to be assured that features they design and develop will delight the customer, setting the framework for landing the product.
Finally, the design thinking cycle moves to prototype testing. Depending on the complexity of the product and its newness to a market, prototype testing may be simple or sophisticated. Product improvements and extensions may test a simple feature with a one-time product use test. New-to-the-world products require multiple prototypes and tests to ensure a selected feature set is beneficial to a potential customer and that all product attributes integrate across the product platform.
Of course, you’re not done at the testing phase. Design thinking teaches us to go back to customers to discover continuous needs and to cycle through the steps to ensure alignment. Customer satisfaction with the features and benefits determines the value of the product. This value ties to our measures of revenue and profit, tracked in the PLR. A product that is highly valued in our target market means we have successfully launched and landed the new product.
Landing Customer Satisfaction
New product launches often fail because the NPD team is isolated from the customer, focusing on an end goal of just releasing the new product. Landing the product follows the launch, with corrective actions measured in post-launch reviews, to ensure customer satisfaction. Satisfied customers are repeat customers and will share their delight with friends and neighbors. Nothing beats word-of-mouth marketing for a new product!
The only way to successfully launch and land a new product that benefits customers and brings long-term value to the organization is through intimate customer relationships. Design thinking employs a set of tools within a cyclical model to ensure customers remain at the forefront of new product development.
First, innovation leaders must take action to ensure new product development is focused only on the customer. Second, innovation teams should use the post-launch review process to determine corrective actions if a product launch does not land customer satisfaction. Finally, NPD leaders will build a toolkit spanning customer interviews and prototyping from design thinking to encourage intimate customer relationships and leading to higher success rates in new product development.
To build your skills and address your toughest innovation challenges, please contact me about membership in the Innovation Master Mind (IMM) group. IMM is a 6-month peer coaching group that allows you to extend your NPD knowledge beyond NPDP certification and to collaborate with other CIOs and innovation managers. I also offer one-on-one coaching and New Product Development Professional (NPDP) training to help you target specific innovation knowledge areas. So, feel free to contact me at [email protected] or 281-280-8717 to learn more. I love helping individuals, teams, and organizations reach higher strategic innovation goals!
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